comity of nations

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The “comity of nations” doctrine permits recognition of foreign proceedings to the extent that such proceedings are determined to be orderly, fair, and not detrimental to another nation’s interests. Unlike enforcement of judgments between states in the United States (which is governed by the Comity Clause of the Constitution - Article IV, § 2, Clause 2), there is no Constitutional obligation on a U.S. court to recognize or enforce a foreign judgment. Neither is comity of nations embodied in international law. However, sovereign nations still use comity of nations for public policy reasons.

Under comity of nations, a reviewing court does not reopen cases that have already been heard in other courts; instead, it examines the foreign judicial system. After considering factors (such as fairness and impartiality of that foreign system, the foreign court’s personal jurisdiction over the defendant, the existence of subject matter jurisdiction, and the presence of fraud), the reviewing court might choose to respect and enforce that foreign court’s judgments. A court should decline to exercise jurisdiction under certain circumstances in deference to the laws and interests of another foreign country, upon consideration of factors set out in Rest. (3d) of the Foreign Relations Law § 403. These links of territoriality or nationality, while generally necessary, are not in all instances sufficient conditions for the exercise of jurisdiction.

The Restatement factors include: 

  • The link of the activity to the territory of the regulating state, i.e., the extent to which the activity takes place within the territory, or has substantial, direct, and foreseeable effect upon or in the territory;
  • The connections, such as nationality, residence, or economic activity, between the regulating state and the person principally responsible for the activity to be regulated, or between that state and those whom the regulation is designed to protect;
  • The character of the activity to be regulated, the importance of regulation to the regulating state, the extent to which other states regulate such activities, and the degree to which the desirability of such regulation is generally accepted.
  • The existence of justified expectations that might be protected or hurt by the regulation;
  • The importance of the regulation to the international political, legal, or economic system;
  • The extent to which the regulation is consistent with the traditions of the international system;
  • The extent to which another state may have an interest in regulating the activity; and
  • The likelihood of conflict with regulation by another state.

This list of factors is not exhaustive, and no priority or other significance is implied in the order in which the factors are listed. Not all considerations have the same importance in all situations; the weight to be given to any particular factor or group of factors depends on the circumstances.

[Last updated in January of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]