Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Supreme Court Says Alien Tort Statute Does Not Apply Extraterritorially

The U.S. Supreme Court today substantially narrowed the ability of foreigners to use U.S. courts to sue over human rights abuses-- presumably including religious persecution-- that occurred abroad.  In Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., (Sup. Ct., April 17, 2013), Justice Roberts, speaking for a majority of the Court, held that the Alien Tort Statute, 28 USC 1350, does not apply extraterritorially. The statute gives federal district courts jurisdiction over suits by aliens committed in violation of the law of nations.  However, Justice Roberts held that this does not generally apply to conduct that took place outside the United States:
even where the claims touch and concern the territory of the United States, they must do so with sufficient force to displace the presumption against extraterritorial application.
In the case before the Court, plaintiffs alleged that various multi-national corporations aided the Nigerian government in its human rights abuses in Nigeria in the early 1990's. The case also produced three concurring opinions, each taking a somewhat different approach to the scope of the Alien Tort Statute, but all agreeing it does not apply in the case before the Court. The Los Angeles Times reports on the decision.