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17 Sep 2010

Bob Van Voris & Patricia Hurtado, Bloomberg

Companies Immune From Alien Tort Suits, Court Rules

Companies, including Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s Nigerian unit, aren’t subject to U.S. lawsuits by foreigners seeking damages for human rights violations, a federal appeals court in New York ruled. A panel of the court ruled 2-1 today that the Alien Tort Statute gives U.S. courts jurisdiction over alleged violations of international law by individuals only, not by corporations. The decision dismisses claims by a group of Nigerians that Shell aided in the torture and murder of dissidents in Nigeria in the 1990s, including the playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa... Jonathan C. Drimmer, a partner at Steptoe and Johnson...said the case may be reconsidered by the entire appeals court... Circuit Judge Pierre N. Leval wrote a separate opinion in which he agreed that the case should be dismissed but disagreed that the Alien Tort Statute applies only to individuals. “The majority opinion deals a substantial blow to international law and its undertaking to protect fundamental human rights,” he wrote...

Part of the following timelines

US Appeals Court rules that Alien Tort lawsuits may not be used to seek damages from companies for human rights violations

Shell lawsuit (re executions in Nigeria, Kiobel v Shell, filed in USA)