Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Abu Ghraib Prisoners' Claim Allowed Under Alien Tort Statute

The opinion by Judge Keenan in Al Shimari v. CACI Premier Technology, Inc., No. 13-1937 (4th Cir. June 30, 2014) sums it up:

In this appeal, we consider whether a federal district court has subject matter jurisdiction to consider certain civil claims seeking damages against an American corporation for the torture and mistreatment of foreign nationals at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.  The primary issue on appeal concerns whether the Alien Tort Statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1350, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 133 S. Ct. 1659 (2013), provides a jurisdictional basis for the plaintiffs’ alleged violations of international law, despite the presumption against extraterritorial application of acts of Congress.  We also address the defendants’ contention that the case presents a “political question” that is inappropriate for judicial resolution under our decision in Taylor v. Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Inc., 658 F.3d 402 (4th Cir. 2011). 

We conclude that the Supreme Court’s decision in Kiobel does not foreclose the plaintiffs’ claims under the Alien Tort Statute, and that the district court erred in reaching a contrary conclusion. Upon applying the fact-based inquiry articulated by the Supreme Court in Kiobel, we hold that the  plaintiffs’ claims “touch and concern” the territory of the United States with sufficient force to displace the presumption against extraterritorial application of the Alien Tort Statute.  See Kiobel, 133 S. Ct. at 1669. However, we are unable to determine from the present record whether the claims before us present nonjusticiable political questions.  Therefore, we do not reach the additional issue of the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ common law claims, and we vacate the district court’s judgment with respect to all the plaintiffs’ claims and remand the case to the district court. We direct that the district court undertake factual development of the record and analyze its subject matter jurisdiction in light of our decision in Taylor and the principles expressed in this opinion.

Congratulations to Civil Procedure Professors Erwin Chemerinsky, Helen Hershkoff, Allan Paul Ides, Stephen I. Vladeck, and Howard M. Wasserman, who submitted an amicus brief on behalf of the plaintiffs-appellants. 

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/civpro/2014/07/abu-ghraib-prisoners-claim-allowed-under-alien-tort-statute.html

International/Comparative Law, Recent Decisions, Subject Matter Jurisdiction | Permalink

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