Smith v. United States, 507 U.S. 197, 5 (1993)

Page:   Index   Previous  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  Next

Cite as: 507 U. S. 197 (1993)

Opinion of the Court

would not be subject to liability under the law of a foreign nation.

Petitioner's argument for governmental liability here faces significant obstacles in addition to the foreign-country exception, but we turn first to the language of that proviso. It states that the FTCA's waiver of sovereign immunity does not apply to "[a]ny claim arising in a foreign country." 28 U. S. C. 2680(k). Though the FTCA offers no definition of "country," the commonsense meaning of the term undermines petitioner's attempt to equate it with "sovereign state." The first dictionary definition of "country" is simply "[a] region or tract of land." Webster's New International Dictionary 609 (2d ed. 1945). To be sure, this is not the only possible interpretation of the term, and it is therefore appropriate to examine other parts of the statute before making a final determination. But the ordinary meaning of the language itself, we think, includes Antarctica, even though it has no recognized government.

Our construction of the term "foreign country" draws support from the language of 1346(b), "[t]he principal provision of the Federal Tort Claims Act." Richards v. United States, 369 U. S. 1, 6 (1962). That section waives the sovereign immunity of the United States for certain torts committed by federal employees "under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred." 28 U. S. C. 1346(b) (emphasis added). We have construed 1346(b) in determining what law should apply in actions brought under the FTCA. See Richards, supra. But by its terms the section is more than a choice-of-law provision: It delineates the scope of the United States' waiver of sovereign immunity. If Antarctica were not a "foreign country," and for that reason included within the FTCA's coverage, 1346(b) would instruct courts to look to the law of a place that has no law in order to determine the

201

Page:   Index   Previous  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  Next

Last modified: October 4, 2007