Esmor Correctional Services lawsuit (re immigration detention facility)
In June 1997, a group of foreign nationals held at a detention center for asylum seekers in Elizabeth, New Jersey filed a lawsuit against Esmor Correctional Services, the company running the detention facility for the US Immigration and Naturalization Service. The plaintiffs alleged that they has been tortured, beaten, harassed, discriminated and living under inhumane conditions. During the course of the proceedings, most plaintiffs settled their claims out of court. In November 2007, a jury found Esmor negligent in hiring, training and supervising security guards and awarded $100,000 to the remaining plaintiffs.
In June 1997 a group of foreign nationals held at a detention center in Elizabeth, New Jersey filed a lawsuit against Esmor Correctional Services (now known as Correctional Services Corporation). The plaintiffs were political asylum seekers awaiting processing of their claims by the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The plaintiffs alleged that they were tortured, beaten, harassed and otherwise mistreated by Esmor guards, subjected to inhumane living conditions and religious discrimination. INS contracted with Esmor to operate its facility in Elizabeth.
In September 2003, Esmor filed a motion for summary judgment. In November 2004 the court ruled that abuses committed in the United States against political asylum seekers could be prosecuted as human rights violations under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA). This case was the first to apply international human rights standards to a US corporation for events that took place on US soil. This 2004 ruling granted the defendants’ motion of summary judgment on some of the plaintiffs’ claims, but allowed the case to proceed on the ATCA claims, the New Jersey state law claims regarding negligent hiring, training, retention and supervision of Esmor security guards and claims of violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). During this time, many of the original plaintiffs settled their claims with the defendants.
In September 2007 the remaining plaintiffs’ claims went to trial. The jury addressed the following claims: (i) violation of RFRA; (ii) ATCA claims; and (iii) negligent hiring, training, retention and supervision of Esmor security guards. During the course of the trial, all but one of the remaining plaintiffs settled their claims with defendants. In November 2007, the jury rejected the plaintiffs’ ATCA claim that their international human rights had been violated by Esmor, but the jury found that the company had been negligent in the hiring, training and supervision of its security guards and awarded $100,000.
- [PDF] “Victory in Jama lawsuit”, Rutgers Law School – Clinic News, Winter Edition 2008
- “Clinical Professor Penny Venetis to Argue for Jama Plaintiffs in Human Rights Trial Set to Begin on Sept. 26”, News Release, Rutgers, 2007
- “Detainee loses human rights case but wins damages”, Jeff Whelan, NJ Star-Ledger, 14 Nov 2007
US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit:
- Jama et al. v. Esmor Correctional Services, 12 Aug 2009
US District Court, District of New Jersey: