Post-Kiobel, the Lower Courts Are Only Pretending to Apply the Presumption Against Extraterritoriality in Alien Tort Statute Cases

In its recently released decision in Al Shimari v. CACI International (4th Cir. 2014), the Fourth Circuit followed a recent trend that has emerged in alien tort statute (“ATS”) cases, post-Kiobel. Like other courts grappling with questions of subject matter jurisdiction under the ATS, the Fourth Circuit purported to apply the presumption against extraterritoriality (“PAE”) in assessing whether it had jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s ATS claims. Also like other courts, however, the Fourth Circuit’s invocation of the PAE was pretense; it instead applied an entirely different doctrine which has, at best, only a passing connection to the PAE, or at least the PAE as it existed pre-Kiobel.

The plaintiffs in Al Shimari are four Iraqi citizens who allege that CACI, a U.S. government contractor providing “interrogation services” to the Department of the Interior, violated international law by torturing and mistreating prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Kiobel, however, the district court dismissed their claims under the alien tort statute (“ATS”), concluding that, under Kiobel’s newly issued guidance, there was no subject matter jurisdiction to hear the case, as the alleged torts all took place extraterritorially in Iraq. The plaintiffs appealed.

Constrained by Kiobel’s dictates, the Fourth Circuit analyzed its jurisdiction to hear the suit by applying what it described it called the PAE. After reviewing CACI’s “ties to the territory of the United States,” the court concluded that the plaintiffs’ ATS claims “touch[ed] and concern[ed] the territory of the United States . . . with sufficient force to displace the presumption against extraterritorial application.”

But the judicial doctrine that the Fourth Circuit applied was the PAE in name only. The analysis it performed was a lengthy balancing test, and, absent a single, perfunctory reference to congressional intent in enacting the TVPA, contains nothing that could be described as statutory construction (slip op., at 31).

This is hard to reconcile with the court’s claim that it was applying the PAE. The PAE is a longstanding canon of construction, with a well-developed pedigree, in which courts presume that a stature regulates domestic conduct unless otherwise specified. In Kiobel, however, the Supreme Court announced that, in interpreting the jurisdictional scope of the ATS, the PAE required the Court to construe the statute in a manner that precluded jurisdiction over a foreign plaintiff’s claim against a foreign defendant for foreign conduct. The First Congress had not intended for the ATS to regulate non-domestic conduct (or so SCOTUS claimed – as I’ve discussed in prior posts, this claim is not necessarily supported by history), and, as a result, when a plaintiff brings a case in which “all the relevant conduct took place outside of the United States,” the ATS does not provide the federal courts with jurisdiction to hear it.

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Google Earth Map for the Timor Sea Maritime Boundary Dispute

Google Earth is an amazing thing, and it’s hard to understand what’s truly going on in the Timor Sea simply by looking at pictures, so I’ve created a Google Earth collection that shows the coordinates provided in the major treaties affecting the region: the 1972 Indonesian-Australian Seabed Boundary Agreement [PDF], the 1981 Provisional Fisheries Surveillance and Enforcement Arrangement [PDF], the 1989 Timor Gap Treaty, the 1997 Water Column Boundary Agreement, the 2002 Timor Sea Treaty, and the 2006 Sunrise IUA/CMATS.

The Google Earth collection for the Maritime Boundaries in the Timor Sea can be downloaded here.

Map Explosion

if you display all of the treaties at once, it kind of looks like a rainbow threw up in the Timor Sea

If you’re interested in figuring out how all these treaties work together, it is probably more useful to just go ahead and play around with it on Google Earth, but I’ve provided a visual summary below using screencaps from the collection.

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How Australia Overplayed Its Hand in the Timor Sea

In 1976, the Australian ambassador to Indonesia wrote that, in deciding whether to support the right of the Timorese people to self-determination or to instead accede to Indonesia’s annexation, Australia faced a choice between “Wilsonian idealism” and “Kissengerian realism.” For reasons having a lot to do with petroleum, Australia decided to go with what it saw as the latter option.

Today, the Timor Sea dispute remains unresolved, and it is clear that Australia still has not decided to go with the “Wilsonian idealism” option. But if Australia thinks that its strategy has instead been one of “Kissengerian realism,” then it is sadly flattering itself. Australia’s strategy isn’t “realist” – it’s petty bullying motivated by a very narrow political economy concern.

The short-term results for Australia have been somewhat favorable, if mixed, but there is reason to doubt that this strategy will ultimately be in Australia’s long-term interests. Thus far, Australia has now spent over forty years pursuing a sovereignty claim that was long ago discarded by international law, and, so far, its reach has continually exceeded its grasp.

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The Historical Context of Australia’s Political and Legal Strategy in the Timor Sea

In 1974, with the prospect of an Indonesian annexation of Timor on the horizon, Australia faced an important question: would Australia receive more favorable access to the gas and oil fields in the Timor Sea if Timor had an (a) Portuguese government, (b) Indonesian government, or (c) independent government?

At the time, Australia believed the answer was (b): an Indonesian Timor would give Australia the best outcome when it came to negotiating a seabed boundary in the Timor Sea. In a 1974 Policy Planning Paper, the Australian government reasoned that, since Indonesia had already given Australia such a favorable result in a similar seabed boundary negotiation, Indonesia would likely give Australia a similarly favorable deal for the seabed territory offshore from Timor. As a result, Australia was cautious about entering into any final seabed boundary delineations with Portugal. The political situation was likely to change, and there would be advantages in waiting for a more favorable government to gain control of the island territory:

We should press ahead with negotiations with Portugal on the Portuguese Timor seabed boundary, but bear in mind that the Indonesians would probably be prepared to accept the same compromise as they did in the negotiations already completed on the seabed boundary between our two countries. Such a compromise would be more acceptable to us than the present Portuguese position. For precisely this reason however, we should be careful not to be seen as pushing for self-government or independence for Portuguese Timor or for it to become part of Indonesia, as this would probably be interpreted as evidence of our self-interest in the seabed boundary dispute rather than a genuine concern for the future of Portuguese Timor. We should continue to keep a careful check on the activities of Australian commercial firms in Portuguese Timor.

(Policy Planning Paper, Canberra, May 3, 1974).

In other words, Australia should continue to engage in negotiations with Portugal to avoid the appearance of any impropriety, but it should take care that the negotiations did not actually culminate in an agreement.

Although Australia’s economic and foreign interests were best served by an Indonesian Timor, it was for precisely that reason that Australia wanted to avoid any appearance that it had any stake in Timor’s outcome. If seen to support Indonesia’s annexation of Timor, it would likely be viewed as doing so for self-serving commercial reasons. At the same time, neither did Australia wish to be seen as supporting a Portuguese Timor or an independent Timor, because doing so might have the effect of promoting either of those outcomes. Taking such a position (or appearing to take such a position) would also pose a risk of complicating its relationship with Indonesia.

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A Timeline of Events Leading up to Timor-Leste’s ICJ Claim Against Australia

Last week, the International Court of Justice heard three days of argument concerning Timor-Leste’s pending request for provisional measures in Questions relating to the Seizure and Detention of Certain Documents and Data (Timor-Leste v. Australia). The case was brought by Timor-Leste following Australia’s execution of a search warrant at the office of Timor-Leste’s Canberra-based attorney. Australia claimed that the warrant was appropriately issued for national security purposes, and used it to obtain extensive electronic and paper files concerning Timor-Leste’s pending arbitration against Australia before a Hague tribunal. In that arbitration, Timor-Leste is seeking to overturn a 2007 treaty between Australia and Timor-Leste, as a result of Australia’s espionage on Timor-Leste’s internal communications during the course of negotiations.

Australia claims that it was justified in seizing Timor-Leste’s legal files because Timor-Leste’s evidence of Australia’s espionage was provided by a retired Australian spy. That spy, dubbed “Officer X,” informed Timor-Leste of the 2004 bugging operation as a result of his belief that the surveillance had been conducted for improper commercial purposes, rather than national security interests.

It is a complicated and messy situation, both legally and politically, but the significance of Australia’s seizure of Timor-Leste’s legal files, as well as Australia’s prior espionage against Timor-Leste’s government, can only be understood in the context of the history of the past treaty negotiations between the two countries. To give some background for future posts concerning the legal claims being raised by Timor-Leste and Australia, provided here is a timeline of events leading up to the recent case before the ICJ.

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How Corporate Law Invented the Doctrine of Specific Jurisdiction, or Why Sovereignty Plays No Role in Specific Jurisdiction

This week, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Daimler AG v. Bauman, holding that a U.S. District Court in California does not have personal jurisdiction over a German corporation to hear a foreign tort claim brought by Argentinian plaintiffs, even when that corporation has U.S. subsidiaries that do frequent business in California and can be said to be “at home” in California. Actually, the Court went much further than that: not only does the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California not have jurisdiction to hear the claim against Daimler, the Court’s decision leaves the strong implication that neither would any other court in the U.S., whether state or federal. In Bauman, the Court was forced to assume that Daimler’s U.S. subsidiaries – who are incorporated in or have a principal place of business in New Jersey and Delaware –  were “at home” in California. Even then, the Court concluded that no jurisdiction over Daimler existed. Since bringing suit in a state where Daimler’s subsidiaries were “at home” was not sufficient to confer jurisdiction, the Bauman plaintiffs’ claims would apparently fail no matter where in the U.S. it had been brought.

What is also of particular interest in Bauman, though, is the majority opinion’s relatively detailed recap of the history of general jurisdiction and specific jurisdiction. In doing so, the Court takes pains to portray Bauman as the natural and predictable progeny of the Court’s 1945 decision in International Shoe Co. v. Washington, as well as an extension of its more recent decisions in J. McIntyre Machinery, Ltd. v. Nicastro (2011) and Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown (2011). The Court’s decision reaffirms that, post-International Shoe, general jurisdiction has become the red-headed stepchild of the Supreme Court’s personal jurisdiction jurisprudence: yes, it does exist, but it’s not particularly significant, and whenever possible we’re going to try to focus on specific jurisdiction instead.

But Bauman’s history of personal jurisdiction neglects one very significant part of the story: the origins of specific jurisdiction. Although Bauman claims that, post-International Shoe, “specific jurisdiction has been cut loose from Pennoyer’s sway,” this metaphor mistakenly assumes that the two were ever pinned together in the first place. Specific jurisdiction was not derived from Pennoyer, nor from common law conceptions of general jurisdiction. Specific jurisdiction is instead the bastard child of corporate law and the Full Faith and Credit Clause, first born out of state legislatures’ needs to regulate the interstate activities of corporate entities, and later transformed by federal courts into a constitutional due process doctrine which imposed federal limits on state regulation of commerce. See, e.g., International Harvester Co. of America v. Kentucky, 234 US 579 (1914); and Whitaker v. Macfadden Publications, Inc., 70 App.D.C. 165 (1939).

Today’s judicial doctrine of specific jurisdiction was created as a statutory scheme to ensure that corporations could be sued even when they were acted outside of the state in which they were incorporated. Well over a century later, International Shoe adopted the doctrine, jettisoned its statutory origins, and announced that it was now a constitutional basis for regulating the reach of state courts via the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Unsurprisingly, the resulting legal concept is neither seamless nor entirely internally coherent. Although International Shoe attempted to shoehorn specific jurisdiction into the Court’s pre-existing framework of personal jurisdiction, but personal jurisdiction’s doctrinal lineage is very different from that of specific jurisdiction. Personal jurisdiction, as an expression of a state’s inherent sovereign authority, is a creature of international law. As result of this mismatch between jurisdictional concepts, nearly 70 years after International Shoe, the Supreme Court is still grappling today with how to resolve this basic conflict between the competing sovereignty-based and due process-based regimes of personal jurisdiction.

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Armor for the Zombie Apocalypse

As some of you may have noticed, The View From LL2 has been on hiatus for the past few months as a result of some conflicts with its contributors’ other commitments. Although Michael must unfortunately retain his status as blogger emeritus, I am now able to resume blogging, and look forward to catching up on all the exciting recent developments on obscure jurisdictional provisions of international law.

I am hoping to kick things back up this weekend with some updates on the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Daimler AG v. Bauman, but in lieu of legal blogging at the moment, here’s a follow up to my armor for lawyers and armor for cats: a suit of armor for survivors of the zombie apocalypse, made out of bottle caps and pop tabs. Sure, maybe it wouldn’t stand up against a sword or arrow, but it’s more than good enough to repel a zombie bite. And it’s a heck of a lot lighter than steel.

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