It is hornbook law that the United States is not currently a party to any treaty governing the enforcement of foreign judgments. At least, it was hornbook law until 1993. In that year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit adopted a novel interpretation of a provision in a bilateral treaty of friendship, commerce, and navigation ("FCN treaty") between the United States and Greece that transformed the treaty into a de facto judgments treaty. Two years later, in 1995, the Third Circuit adopted the same interpretation of an identical clause in the United States-Korea FCN treaty. Each of these courts subsequently reaffirmed its respective interpretation of the provision in question, the Eleventh Circuit in 2006 and the Third Circuit in 2011.
In theory, these decisions could usher in a new era of judgments-recognition law in the United States. Indeed, a number of scholars have cited these decisions to argue that the United States is a party to a handful of treaties relating to the enforcement of foreign judgments. In practice, however, this new era is unlikely to dawn for one simple reason: the treaty interpretations adopted by the Third and Eleventh Circuits are objectively incorrect.
This brief Essay explains how and why the Third and Eleventh Circuits went astray. It first discusses the general goal of the treaty provision at issue. It then explains how the Third and Eleventh Circuits have interpreted this provision. Finally, this Essay shows why this interpretation is irreconcilable with the text of the treaties.