Saturday, August 27, 2011

DC Circuit Court of Appeals may reconsider application of Alien Tort Statute to corporations; next stop: the US Supreme Court

Back in July I reported that the Washington, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling that recognized the right of Indonesian villagers to sue Exxon Mobil for alleged killings and torture committed by Indonesian soldiers guarding the company’s natural-gas operations in Indonesia.

The blog of the Legal Times is now reporting, however, Exxon Mobil Corp. asked the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to reject the panel decision arguing that the panel's decision vastly expanded the statute to find that corporations can be liable for violent acts committed abroad, an allegation that is difficult to understand given the history of the Alien Tort Statute. Exxon is apparently also asking the court to “reject the notion that the ATS can be used as a vehicle to bring suit in U.S. courts for alleged misconduct that occurred abroad," which is also contrary to the interpretation of the statute by all courts to date.  Exxon's petition can be found here.

Although there aren't that many US Supreme Court cases on the ATS, there is a long line of cases from lower federal courts that have interpreted its application over the years.  Only one of these cases has ever decided that the statute should not apply to corporations and a cert petition in that case is now pending before the US Supreme Court.  That case, decided by the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is available here.  Given the split in the circuit courts, it is almost inevitable that the Court will review the issue this term.

To catch up with this very interesting and important issue, go to my section on the Alien Tort Statute, scroll down and read up (in chronological order).

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