Thursday, April 18, 2013
The U.S. Supreme Court issued its much anticipated decision yesterday in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, a case involving a claim under the U.S. Alien Tort Statute (ATS), 28 USC sec. 1350, that Royal Dutch Petroleum aided and abetted the Nigerian government in certain human rights violations. After two rounds of oral arguments on multiple issues, the Court dismissed the case against Royal Dutch Petroleum on one ground - that there is a presumption against extraterritorial application of U.S. law that was not overcome in this case. All of the revelant conduct in the case occurred in Nigeria. The Court held that there is no textual or other basis to assume that the statute is intended to reach conduct occurring abroad.
The Court did not decide the related issue of whether corporations may be held liable for torts in violation of international law under the ATS, leaving that issue for another day. The Court also did not expressly indicate whether a U.S. corporation could be held liable for torts committeed abroad under the ATS. Thus, while the Court's decision will likely reduce the number of ATS cases against corporations, it does not preclude them all together. The Supreme Court's opinion may be found here.