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26 Sep 2011

Robert A. Schwinger, Thomas E. Butler All Articles, National Law Journal [USA]

Corporate liability under Alien Tort Statute: Don't elevate form over substance

A number of recent appellate decisions have reached conflicting outcomes on whether liability under the Alien Tort Statute...extends to corporate entities. While the resolution of this judicial conflict will likely turn on particulars of statutory interpretation, the courts should consider in these analyses a principle...: that the courts should avoid having liability turn on artificial distinctions that look to the form of an enterprise's structure but ignore its reality. To do so, as the U.S. Supreme Court has noted, artificially distorts the market by dissuading companies from choosing those structures for their operations they consider most advantageous. Whatever the merits might be of expansive Alien Tort Statute liability in the international business context, no good purpose is served by construing that statute so that it ends up governing which business structures are used to conduct foreign operations. [refers to Exxon Mobil, Firestone, Coca-Cola, Drummond, Copperweld, Shell, DelMonte]

Part of the following timelines

ExxonMobil lawsuit (re Aceh)

Firestone lawsuit (re Liberia)