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

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Article
19 October 2010

Shell lawsuit (re Nigeria) case profile - updated to include 17 Oct 2011 US Supreme Court decision to hear appeal of Kiobel case

Author: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

[Case profile for US lawsuits filed against Shell regarding Nigeria.]

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Article
20 September 2010

2nd Circuit Rejects Corporate Liability in Alien Tort Act Cases

Author: Mark Hamblett, New York Law Journal

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected outright Friday the theory that corporations can be held liable in the United States under the Alien Tort Statute for violations of international law in foreign countries. In a sweeping decision rebuffing a lawsuit against The Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. and others for allegedly aiding and abetting human rights violations during oil exploration in Nigeria, the court declared that "corporate liability is not a discernible -- much less universally recognized -- norm of customary international law that we may apply pursuant to ATS (Alien Tort Statute)."…[Judge] Cabranes wrote that the circuit was holding that…"in ATS suits alleging violations of customary international law, the scope of liability -- who is liable for what -- is determined by customary international law itself."

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Article
17 September 2010

Companies Immune From Alien Tort Suits, Court Rules

Author: Bob Van Voris & Patricia Hurtado, Bloomberg

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...

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Article
17 September 2010

U.S. Court Finds Corporations Immune From Liability For Human Rights Abuses

Author: Marco Simons, Legal Director, Earthrights International

The decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum marks the first time that any appellate court has rejected corporate liability under international law, and only the second time that any court has done so (the first was in a district court decision issued last week). Numerous courts have found that corporations are subject to the same liability as persons. The Kiobel decision is based on a radical misunderstanding of international law; the International Court of Justice has ruled that international law respects the corporate form, and this would be impossible without allowing corporate liability.

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Article
17 September 2010

[PDF] Kiobel, et al. v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, et al. - Opinion

Author: US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Plaintiffs assert claims for aiding and abetting violations of the law of nations against…corporations…under the Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”)…We hold, under the precedents of the Supreme Court and our own Court over the past three decades, that in ATS suits alleging violations of customary international law, the scope of liability…is determined by customary international law itself. Because customary international law consists of only those norms that are specific, universal, and obligatory in the relations of States inter se, and because no corporation has ever been subject to any form of liability…under the customary international law of human rights, we hold that corporate liability is not a discernable…norm of customary international law that we may apply pursuant to the ATS. Accordingly, plaintiffs’ ATS claims must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

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