Hastings International and Comparative Law Review


Fletcher Alford


On October 15, 1984, Henry Liu-a native of Taiwan and an outspoken critic of that government-was murdered outside his home in San Francisco, California. Evidence indicated that certain Taiwanese government officials may have assisted in the murder of Liu. However, a Taiwanese tribunal, investigating the government's role in the murder, determined that the Taiwan government took no part in the plot. Liu's widow subsequently brought suit in the Federal District Court for the Northern District of California, seeking to hold the Taiwanese government liable for the wrongful death of her husband. The judge dismissed her suit on "act of state" grounds. This Note begins with a consideration of the act of state doctrine, its origin and historical development, and its application by the courts. The author concludes that the Liu court misapplied the act of state doctrine. The author argues that the doctrine should not be applied to shield foreign governments from liability for violent torts committed by them within the United States, and that in any event, the mere factual determination of a foreign court does not qualify as an "act of state" within the meaning of that term.