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Kiobel case: US Supreme Court Review of Alien Tort Claims Act

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The US Supreme Court announced on 17 October 2011 that it would hear an appeal in the Alien Tort Claims Act lawsuit Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, Co. (Shell).  This represents the first time this court has reviewed a human rights lawsuit against a corporation under this statute.  The Supreme Court heard two rounds of oral arguments, on 28 February and 1 October 2012.  On 17 April 2013 the Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of the case and restricted the application of the Alien Tort Claims Act in cases involving allegations of abuse outside the United States. 

For more recent items, see our website section on this case and click on “Jump to: News on this case” here.

Background materials related to the Supreme Court's review of this case are available here.

Supreme Court Decision

[PDF] Kiobel v. Shell - Opinion, 17 Apr 2013

News & commentary re US Supreme Court's Kiobel decision:

News coverage

- Supreme Court Could Redraw The Reach Of America's Courts, Michael Bobelian, Forbes, 29 Apr 2013

- Is the Alien Tort a Zombie Doctrine? Andrew Pincus Responds, Andrew Pincus, Litigation Daily, 29 Apr 2013
Response to Michael D. Goldhaber's article 'The Global Lawyer: The Zombification of the Corporate Alien Tort'

- The Global Lawyer: The Zombification of the Corporate Alien Tort, Michael D. Goldhaber, Litigation Daily, 21 Apr 2013

- The Shell game ends: Some good news for multinationals, Economist, 20 Apr 2013

- Window narrows in US for human rights abuse lawsuits against companies, Reuters, 19 Apr 2013

- Supreme Court Observations: Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum & the Future of Alien Tort Litigation, Rich Samp, Forbes, 18 Apr 2013

- US Court Ruling Curbs Aceh Exxon Human Rights Suit, Jakarta Globe, 18 Apr 2013

- U.S. Court Throws Out Torture Case Against Shell, This Day [Nigeria], 18 Apr 2013

- U.S. Kiobel Decision Bucks 30 Years of Precedent, Joe Hitchon, Inter Press Service, 18 Apr 2013

- [español] La Corte Suprema de Estados Unidos desestimó una demanda contra la compañía transnacional petrolera Royal Dutch Petroleum-Shell presentada por víctimas de violaciones de derechos humanos, Joe Hitchon, Inter Press Service, 18 abril 2013

- Human rights lawyers look for silver lining in Kiobel black cloud, Alison Frankel, Thomson Reuters News & Insight, 17 Apr 2013

- Corporate liability, and Kiobel, Joseph Cotterill, Financial Times Alphaville Blog, 17 Apr 2013 [registration required]

- Supreme court: Justices back Royal Dutch Shell in landmark human rights case, Jeremy P. Jacobs, 17 Apr 2013

- Shell Wins; the World Loses, Sara Murphy, Motley Fool, 17 Apr 2013

- Justices Limit Reach of Alien Tort Law, Marcia Coyle, National Law Journal, 17 Apr 2013

- [français] Etats-Unis: des plaignants nigérians contre Shell déboutés par la Cour suprême, AFP, 17 avril 2013

- Supreme Court blocks Nigerian activists from suing Shell over alleged torure, Dominic Rushe, Guardian [UK], 17 Apr 2013

- Companies shielded as U.S. court cuts human-rights suits, Greg Stohr, Bloomberg, 17 Apr 2013

- In win for Shell, U.S. top court curbs human rights claims, Lawrence Hurley, Reuters, 17 Apr 2013

- Justices Bar U.S. Suit in Nigerian Human Rights Case, Adam Liptak, New York Times, 17 Apr 2013

- Supreme Court blocks overseas human rights cases from U.S. courts, David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times, 17 Apr 2013

- Justices Limit Law's Reach for Acts Overseas, Wall Street Journal, 17 Apr 2013 [subscription only]

- Justices back corporations in overseas abuses case, Bill Mears, CNN, 17 Apr 2013

- Supreme Court puts limits on reach of human rights law, Warren Richey, Christian Science Monitor, 17 Apr 2013

- Justices close U.S. courts to foreign human rights cases, Richard Wolf, USA Today, 17 Apr 2013

- [audio] Supreme Court Curbs Lawsuits Over Foreign Abuses, Nina Totenberg, National Public Radio [USA], 17 Apr 2013

- US court forbids foreign abuse claims, Anna Fifield & Guy Chazan, Financial Times, 17 Apr 2013

Commentaries by human rights organizations

- US: Supreme Court Limits Suits against Rights Abusers Abroad, Human Rights Watch, 29 Apr 2013

- Unanswered questions for the South Africa apartheid litigation as US Supreme Court April 17 rules against the Kiobel case, Marjorie Jobson, Khulumani Support Group, 24 Apr 2013

- Set-back for Corporate Accountability on Human Rights: Why the US Supreme Court ruling to limit the Alien Tort Statute was bad news waiting to happen, Allan Lerberg Jørgensen, Danish Institute for Human Rights, 23 Apr 2013

- What does the Kiobel decision mean for ERI's cases? Marco Simons, EarthRights International, 19 Apr 2013

- The decision released by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Kiobel v. Shell case highlights the need for European states to take measures to protect human rights against business, European Coalition for Corporate Justice, 19 Apr 2013

- Ogoni: US Supreme Court Dismissed Kiobel Case, Unrepresented Nations & Peoples Organization, 18 Apr 2013

- The Wrong Decision for Human Rights, Katie Shay, International Corporate Accountability Roundtable in Huffington Post, 18 Apr 2013

- Supreme Court Limits Justice for Human Rights Victims, International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, 17 Apr 2013

- What Kiobel means for corporate accountability, Nathalie Bridgeman Fields, Accountability Counsel, 17 Apr 2013

- [français] La décision de la Cour suprême dans l’affaire Kiobel c. Royal Dutch Shell Petroleum marque un recul dans la protection des droits humains face aux entreprises transnationales, Sherpa, 17 avril 2013

- Door still open for human rights claims after Kiobel, Katie Redford,EarthRights Interantional on SCOTUSblog, 17 Apr 2013

- Civil and Human Rights Coalition Criticizes Supreme Court Ruling in Kiobel as a Setback for Human Rights, Leadership Conference, 17 Apr 2013

- Kiobel Ruling Undermines U.S. Leadership on Human Rights, Human Rights First, 17 Apr 2013

- Supreme Court Ruling Undermines Decades of Progress Toward Justice in U.S. Courts for Survivors of Human Rights Abuses Abroad, Amnesty International, 17 Apr 2013

- [español] La resolución de la Corte Suprema sobre Shell limita gravemente el acceso a la justicia en casos de derechos humanos, Amnistía Internacional, 17 abril 2013

- [français] Etats-Unis : La Cour Suprême rend un arrêt sur Shell dans la delta du Niger, Amnesty International, 17 avril 2013

- Kiobel v. Shell: Supreme Court Limits Courts' Ability to Hear Claims of Human Rights Abuses Committed Abroad, EarthRights International, Center for Justice and Accountability, Center for Constitutional Rights, 17 Apr 2013

- First Reactions: What does the Kiobel decision actually mean? Rick Herz, EarthRights International, 17 Apr 2013

Commentaries by business assns. & other orgs. funded largely by business

- Supreme Court Wisely Rules that U.S. Law Doesn't Apply Outside the U.S., Ilya Shapiro, Cato Institute, 17 Apr 2013

- The Supreme Court Has Ruled on Kiobel. Now What? Peter Nestor, BSR Blog, 17 Apr 2013

- Business Hails Supreme Court Ruling on Alien Tort Statute, US Council for International Business, 17 Apr 2013

- SCOTUS Gets It Right in Kiobel, Walter Olson, Cato Institute, 17 Apr 2013

- U.S. Chamber Commends Supreme Court for Reining in Abuses of Alien Tort Statute, US Chamber of Commerce, 17 Apr 2013

Other commentaries

- The Global Lawyer: The State of Play After Kiobel, Michael D. Goldhaber, in Litigation Daily (USA), 30 Aug 2013

- The Kiobel Judgment of the US Supreme Court and the Future of Human Rights Litigation – Seminar at the MPI Luxembourg, Marta Requejo, Conflict of Laws.net, 9 Jul 2013

- Seven Ways of Looking at Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum and the Supreme Court Under Chief Justice John Roberts, Rodger Citron, Touro Law Center, 3 Jul 2013

- What Might Liability under the ATS Look Like Post-Kiobel?: The Example of Private Contractors, Elizabeth Holland, Foley Hoag LLP, 17 Jun 2013

- Accountability for Transnational Corporations Must Be an Active US Goal in the Wake of the Kiobel Decision, Lauren Carasik, Truthout (USA), 15 Jun 2013

- [audio] What is Left of the Alien Tort Statute after Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum? - Podcast, Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies (USA), 13 May 2013

- Alien tort ruling is a snub for global justice, Mia Swart, University of Johannesburg, in BDlive [So. Africa], 7 May 2013

- A chance for SA to take gap left by US courts, David Bilchitz & Ngwako Raboshakga, University of Johannesburg, in BDlive [So. Africa], 26 Apr 2013

- The ATS's Second Act: The Supreme Court Looks to Address the Unanswered Questions of Kiobel, Xander Meise Bay, Corporate Social Responsibility & the Law (published by Foley Hoag LLP), 23 Apr 2013

- The Supreme Court Unanimously Rejects Universal Jurisdiction, Julian Ku & John Yoo, Forbes, 21 Apr 2013

- Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum: Scotusblog Coverage, Scotusblog, last updated 19 Apr 2013
Online resource regarding cases before the US Supreme Court; includes links to commentary regarding the Kiobel decision from a variety of sources.

- [PDF] A Quick and Dirty Q&A about the US Supreme Court's Kiobel Decision, Chip Pitts, Stanford Law School & Oxford University

- Wrong way on human rights, Los Angeles Times Editorial, 19 Apr 2013

- Kiobel and the Conflict of Laws, Patrick Borchers, JURIST, 19 Apr 2013 

- Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co: Overcoming the Collective Hangover, Nadia Bernaz, Middlesex University in Rights As Usual, 19 Apr 2013

- The Kiobel ruling: Big business wins the battle but not the war - and how all companies will be under increasing scrutiny in the future, Global Diligence, 19 Apr 2013

- Supreme Court Rejects Alien Tort Claims Premised on Overseas Conduct, Dr. Pieter H.F. Bekker, Lucinda Low & Brittany Prelogar, Steptoe & Johnson LLP, 19 Apr 2013

- Column: Supreme Court Closes a Door for Upholding Human Rights, Noah Feldman, Harvard University in Valley News, 19 Apr 2013

- The U.S. Supreme Court and Global Human Rights, Terra Lawson-Remer, Council on Foreign Relations, 18 Apr 2013

- [PDF] Kiobel et al v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co et al, Wessen Jazrawi & Ingrid Gubbay, Hausfeld & Co., 18 Apr 2013

- [PDF] Banyan statement regarding Kiobel decision, Banyan: SOAS Advocates, 18 Apr 2013

- Supreme Court Holds That Alien Tort Statute Doesn't Apply Extraterritorially, Andrew J. Pincus & Kevin S. Ranlett, Mayer Brown

- The Supreme Court's Setback for Human Rights, New York Times Editorial, 17 Apr 2013

- Supreme Court: A Case of Foreign Abuse? We Can't Touch That, Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic, 17 Apr 2013

- U.S. Supreme Court Dismisses Lawsuit Against Shell in Nigeria, Pratap Chatterjee, CorpWatch blog, 17 Apr 2013

- High Court Squelches Ability To Hold Anyone Accountable For Human Rights Violations Abroad, Nicole Flatow, ThinkProgress, 17 Apr 2013

- Today's Ruling Against Extraterritorial Application of Alien Tort Statute, Ed Whelan, National Review, 17 Apr 2013

- Supreme Court Holds that Plaintiffs Must Overcome Presumption Against Extraterritoriality in Alien Tort Statute Cases, Xander Meise Bay, Corporate Social Responsibility & the Law (published by Foley Hoag LLP), 17 Apr 2013

- Kiobel Insta-Symposium, Opinio Juris, 17 Apr 2013
Online symposium analysing the Supreme Court's Kiobel decision; contributors include Chip Pitts, Chimene Keitner, John Knox, Roger Alford, Anthony Colangelo, Thomas Lee, Julian Ku, Peter Spiro.