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Mme L and Others

Court Conseil d’Etat, France
Case number 305966
Decision title Judgment
Decision date 21 December 2007
  • Colette Lipietz
  • Alain Lipietz
  • Catherine Lipietz
  • Hélène Lipietz
  • S (Guideon Lipietz)
Categories Crimes against humanity
Keywords deportation
Other countries involved
  • Germany
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Georges Lipietz and his half-brother were arrested in southern France in 1944 on account of their Jewish descent. They were deported to an internment camp at Drancy via Toulouse and Paris.

Although the internment camp was liberated in August 1944 and the Lipietz brothers were freed, they sued the French state and the French National Railway Company (SNCF) for complicity in their deportation, as they had been transported by French rail and detained at the authority of the Home Secretary. Having initially won their case before the Administrative Court of Toulouse and having been awarded 61 000 Euros in damages, the decision was reversed on appeal by the Administrative Court of Appeal of Bordeaux.

On appeal to the Conseil d’Etat, the highest administrative court in France, the Court upheld the reasoning of the Administrative Court of Appeal. It considered that it was not competent to hear the appeal because the SNCF at the relevant time in question was a private company under the command of the German authorities and not exercising its own public authority. It is for the judicial order, and not the administrative one, to decide on the matter. 

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Procedural history

On 14 November 2001, counsel for Georges Lipietz and his half-brother filed an action before the Administrative Tribunal for Toulouse against the State and the Sociètè Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais (SNCF), the French national railway company for damages. The claimants allege that the State and the SNCF are responsible for the prejudice suffered by them for (a) their detention in Toulouse pursuant to their arrest by the Gestapo, (b) their transfer to Paris by train and (c) their internment at Drancy in 1944.

By a decision of 6 June 2006, the Administrative Tribunal of Toulouse held the State and the SNCF responsible for complicity in the deportation of the claimants. They were fined 61 000 Euros.

On 24 July 2006, the SNCF appealed to the Administrative Court of Appeal of Bordeaux.

By a decision of 27 March 2007, the Administrative Court of Appeal of Bordeaux, the Court reversed the decision of the lower court and held that the SNCF was acting under the command of the German authorities and could not therefore be held responsible.

The Lipietz relatives applied to the Council of State to have the decision of the Administrative Court of Appeal of Bordeaux annulled, the highest court in the French administrative order.

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Legally relevant facts

The Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francaise (SNCF), the French national railway company, was placed at the disposition of the German authorities between 1940 and 1944. It was authorised by the State, at thw request and under the command of the occupied forces, to arrange for the deportation of Jewish persons by transporting them from the train stations near their detention facilities to the intermediary train stations and then on to the train stations serving the concentration camps.

SNCF officers participated in meetings with the purpos eof coordinating the transport of Jewish persons but the the conditions within which such transport was realised, notably the composition of the trains, the types of carriages used, their interior furnishing and the treatment accorded to the Jewish persons were determined by the German authorities (p. 2).

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Core legal questions

  • Does the Conseil d’Etat have jurisdiction to hear the appeal?

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Specific legal rules and provisions

  • Decree of 31 August 1937 affirming the convention of the same date establishing the Société nationale des chemins de fer francais (SNCF).

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Court's holding and analysis

The administrative order (to which the Conseil d’Etat as the highest administrative court in France belongs) is not competent to hear complaints relating to the responsibility incurred by a private company unless the prejudice resulting from the fault of this private company is related to its exercise of public authority, conferred upon the company the State with the objective of rendering a public service.

The SNCF was such a private company charged with rendering a public service.

However, the Administrative Court of Appeal of Bordeaux was correct to conclude from the fact that the SNCF was under the direction of the German authorities and could not act autonomously in the organisation of the transports on questions, that it was not exercising public authority.

Consequently, the appeal of the Lipietz relatives is rejected (pp. 2-3). 

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Further analysis

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Instruments cited

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Related cases

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Additional materials

(French only)