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 portrays 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 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 the history of personal jurisdiction provided in Bauman neglects one very significant part of the story of how specific jurisdiction came to be. Specific jurisdiction has not “been cut loose from Pennoyer’s sway,” as the Supreme Court attempts to portray it, because specific jurisdiction was never an offspring of Pennoyer in the first place. Specific jurisdiction was instead a creature of corporate law, invented by states to regulate the interstate activities of corporate entities, and then later transformed into a constitutional due process doctrine that imposed federal limits on state attempts to regulate such 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).

Without corporations, specific jurisdiction would not exist. The doctrine initially came into existence as a statutory scheme enacted by state legislatures to ensure that corporations could be sued even when they were acting outside of their state of incorporation. Only later was it transformed, by the Supreme Court’s decision in International Shoe, into a constitutional basis for regulating the reach of state courts via the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. But the resulting legal concept was not seamless, and specific jurisdiction’s doctrinally impure origins made it difficult to shoehorn into our previously-existing jurisprudence of personal jurisdiction, which was instead on limitations in a state’s inherent sovereign authority. As result, 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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Edmund Randolph Also Disagrees With the Supreme Court’s Decision in Kiobel

Oliver Ellsworth, as the primary drafter of the Judiciary Act of 1789, tends to get the lion’s share of the credit for the enactment of the Alien Tort Statute. Often overlooked in the history of the ATS, however, is the role played by Edmund Randolph, the first Attorney General for the United States.

Randolph was part of the congressional committee that drafted the original “recommendation to the states to enact laws for punishing infractions of the laws of nations,” in November 1781, which is frequently cited as a precursor to the ATS.
That resolution also contained a nascent version of the ATS’ grant of civil jurisdiction, providing “[t]hat it be farther recommended to authorise suits to be instituted for damages by the party injured” in the event of such a breach. During the Constitutional Convention, Randolph’s contributions demonstrated his continuing interest in the purposes served by the ATS. Randolph repeatedly criticized the failure of the Articles of Confederation to restrain states from engaging in “acts against a foreign power contrary to the laws of nations,” and argued that the federal government should have the power to redress violations of neutrality that might drag the U.S. into war. He also kicked off Article III’s inclusion of the Constitution, helped introduce the “to define … offences against the laws of nations” language in Article II, and advocated for the federal judiciary’s power over “questions which involve the national peace and harmony.”

He also tried to re-write the Judiciary Act of 1789, although he failed at that. But Washington appointed him as the United States’ first Attorney General, and in that capacity, he affirmed the extraterritorial effect of the ATS. In a memorandum provided to Thomas Jefferson regarding the slave abductions in Florida and St. Domingo, Randolph confirmed that although no criminal jurisdiction would extend to those acts, civil jurisdiction was plainly to be had in federal courts, where an alien brought a suit seeking damages for the Georgians’ violation of international law:

Neither of the cases is cognizable in the U.S. criminaliter; because they arose within the local jurisdiction of Florida and St. Domingo. Generally speaking, Incendiaries, poisoners, and other very high offenders may be demanded by the sovereign from whose territory they fled; and ought to be delivered up, according to the law of nations. But no such power exists in the U.S., by which such a surrender can be made.

Civiliter, however, damages may be recovered in the courts of the U.S. under the jurisdiction established by the judicial law if an alien be a party; and the state courts, if both [plaintiff] and [defenant] be citizens.

The federal judiciary has also cognizance of offences against the law of nations, because that law is attached to the U.S. from the nature of the subject, without explicit adoption of it; and because offences cognizable under the authority of the U.S. are clearly subjected by the judicial law to the circuit court. This Mr. J[efferson] seems to doubt, and is therefore referred to the 11th section [of the Judiciary Act of 1789].

It is presumed that congress ought not [specially?] to provide, (considering the circumstances of our country) for the surrender of the malefactors sheltered in the U.S. Nor can their definition be necessary; unless it be to define affirmatively those acts which perhaps may not be absolutely offences against the laws of nations yet are injurious to our harmony with foreign nations, if any such there be.

December 5, 1792

Randolph’s memoranda does no more than to restate the then-existing understanding of extraterritorial jurisdiction. There was a firm divide between the extraterritorial reach of criminal jurisdiction — which goes only to citizens on the high seas — and the extraterritorial reach of civil jurisdiction — which knew no such limitation. Although a U.S. citizen could not sue a U.S. citizen in federal court for an extraterritorial violation of international law, that was due to the lack of diversity jurisdiction, not because of a lack of extraterritorial effect. And, even if there was no federal jurisdiction, a U.S. citizen could still bring his suit in a state court, so long as process could be had on the defendant. But where an alien sued for damages, in a civil suit, the ATS provided for that case to be brought in a federal court — and, to Randolph, as well as Jefferson, the extraterritorial reach of that cause of action was obvious and uncontroversial.

In 1792, the United States lacked the ability to proscribe crimes committed by its citizens within the territories of foreign sovereigns, and that was a source of some contention at the time. The Crimes Act of 1790 did proscribe some offences against international law, but only where committed within the jurisdiction of the United States. But to the founding fathers, the limits of a nation’s prescriptive jurisdiction with regard to criminal offences had little or no relation to a nation’s ability to provide for a cause of action, civiliter, for an extraterritorial tort. That was taken as a given. And, in light of the United States’ inability to provide a criminal remedy for extraterritorial violations of international, its ability to provide for a civil remedy was all the more important.

-Susan

The Extraterritorial Effect of Respublica v. De Longchamps

The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum held that the presumption against extraterritoriality applies to common law causes of action under the ATS, and that there is no evidence the First Congress had intended the ATS to confer jurisdiction over extraterritorial torts. The Court’s conclusion was based, in part, on the claim that the ATS had been specifically enacted in response to two “domestic” breaches of international law: that of the Marbois-Longchamps Affair and the arrest of a servant in Ambassador Van Berckel’s household:

Two notorious episodes involving violations of the law of nations occurred in the United States shortly before passage of the ATS. Each concerned the rights of ambassadors, and each involved conduct within the Union. In 1784, a French adventurer verbally and physically assaulted Francis Barbe Marbois — the Secretary of the French Legion — in Philadelphia. The assault led the French Minister Plenipotentiary to lodge a formal protest with the Continental Congress and threaten to leave the country unless an adequate remedy were provided. Respublica v. De Longschamps [sic], 1 Dall. 111 (O. T. Phila. 1784)

Because there are two known domestic incidents that contributed to the ATS’s enactment, the Court held, the First Congress must have had in mind only domestic causes of action under the ATS:

These prominent contemporary examples — immediately before and after passage of the ATS — provide no support for the proposition that Congress expected causes of action to be brought under the statute for violations of the law of nations occurring abroad.

As an initial matter, it is questionable whether these two incidents can be said to have encompassed the totality of the First Congress’ concerns with infractions of the law of nations. Even accepting that premise, however, the Court’s conclusion is misguided for another reason: the case of Respublica v. De Longchamps, as its contemporaries understood it, was a case involving extraterritorial application of the law.

Although Kiobel was correct that the Longchamps case involved “a French adventurer verbally and physically assaulted [Secretary] Marbois,” the Court’s summary description of the case conflates the two separate charges that were brought against the defendant. It was only the verbal assault that fell afoul of the laws of nation, as the charge for the physical assault was not under international law, but under municipal law:

Longchamps was initially charged with two counts: (1) “unlawfully and violently threatening and menacing bodily harm and violence to the person of the honorable Francis-Barbe De Marbois, Secretary to the Legation from France, and Consul General of France to the United States of America, in the mansion-house of the Minister Plenipotentiary of France,” and (2) “for an Assault and Battery committed upon the said Secretary and Consul, in a public street in the City of Philadelphia.”

One of the reasons that the Marbois Affair caused so much diplomatic unease is due to the fact that Longchamps’ violation of the law of nations occurred not on the street, as Longchamps’ assault had, but in the hotel of the minister plenipotentiary of France. There was a great deal of uncertainty among both members of the Federal Congress and the government of Pennsylvania as to whether such an offense was cognizable by a Pennsylvanian court.

In contrast to the international law violation, the charge against Longchamps for assault and battery was never legally in doubt. Although factually there is some disagreement as to whether or not Marbois was the true aggressor, as a legal matter, the offence of assault and battery on a public street was legally straight forward, as it was unquestionably a crime under the municipal law.

But the assault and battery on Marbois wasn’t the source of the diplomatic strife– it wasn’t the offense to Marbois that caused the Framers’ a foreign relations headache, but rather the offense to the Chevalier de la Luzerne, the French Ambassador. Two days prior to the events resulting in the assault and battery charge, Longchamps had gone into the French minister plenipotentiary’s house and gotten into a verbal altercation with Marbois. The insulting language Longchamps used was, apparently, quite scandalous, or at least it was by French standards. The specific insult Longchamps was said to have made to Secretary Marbois was, “I will dishonor you, you naughty rascal!”

And it was this insult — or rather, the location where it took place — that was the real point of contention. Such an act was deemed a violation of the laws of nations, and French minister Luzerne wanted recompense. As a result of the insult to the French nation’s honor, Luzerne — and also his friend, Van Berckel, the Dutch minister, who would later be involved in the 1787 event also cited by Kiobel – threatened to remove their respective legations from Philadelphia if the U.S. failed to take appropriate action against Longchamps under the laws of nations.

In fact, at Longchamps’ trial in July of 1784, it initially seemed that only the assault charge under municipal law would stand, as the jury originally found Longchamps to be guilty of only that offense. After a little bit of coaxing from the judges, however, the jury finally got it right, and convicted him of violating both the law of Pennsylvania and the law of nations:

The Jury, at first, found the defendant guilty of the Assault only; but, the Court desiring them to re-consider the matter, they returned with a verdict against him on both Counts.

Longchamps’ defense attorneys contested the validity of the count for violation of the law of nations, arguing that only the municipal law of Pennsylvania could apply, as that was where the offense was committed. This claim was rejected by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, and at Longchamps’ sentencing, it was held that the law of nations — and not the municipal law of Pennsylvania — was to apply to the offense, because it had occurred exterritorially to the laws of Pennsylvania:

It must be determined on the principles of the laws of nations, which form a part of the municipal law of Pennsylvania; and, if the offences charged in the indictment have been committed, there can be no doubt, that those laws have been violated. The words used in the Minister’s house, (which is to be considered as a Foreign Domicil, where the Minister resides in full representation of his sovereign, and where the laws of the State do not extend) may be compared to the same words applied to the Judges, in a Court of Justice, where they sit in representation of the majesty of the People, of Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision was based on then-existing conceptions of the inviolability of the premises of a foreign minister. Although the doctrine would become extinguished shortly thereafter, in the 18th century the concept of the Franchise de l’hôtel was still in effect. Under this doctrine, a foreign minister’s dwelling, or domicile, was conceived to be “extra-territorial” to the nation where it sat. The laws of the host state did not enter or apply to the minister’s domicile, and the host sovereign could not exercise jurisdiction — civil or criminal — over acts which occurred within it, as the foreign minister’s hotel was considered to be under the jurisdiction and sovereignty of his home state.

Unsurprisingly, this lead to a great deal of abuse by ambassadors, who used their privileged status to grow rich by shielding criminals and smugglers of all types. In fact, in the 16th and 17th centuries, prior to the more limited Franchise de l’hôtel, the law of nations recognized the more expansive Franchise du quartier – the right of the ambassador to claim privileged status over his entire city quarter. Under the Franchise du quartier, Ambassadors could, from their residences,  grant asylum, enter into contracts, or try and execute servants for criminal violations, all under the law of the sovereign nation to which the embassy belonged.

By the late 18th century, the extent of a foreign minister’s exterritoriality had diminished from its earlier peak. The modern view — which is that foreign embassies are entitled to an extensive list of privileges and immunities, but are nevertheless within the territorial sovereignty of the nation in which they are located — was not yet fully established. And at the time of Longchamps’ trial, the Pennsylvanian authorities, the French legation, and the Federal government were all very much aware of the exterritoriality of Longchamps’ crime. In requesting advice from Congress on how to proceed against Longchamps, the Supreme Executive Counsel of Pennsylvania specified that the offense had occurred “in the hotel of the Minister of France,” finding significant import in the location of the infraction. Luzerne also made much of the location of the insult, and used that to justify his claim of entitlement to exercise jurisdiction over the offense, and his request Longchamps ought be repatriated to France so that he could be prosecuted there.

Although France’s extradition request was denied, Chief Justice McKean ultimately agreed with Pennsylvania’s Attorney General, William Bradford. Bradford argued, on behalf of the prosecution, that Longchamps’ insults were an offense against the law of nations, and that Pennsylvania’s law did not apply to that offense, as it had occurred “where the Minister resides in full representation of his sovereign, and where the laws of the State do not extend.” The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania apparently accepted this argument, and also fully adopted Bradford’s argument that “the law of nations, which makes part of the common law of all nations, requires no particular forms of legal proceedings, but always adopts those of the municipal laws of the different countries of where it is in force.” The court accordingly found that the charge against Longchamps under international law could be sustained in Pennsylvania’s state courts.

Bradford, as the Attorney General for the United States, would also later reaffirm the view that a  foreign minister’s dwelling-house was extraterritorial to the jurisdiction of the state where it was located. In his Opinion of June 24, 1794, at 1 Op. 47, Bradford noted that, unlike an ambassador’s dwelling, a foreign warship in the United States’ territorial waters was subject to that state’s jurisdiction: “[t]he commander of a foreign ship-of-war … cannot claim that extraterritoriality which is annexed to a foreign minister and to his domicil; but is conceived to be fully within the reach of, and amenable to, the usual jurisdiction of the State where he happens to be.” This decision echoes the language used in Respublica v. Longchamps, and suggests that Supreme Court in Kiobel was mistaken in deeming that particular case to have “involved conduct within the Union.”

-Susan

Eight Predictions on the Court’s Decision in Kiobel

With Supreme Court oral arguments on Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum set for tomorrow, it will still be a while yet before the Court releases its opinion. In the meantime, however, here are my predictions on what the outcome of the case will be. Once the Court has actually gotten around to issuing an order, I’ll check back to see if I managed to get any right.

  1. The Kiobel plaintiffs will lose. Either directly on the Supreme Court’s ruling, or after being kicked back to the lower courts with a directive to make findings that spell doom for the plaintiffs, the case against Royal Dutch/Shell will ultimately be dismissed.
  2. But not because of a finding that corporations cannot be liable under the Alien Tort Statute. The ATS was enacted as a mechanism allowing aliens injured by acts violations of international law to recover damages directly from the party who caused them harm, rather than having the U.S. itself make reparations to the victims. The ATS’s concern is not punishment, but in the financial reparation of damages. And, to that end, from the precedent set by prize law, marine torts, and other areas of the law which, in 1789, regularly featured civil claims for violations of the law of nations, there is plenty for the Court to draw from in finding that principles of agency law apply when ascertaining the entity liable for the damages under the ATS. Sosa already made it clear the Court is going to pay close attention to history in making pronouncements on the ATS’s scope and function, and an enquiry into the historical purpose of the statute necessitates a finding of corporate liability.
  3. Instead, Kiobel will be dismissed under principals of comity. If I had to bet, this is the battleground on which Kiobel will be fought. The hubris of allowing a suit brought by aliens against foreign companies for foreign torts will be too much for the Supreme Court to look past, and they will find that international comity requires that U.S. courts decline to exercise jurisdiction in the situation presented. The defendants are corporations based in and operated out of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, and none of their corporate holdings in the U.S. had any direct involvement with Shell’s abhorrent practices in Ogoniland. Allowing suit against these companies in the U.S. is one step short of having U.S. federal courts declare themselves to be an international tribunal competent of adjudicating foreign state’s violations of the law of nations, and the Supreme Court just isn’t going to go there. Bonus prediction: look to see Charming Betsy invoked to explain why the Founders only intended the ATS to be limited to cases with either (a) a sufficient U.S. nexus, whether it be based on territorial concerns or personality jurisdiction, or (b) universal jurisdiction. If Justice Breyer gets his way, part (b) will be expansive and include Really Super Bad Awful Acts. Otherwise, it’ll be limited to piracy and any other crimes in the jurisdictional void.
  4. And possibly for failing to meet exhaustion requirements. The requirement that a plaintiff exhaust all domestic remedies before proceeding in a foreign forum was not a consideration in Sosa, but the Court noted then that “[w]e would certainly consider this requirement in an appropriate case. ” It’s also an issue that cropped up frequently in amici briefs submitted by foreign sovereigns in Kiobel, so the Court may consider it again now, assuming it doesn’t stop once it gets to the comity issue. Although I expect the Kiobel plaintiffs won’t be required to have filed suit in Nigeria in order to meet exhaustion requirements, their failure to pursue suits in the Netherlands and the UK may prove fatal. Particularly so for the UK — the fact that many of the plaintiffs, including the Kiobel family, are themselves UK citizens or residents puts the inappropriateness of a U.S. forum into stark relief.
  5. The Court may also look into the Second Circuit’s decisions regarding aiding-and-abetting liability. The “knowledge and purpose” standard for aiding and abetting liability under the ATS may get some dicta thrown its way, but as Kiobel can be decided without reaching the question of secondary liability, I would guess that it will not feature prominently in the Court’s decision. There may be some discussion, though, about aiding and abetting as a substantive violation vs. agency liability as a theory of recovery, and whether both are decided under domestic law, neither are, or one is but not the other.
  6.  Justice Scalia will author a very terse opinion dissenting in part.  Expect it to feature scathing but memorable descriptions about the purported ridiculousness of the Court exercising jurisdiction under the ATS.
  7. Justice Thomas will join Scalia’s dissent.  True story.
  8. Ultimately, even though the specific plaintiffs in this case will lose, the Court’s decision in Kiobel will strengthen, not weaken, a global regime of corporate liability for international human rights violations. The Court’s opinion will signal its intention to respect both international comity and international human rights. As such, one day, in a different case, with different facts, where the U.S. is a proper forum from which a judgment should be issued, Kiobel will ultimately provide support for a finding of corporate liability for violations of international law. And aside from that, the simple fact that the highest court in the U.S. will have gone on record acknowledging that the activities of corporations are indeed cognizable under international law will be a small but significant step in shaping global norms regarding corporate human rights abuses.


-Susan

A Critique of a Law and Economics Analysis of the Alien Tort Statute

A few days ago, I was interested to see a new draft paper out that discussed the law and economics perspective of corporate liability under the Alien Tort Statute. Corporate Liability for Extraterritorial Torts Under the Alien Tort Statute and Beyond: An Economic Analysis, by Alan O. Sykes, focuses on an important part of ATS litigation, and one which so far has been relatively neglected — the economic impact of ATS suits.

Unfortunately, I came away from the article a bit disappointed; although Sykes accurately summarizes some economic concerns that are theoretically raised by the ATS, there is close to no examination of actual corporate behavior. I was frustrated with its near total disconnect from any specific applications of the ATS, as only a single example from actual ATS litigation is used to illustrate the potential economic downsides of corporate liability: that of Talisman’s withdrawal from Sudan and replacement by Chinese corporations. Actual dollar figures associated with defending ATS suits, or total amounts of judgments or settlements that have been paid under ATS cases, are never brought up.

My major complaint would be that, because the article simply focuses on the theoretical costs caused by corporate liability under the ATS, with little or no evidence as to the actual costs that have been experienced in ATS suits, Sykes’ analysis is almost equally applicable to the question of multinational corporate liability in any situation, not just Alien Tort Statute case. In his article, Sykes identifies five general economic costs:

  1. Litigation is expensive
  2. This is a confusing area of the law, which means judges are likely to end up making decisions that are biased against big, faceless corporations
  3. Allowing multinational corporations to be sued for allegedly bad things they have done can piss off foreign governments, either where the MNC is headquartered or where the bad acts took place
  4. Allowing corporations with connections to the U.S. to be sued is harmful because it gives a competitive benefit to corporations that do not do business in the U.S., and so cannot be sued
  5. Allowing corporations with U.S. connections to be sued will cause them to engage in expensive restructuring to create subsidiaries that have the competitive benefit of not being able to be sued in the U.S.

These costs are not really unique to the ATS context. It is not that any of these costs aren’t real, but Sykes never discusses how each of these general economic concerns is particularly applicable in the context of the Alien Tort Statute. For instance, although the first point is an important consideration for any type of litigation, the article does not provide any evidence that the costs of ATS litigation are more concerning than the costs associated with, say, products liability, or Title VII cases. Plus, as Sykes himself admits, a large proportion of corporate ATS cases feature up to a dozen different claims in addition to any ATS -based claim for relief. If the ATS didn’t exist, it doesn’t mean these all the ATS cases would cease to exist as well — just that they woudn’t have brought ATS claims. And, other than in a handful of high profile exceptions, the ATS portions of those cases don’t cause any significant increase in the overall litigation costs. As Sykes also admits, U.S. Courts are already concerned with the potential costs of baseless litigation, and have implemented doctrines intended to curtail the expenses associated with such cases. I am all in favor of Twombly’s heightened pleading standard applying to ATS suits, but the record of ATS litigation thus far — with an overwhelming majority of ATS cases being dismissed — suggests that this is already occurring, and that litigation costs in ATS suits are no higher than for any other given type of litigation.

As for the second point, regarding the risk of judicial bias against corporations, there is zero evidence that this is a cost particularly likely to occur in the context of ATS litigation. Given the existence of a single plaintiff victory at trial in corporate ATS cases — and perhaps a dozen settlements, many of which heavily favored the corporations — the record would suggest that ATS suits do not feature any problematic bias against corporate defendants.
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Asset Partitioning, Legal Personhood, and its Implications for Corporate Civil Liability

What entities can be liable under the alien tort statute? At a minimum, it has been established that natural persons and foreign sovereigns can be successfully sued under the ATS. Beyond that, there is, to put it mildly, quite a bit of disagreement, most of it centered around whether or not a juridical person can be a validly named defendant alongside humans and nations.

The legal historians’ amicus brief [PDF] in support of the cert petition in Kiobel addresses this question in the context of the common law’s historical approach to questions of liability, arguing that “the Second Circuit erred in concluding that ‘who is liable for what’ is a matter of customary international law,” and that, in the United States, entities are liable for their agents’ torts without regard to the source of the substantive norm of conduct, and this applies to the ATS no less than it would any other tort statute. Although I largely agree with the brief, I wanted to expand upon some of its arguments here, and, in particular, to challenge the claims that, under international law, a “corporation” is a distinct and insular category that can or ought to be afforded its own set of rules. Questions of corporate personality — and for that matter, natural personhood — were not cognizable on the international plane at the time of the ATS’s enactment, as distinctions between sub-state entities could only be made through a state’s domestic law. Accordingly, the question of whether a non-state actor has committed a violation of international law is entirely independent of how a state’s domestic law assigns legal personhood to its subjects.

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The Alien Tort Statute, the Blackstone Three, and the Historical Basis of Judge Williams’ Concurrence In Shafi v. Palestinian Authority

Judge Williams’ concurring opinion in Ali Shafi v. the Palestinian Authority, affirming the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claims against the Palestinian Authority, is a long overdue attempt to create a new theoretical framework for the recognition of causes of action under Alien Tort Statute — or, more properly speaking, attempts to revive a very old one. His concurrence is an original attempt to link the ATS’ alleged origins in Blackstone’s Commentaries with the statute’s modern revival in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain. Ultimately, it proposes a new standard all together for judges struggling to vigilantly police the ATS threshold: that the causes of action recognized under the ATS’s jurisdictional grant ought to be those which “protect[] and facilitate[] the system of international relations arising out of the Westphalian view of national sovereignty, particularly with respect to the avoidance and termination of war.”

While I disagree with Judge Williams’ conclusion — that, in considering whether a plaintiff has stated a claim under the ATS, courts should look to “whether the defendant’s alleged behavior might provoke war if the United States occupied no more than an average position in global power rankings” — his concurrence attempts to inject some much needed ideological coherency into the federal courts’ constant invocations of the “Blackstone Three,” which, thanks to Sosa, are now an ubiquitous feature of modern ATS jurisprudence. Despite its prominent role in ATS litigation, however, most courts fail to understand the true significance of the Blackstone Three, and do not understand what unifies these three disparate norms of international law or why they have been chosen to be the paradigmatic causes of action under the ATS.

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ATS Reversal Watch: M.C. v. Bianchi

I thought I’d drag myself out of blogger purgatory to make a brief comment on a recent decision out of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania that I noticed earlier this evening. In M.C. v. Bianchi, Chief Judge Bartle denied a Motion to Dismiss on the basis that ATS jurisdiction can be conferred over non-state actors based purely on the heinousness of their actions. Assuming there is an appeal, I think it’s a safe bet the Third Circuit will swat this one down once it is reviewed, because the decision’s basis under international law is rather shaky.

My gut feeling is this is just a case of hard facts make bad law, because Defendant Anthony Bianchi, millionaire and convicted serial child rapist, is one of the least sympathetic litigants you could possibly have, and it’s not hard to see how one might be very strongly motivated to extend any assistance available to the unnamed minor plaintiffs.

But being a really horrible person does not magically invoke the jurisdiction of the ATS. Judge Bartle seems to have taken the requirement that only ‘extreme’ violations of international law are sufficient to invoke ATS liability to mean that, the more morally heinous an act is, the greater the likelihood is that there exists a cause of action for a tort in violation of the law of nations:

“Given the young age of his victims and the frequency with which Bianchi engaged in these heinous acts, this case is extreme enough for subject matter jurisdiction to exist under the ATS. What occurred here is a serious transgression of international law that is ‘specific, universal, and obligatory.’ Under all the circumstances, we conclude that Bianchi’s sexual assault of children through sex tourism falls within the ‘very limited category’ of claims cognizable under the ATS as a violation of the law of nations.” Quoting Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, 542 U.S. 692, 732.

To put it charitably, the decision is something of an international law train wreck. Its primary justification seems to be the existence of a international instrument condemning acts like those committed by Bianchi:

“[I]n support of this court’s jurisdiction, plaintiffs point to the Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Child, Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (“Optional Protocol”).” … The Optional Protocol bans the ‘offering, delivering or accepting, by whatever means, a child for the purpose of … [s]exual exploitation of the child.’ S. Treaty Doc. No. 106-37 at art. 3(1)(a)(i). It also declares that parties ‘shall ensure that all child victims of the offences described in the present protocol have access to adequate procedures to seek, without discrimination, compensation for damages from those legally responsible.’ Id. at art. 9(4).

Although the U.S. is a signatory to the Optional Protocol, because that treaty is not self-executing, Plaintiffs had to go the law-of-nations route for the ATS suit, rather than relying on the treaty alone. But calling something ‘customary international law,’ even if it were, does not mean that it automatically comes with a cause of action against private parties. Judge Bartle notes that “‘[The Optional Protocol] also provides that ‘each State Party shall take measures, where appropriate, to establish the liability of legal persons’ for these offenses, both criminal and civil,” and then blithely goes on to assume, “[t]hus, the Optional Protocol clearly contemplates the liability of private individuals.” But that’s not what it says at all. The treaty clearly contemplates obligating nations to prohibit child sex crimes as a matter of domestic law, not making child sex crimes in themselves a violation of international law.

Other than the Optional Protocol, the decision’s basis for finding a violation of international law is based on the following:

“[C]ourts across the United States have acknowledged that child sex tourism … is uniformly admonished by the international community as reprehensible.”

“[Bianchi's] crimes represent a global problem, whereby individuals from developed nations travel to less developed nations to prey on young children from impoverished communities.”

“Courts have been willing to recognize claims by children under the ATS, even where the same claims would not be actionable if brought by adults.” Citing (questionably) Roe v. Bridgestone Corp., 492 F. Supp. 2d 988, 1019-22 (S.D. Ind. 2007).”

But none of this is sufficient to establish that Bianchi’s crimes were “a serious transgression of international law that is ‘specific, universal, and obligatory.’” His actions were evil and illegal, but not a matter of the law of nations.

Judge Bartle’s judicial over-reach in the name of universal jurisdiction is by no means an isolated decision. There is in fact fairly ample, if scattered, support for the idea that jurisdiction over Bianchi would be proper, under the argument that international commercialized child rape (I cannot bring myself to use the monstrously inadequate euphemism of ‘sex tourism’) is a modern crime akin to the traditional offenses of piracy and slavery. Eugene Kontorovich [PDF] has called this claim the “piracy analogy”. The piracy analogy is

the argument that [universal jurisdiction] is based on principles implicit in the earlier, piracy-only universal jurisdiction. According to the piracy analogy, international law treated piracy as universally cognizable because of its extraordinary heinousness. Universal jurisdiction was never about piracy per se, the argument goes, but about allowing any nation to punish the world’s worst and most heinous crimes. Thus universal jurisdiction over human rights violations is simply an application of the well-settled principle that the most heinous offenses are universally cognizable and not, as critics contend, a radical and dangerous encroachment on nations’ sovereignty.

The Bianchi decision is a text-book example of the piracy analogy in action, and of the mistaken belief that the world’s evils are best fought by expanding the nebulous jurisdictional reach of international law to encompass them. However, while states can and do use international law as a means of combating offenses that are universally condemned, as they have with the Option Protocol on the Rights of the Child, the mere fact that an offense can be regulated by international law cannot transform it into a violation of international law.

-Susan

All* Alien Tort Statute Cases Brought Between 1789 and 1990

As an addition to my post on successful cases brought under the Alien Tort Statute, below is a list of failed cases under the ATS from its enactment in 1789 through 1990. These are only the cases that were dismissed outright by the court — the list of ATS suits that were either successful, or which were ultimately unsuccessful but at least made it before a jury, are listed in the above link.

I am reasonably confident that the list is a complete list of all losing ATS cases for that time period. Of course, I’ve probably jinxed myself by saying that, but other than maybe some unreported cases I couldn’t get my hands on, pretty much all of the ATS cases for that time period should be here. … That said, if you know of some I’ve missed, please let me know in the comments!

Of course, given that the ATS’s invocation in federal courts has been expanding at an exponential rate, the overwhelming majority of ATS cases were brought after 2000. So this list has a long way to go yet.

Alien Tort Statute Cases Dismissed by the Courts (Complete Through 1990)

1. Moxon v. The Brigantine Fanny, 5317 F.Cas. 942 (D.C.Pa. 1793). “Neither does this suit for a specific return of the property, appear to be included in the words of the judiciary act of the United States, giving cognizance to this court of ‘all causes where an alien sues for a tort only, in violation of the laws of nations, or a treaty of the United States.’ It cannot be called a suit for a tort only, when the property, as well as damages for the supposed trespass, are sought for.”

2. O’Reilly De Camara v. Brooke, 209 U.S. 45, 28 S. Ct. 439 (1908). This is the first time the ATS went before the Supreme Court. (It is also the first time an ATS claim was subject to a motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action.) The case involved an alleged violation of the Treaty of Paris, and “was brought by the Countess of Buena Vista, a subject of the King of Spain, residing in Havana, Cuba, against Maj. Gen. John R. Brooke, to recover damages alleged to have been caused to the plaintiff by an order of Gen. Brooke, made August 10, 1899, when he was military governor of the Island of Cuba, abolishing the right or franchise to slaughter cattle in the city of Havana, owned by the plaintiff.” “Again, if the plaintiff lost her rights once for all by General Brooke’s order, and so was disseised, it would be a question to be considered whether a disseisin was a tort within the meaning of [the ATS]. In any event, the question hardly can be avoided whether the supported tort is ‘a tort only in violation of the law of nations’ or of the Treaty with Spain. In this court the plaintiff seems to place more reliance upon the suggestion that her rights were of so fundamental a nature that they could not be displaced, even if Congress and the Executive should unite in the effort. It is not necessary to say more about that contention than that it is not the ground on which the jurisdiction of the District Court was invoked. ” “[W]e think it plain that where, as here, the jurisdiction of the case depends upon the establishment of a ‘tort only in violation of the law of nations, or of a treaty of the United States,’ it is impossible for the courts to declare an act a tort of that kind when the Executive, Congress and the treaty-making power all have adopted the act. We see no reason to doubt that the ratification extended to the conduct of [the General].”

3. Pauling v. McElroy, 164 F.Supp. 390 (D.D.C. 1958). Suit to enjoin nuclear weapons testing. Request for injunction not a tort, and accordingly no relief available under ATS.

4. Khedivial Line, S. A. E. v. Seafarers’ Union, 278 F.2d 49 (2 Cir. 1960). Right of free access to ports not sufficient to establish jurisdiction.

5. Madison Shipping Corp. v. National Maritime Union, 282 F.2d 377 (3rd Cir. 1960). “[I]njunctive relief was prayed for on the theory that the appellants’ acts were violative of the appellee’s rights under the Treaty of Friendship, Navigation and Commerce made between the United States and the Republic of Liberia on August 8, 1938, 54 Stat. 1739. Jurisdiction of both of these claims was asserted to be pursuant to Sections 1331 and 1350 of Title 28 U.S.C. [I]t was [also] alleged that the appellants tortiously interfered with the appellee’s contractual relations in violation of the law of Pennsylvania. Injunctive relief and damages were prayed for, and jurisdiction was asserted to be pursuant to Sections 1332 and 1350, Title 28 U.S.C.” Except the court was reviewing the case under interlocutory appeal, and none of the questions before it reached the requisite standard, so the case was booted out.

6. Bowater S. S. Co. v. Patterson, 303 F.2d 369 (2nd Cir. 1962) (in dissent). Interesting, although questionable, early analysis of the ATS. Majority dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction on unrelated grounds. In a dissenting opinion, Judge Lumbard, apparently raising the issue sua sponte, argues that the ATS granted the court a separate basis of federal jurisdiction. the Plaintiff, the Bowater Steamship Company, Ltd., was an English corporation. It “advance[d] a claim under the treaty ‘To regulate the Commerce between the Territories of the United States And of his Britannick Majesty,’ signed and ratified in 1815, 8 Stat. 228, and extended indefinitely on August 6, 1827, 8 Stat. 361.” According to Judge Lumbard, “This is sufficient to give the district court jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1350.” However, the relevant treaty did not provide the substantive law, but rather guaranteed a federal form for the litigant. Therefore, the dissent would have, apparently, used the ATS as a means of providing jurisdiction for an alien to assert a claim under New York state tort law.

7. Lopes v. Reederei Richard Schroder, 225 F.Supp. 292 (E.D.Pa.1963). Dismissied; doctrine of unseaworthiness held to be not part of the law of nations.

8. Upper Lakes Shipping Limited v. International Longshoremen’s Ass’n, 33 F.R.D. 348 (S.D.N.Y. 1963). Plaintiff brought claim “arising under the treaty between the United States and Canada concerning the boundary waters between the United States and Canada.” Court found that treaty’s only available remedy was for plaintiff to “seek the espousal of its claim by the Canadian Government and its presentation to the International Joint Commission.”

9. Seth v. British Overseas Airways Corp., 216 F.Supp. 244 (D.Mass. 1963). Not an interesting case. “The theory of the third count is that this Court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1350 because this is a ‘civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of a treaty of the United States. … There being no evidence that BOAC committed a tort or violated any act of Congress, Counts 2 and 3 are dismissed with prejudice.”

10. Damaskinos v. Societa Navigacion Interamericana, S. A., Pan., 255 F.Supp. 923 (S.D.N.Y.1966). “Negligence in providing a seaman with a safe place in which to work, and unseaworthiness of a vessel in that respect, are not violations of the law of nations.”

11. Valanga v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., 259 F.Supp. 324 (E.D.Pa. 1966). “[A]ctions to recover funds based upon life insurance contract obligations do not impress this Court as being of the calibre of the cases which have been allowed recourse to § 1350. Plaintiff has failed to indicate the impact of defendant’s conduct as violating the “law of nations.” The mere fact that an individual breaches the contractual duty owed to an alien does not mean that such conduct is so flagrant as to warrant this court to conclude, as a matter of law, that it constitutes a violation of the rules of conduct which govern the affairs of this nation, acting in its national capacity, in its relationships with any other nation.”

12. Abiodun v. Martin Oil Service, Inc., 475 F.2d 142 (7th Cir. 1973). Nigerians’ claims alleging fraudulent employment training contracts failed to state a claim involving an international law violation.

13. IIT v. Vencap, Ltd., 519 F.2d 1001 (2d Cir. 1975). Source of the ATS’s famous epitaph:  “[t]his old but little used section is a kind of legal Lohengrin; although it has been with us since the first Judiciary Act, § 9, 1 Stat. 73, 77 (1789), no one seems to know whence it came.” Court found that “[t]hou shalt not steal” is not part of the law of nations.

14. Nguyen Da Yen v. Kissinger, 528 F.2d 1194 (9th Cir. 1975). “[T]he illegal seizure, removal and detention of an alien against his will in a foreign country would appear to be a tort . . . and it may well be a tort in violation of the “law of nations’… We are reluctant to decide the applicability of § 1350 to this case without adequate briefing. Moreover, we are reluctant to rest on it in any event. The complaint presently does not join the adoption agencies as defendants.”

15. Dreyfus v. Von Finck, 534 F.2d 24 (2d Cir. 1976). Seizure of Jewish plaintiff’s property in Nazi Germany and repudiation of 1948 settlement agreement may have been tortious, but not an international law violation.

16. Papageorgiou v. Lloyds of London, 436 F. Supp. 701 (E.D.Pa. 1977). Dismissed under the doctrine of forum non conveniens.

17. Soultanoglou v. Liberty Trans. Co., 1980 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9177 (S.D.N.Y.). “Negligence in providing a seaman with a safe place in which to work, and unseaworthiness of a vessel in that respect, are not violations of the law of nations. []. Soultanoglou has failed to provide the Court with contrary authority. … The Court accepts Magistrate Raby’s conclusion that section 1350 is inapplicable here.”

18. Huynh Thi Anh v. Levi, 586 F. 2d 625 (6th Cir. 1978). There is no universally accepted international right that grants grandparents rather than foster parents custody of children.

19. Benjamins v. British European Airways, 572 F.2d 913 (2d Cir. 1978). Claims arising out of crashed airplane are a tort, but not one in violation of international law or U.S. treaty.

20. Akbar v. New York Magazine Co., 490 F. Supp. 60 (D.D.C. 1980). Libel not a violation of international law or treaty.

21. Canadian Transport Co. v. U.S., 663 F.2d 1081 (D.C.Cir. 1980). “Appellants’ second cause of action alleged that the exclusion of TROPWAVE violated the Treaty of Commerce and Navigation of 1815 between the United States and Great Britain (the 1815 Treaty), 8 Stat. 228. 33 Appellants argue that the District Court had jurisdiction to award them damages under 28 U.S.C. § 1350 (1976), which provides: ‘The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.’ Because nothing in the language of this statute indicates that the United States has waived its sovereign immunity from tort suits for treaty violations, the District Court’s decision dismissing this cause of action must be affirmed unless appellants can show another basis for concluding that sovereign immunity has been waived.”

22. Trans-Continental Inv. Corp. v. Bank of Commonwealth, 500 F. Supp. 565 (C.D. Cal. 1980). “Plaintiffs do not claim that any treaty has been violated nor do they suggest that any such claim can be pleaded. Thus, the invocation of Section 1350 jurisdiction is posited directly on their claim that ‘fraud is a universally recognized tort.’ This is essentially the same argument that was made in IIT v. Vencap, Ltd., and the answer must be the same, while the statement is undoubtedly true, universal recognition does not, per se, make the rule a part of ‘the law of nations,’ construed in accordance with Article III.”

23. Cohen v. Hartman, 634 F.2d 318 (5th Cir. 1981). Tortious conversion of funds (embezzlement) is not a violation of the law of nations.

24. Jafari v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 539 F.Supp. 209 (N.D.Ill. 1982). “[T]he ‘law of nations’ does not prohibit a government’s expropriation of the property of its own nationals.”

25. B.T. Shanker Hedge v. British Airways, 1982 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16469 (N.D. Ill.). “The plaintiff alleges that he suffered physical injuries when he was struck by a luggage cart while he stood at the lost and found area controlled by the defendant at the airport in Geneva, Switzerland.” Yeah, not exactly a tort in violation of the law of nations. Now maybe if he’d sued for tortiously bad airline food… *rim shot*. But a somewhat interesting note: “This case alleges a tort, but not one in violation of the law of nations or any treaty of the United States. If jurisdiction were held to exist under this statute over this cause, the exercise of such jurisdiction would probably be in violation of Article III of the Constitution.”

26. Canadian Overseas Ores Ltd. v. Compania de Acero, 528 F. Supp. 1337 (S.D.N.Y. 1982). Suit to recover “spare parts and related equipment.” “[T]his suit is not one to recover allegedly expropriated property and accordingly 28 U.S.C. § 1350, conferring jurisdiction over suits “by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of Nations,” does not provide a constitutional jurisdictional predicate for the suit. As the Court of Appeals stated in the footnote relied on by CANOVER, ‘commercial violations … do not constitute violations of international law.’”

27. De Wit v. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, 570 F. Supp. 613 (S.D.N.Y. 1983). Trade secret and employment action. “The court finds that such extraordinary circumstances are not present here and therefore de Wit’s claim of jurisdiction under this provision is also lacking.”

28. Zapata v. Quinn, 707 F.2d 691, 1983 U.S. App. LEXIS 27589 (2d Cir. N.Y. 1983). “This is an unusually frivolous civil rights action brought under 28 U.S.C. § 1350 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by the winner of $273,178 in the New York State Lottery against its director, claiming that New York regulations, which provide that the winnings will be paid partly in cash and the balance by way of an annuity over 10 years instead of in one lump sum, deprived her of property without due process of law.”

29. Ramirez de Arellano v. Weinberger, 724 F.2d 143 (D.C.Cir. 1983). “As for remedies (available to the Honduran corporations alone) under the Alien Tort Statute: Assuming without deciding that that legislation allows suits against the United States, in the case.it nonetheless applies only to so-called transitory causes of action. Neither an action seeking ejectment nor an action seeking money damages for trespass would lie, since they are both local actions.”

30. Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726 F.2d 774 (D.C.Cir. 1984). The ATS gets Borked.

31. Ramirez de Arellano v. Weinberger, 745 F.2d 1500 (D.C.Cir.1984). ATS raised as jurisdictional ground, but court found it unnecessary to address the claim.

32. Munusamy v. McClelland Eng’r, Inc., 579 F. Supp. 149 (E.D. Tex. 1984). This case is something of an accidental invocation of the ATS, and should probably be discarded for purposes of looking at ATS issues:  “[]he Plaintiffs insist the court has jurisdiction by virtue of” the ATS and three other jx statutes, and the causes of action were various, but included “the General Maritime Law of the United States and of Nation.” But the ATS issue is never discussed, and then the case got lost in a FNC procedural quagmire.

33. Tamari v. Bache & Co., 730 F.2d 1103 (7th Cir. 1984). Boring case, not useful: “[t]he alleged violations include excessive trading and churning of the accounts; making false representations, false reports and false statements to the Tamaris; and deceiving the Tamaris as to the true condition of the accounts.” “We note that 28 U.S.C. § 1350 has been narrowly construed and would not supply a basis for federal jurisdiction over the common law claim.”

34. Sanchez-Espinoza v. Reagan, 770 F.2d 202 (D.C. Cir. 1985). My favorite part of this case is the dismissive reference to “so-called ‘customary international law.’” Court found that either the acts of the defendants were private acts and not covered by the ATS, or else were the acts of officials and therefore barred by sovereign immunity: “It would make a mockery of the doctrine of sovereign immunity if federal courts were authorized to sanction or enjoin, by judgments nominally against present or former Executive officers, actions that are, concededly and as a jurisdictional necessity, official actions of the United States.”

35. Greenham Women Against Cruise Missiles v. Reagan, 591 F.Supp. 1332 (S.D.N.Y. 1984). Plaintiffs, British citizens, sought to enjoin the deployment of ninety-six cruise missiles at Greenham Common, Great Britain. “Based on these alleged consequences of deployment, the Greenham plaintiffs contend that the deployment of cruise missiles contravenes several customary norms of international law, subjecting them to tortious injury actionable under the Alien Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1350.” No surprise that the court found that “[t]he instant case presents a non-justiciable political question.” Besides which, their claim wasn’t for a tort.

36. Jaffe v. Boyles, 616 F. Supp. 1371 (W.D.N.Y. 1985). Interesting case, and not just because it involves bounty hunters. Plaintiff was seized and dragged across the Canadian border into the US, where he was prosecuted. Court found that the US-Canada extradition treaty did not create private right of action, and as ATS is jurisdictional only, there was no tort a private person could sue for: “Any alien torts committed against Jaffe in violation of the law of nations occurred in Toronto with his seizure and continued with the crossing of the border here. The extradition treaty may well have been violated at the moment the border was crossed, but as already discussed, plaintiffs have no private right of action under that treaty.” So in a way, this case could go down into the “jurisdiction under ATS” column — the court did find that there may well have been a tort in violation of a US treaty, but it’s not one that Plaintiff was able to recover for.

37. Guinto v. Marcos, 654 F.Supp. 276 (S.D.Cal. 1986). Plaintiffs brought suit alleging Philippines government and seized and suppressed a film. Court rejected the filmmaker’s ATS claims: “However dearly our country holds First Amendment rights, I must conclude that a violation of the First Amendment right of free speech does not rise to the level of such universally recognized rights and so does not constitute a “law of nations.”

38. Saltany v. Reagan, 702 F. Supp. 319 (D.D.C. 1988). Boring case. ATS claim brought and then smacked down under FSIA.

39. Carmichael v. United Technologies Corp., 835 F.2d 109 (5th Cir. 1988). Plaintiff, a British citizen, was stuck in a Debtor’s Prison in Saudi Arabia, for two years, and brought claims against his creditors for false imprisonment and assault and battery. Plaintiff “allege[d] that the defendant corporations conspired with the Saudi government to have him jailed. He further alleges that, knowing of his incarceration and the type of treatment he was receiving, the defendants purposefully delayed giving their unilateral release of their claims in order to force him to sign mutual releases and covenants not to sue.” The court found it lacked PJx over all all defendants but Price Waterhouse. Those claims were dismissed because Plaintiff “simply cannot demonstrate any causal connection between Price Waterhouse’s conduct and his prolonged imprisonment or torture. In this case, there is no evidence that Price Waterhouse was responsible, directly or indirectly, for Carmichael’s initial incarceration. Second, Price Waterhouse owed no affirmative duty to Carmichael simply to release him from an obligation that he admitted owing. And finally, no evidence was adduced in the 12(b)(1) proceeding that Price Waterhouse in any way conspired with or aided and abetted in the act that we have assumed constituted the violation of international law, that is, the official torture of Carmichael.

40. Jones v. Petty-Ray Geophysical Geosource, Inc., 722 F. Supp. 343 (S.D. Tex. 1989). Complaint did not allege Plaintiff was an alien, nor did it plead any violation of the law of nations. “The plaintiff’s complaint alleges that Sudan was negligent in failing to warn plaintiff’s decedent of imminent political danger and violence and failing to provide adequate police protection and security to decedent. However, the plaintiff has not shown where this cause of action arises under the ‘law of nations’ and has not cited any persuasive source that recognizes a sovereign’s duty to protect foreign nationals from harm.”

41. Von Dardel v. Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, 736 F. Supp. 1 (D.D.C. 1990). Dismissing default judgment against USSR that was granted for, inter alia, claims under the ATS. Court found FSIA barred judgment.

42. Adras v. Nelson, 917 F.2d 1552 (11th Cir. 1990). Dismissed, court found “all claims were barred by doctrines of absolute immunity, qualified immunity, and for failure to state a claim, and lack of pendent jurisdiction.”

43. Castillo v. Spiliada Maritime Corp., 732 F.Supp. 50 (E.D.La. 1990). Plaintiffs claimed “retaliatory discharge under the Alien Tort Statute, 28 U.S.C. 1350 et seq.” Unsurprisingly, the case didn’t go anywhere.

————-

Partial, in-progress list of post-1990 cases:

44. Amlon Metals, Inc. v. FMC Corp., 775 F. Supp. 668 (S.D.N.Y. 1991). Amlon involved the shipment of allegedly hazardous copper residue to a purchaser in England for metallic reclamation purposes. Among its claims, the purchaser sought recovery in tort under the Alien Tort Statute, and “assert[ed] that the complaint does allege facts that constitute a violation of the law of nations. In particular, plaintiffs argue that FMC’s conduct is violative of the Stockholm Principles, United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (adopted June 16, 1972), to which the U.S. is a signatory.” The court said yeah right, nice try: “reliance on the Stockholm Principles is misplaced, since those Principles do not set forth any specific proscriptions, but rather refer only in a general sense to the responsibility of nations to insure that activities within their jurisdiction do not cause damage to the environment beyond their borders.”

45. Koohi v. U.S., 976 F.2d 1328 (9th Cir. 1992). No waiver of sovereign immunity. ATS claim dismissed in a quick footnote.

45. Hamid v. Price Waterhouse, 51 F.3d 1411 (9th Cir. 1995). “The wrongs alleged are in substance fraud, breach of fiduciary duty and misappropriation of funds. Although the conduct was international in scope, no violation of what has traditionally been the subject of international law is claimed. International law includes more than international treaties. But looting of a bank by its insiders, and misrepresentations about the bank’s financial condition, have never been in the traditional classification of international law.”

46. Aquinda v. Texaco, Inc., 945 F. Supp. 625, 627 (S.D.N.Y. 1996). Court in Aquinda referenced the possible application of § 1350 for environmental practices “which might violate international law.” Suit was subsequently dismissed on grounds of comity, forum non-conveniens, and failure to join a necessary party.

47. Beanal v. Freeport-McMoRan, Inc., 969 F.Supp. 362 (E.D.La. 1997). Court found that plaintiff “failed to articulate a violation of the international law. Plaintiff states that the allegations support a cause of action based on three international environmental law principles: (1) the Polluter Pays Principle; (2) the Precautionary Principle; and (3) the Proximity Principle. None of the three rises to the level an international tort.” Court also suggested that corporation could not violate international environmental law.

48. Jogi v. Piland, 131 F. Supp.2d 1024 (C.D. Ill. 2001). Dismissed, court held that ATS claims require a tort in violation of treaty, not just any treaty violation.

49. Mendonca v. Tidewater, Inc., 159 F.Supp.2d 299 (E.D.La. 2001). Boring case; lots of alleged violations of international law that make no sense. “the plaintiff can cite no solid support for his claim that the conduct complained of rises to the level recognized by the law of nations.”

50. Doe I v. The Gap, Inc., 2001 WL 1842389 (D.N.Mar.I. 2001). Plaintiffs brought claims of forced labor and deprivation of fundamental human rights in violation of international law. Interestingly, the court accepted the idea that a purely private actor could be held liable under the ATS, but that plaintiffs failed to prove their slavery claims, so the ATS claim was dismissed: “Although international law generally governs the relationship between nations, and thus a violation thereof almost always requires state action, it has been recognized that a handful of particularly egregious acts — genocide, war crimes, piracy, and slavery — by purely private actors can violate international law. As of now, however, only the acts mentioned above have been found to result in private individuals being held liable under international law.” “The court has above determined that plaintiffs have failed to make out a claim for the less egregious act of involuntary servitude and thus it need not consider whether the Unocal court’s equation of forced labor with slavery is sustainable on the facts as alleged here. As to plaintiffs’ claims of other alleged human rights violations, no court has yet accepted plaintiffs’ contention that the freedom to associate and the right to be free from discrimination are standards that have as yet evolved into norms of customary international law sufficient to invoke and be actionable under the ATCA.”

51. Tachiona v. Mugabe, 386 F.3d 205 (2d Cir. 2004). Dismissal of ATS claims for sovereign and head of state immunity.

52. Bancoult v. McNamara, 370 F.Supp.2d 1 (D.D.C. 2004). Plaintiffs tried to claim a “violation of the ATS.” Dismissed.

53. Schneider v. Kissinger, 310 F.Supp.2d 251 (D.D.C. 2004). Claims under TVPA and ATS against Kissinger dismissed. ATS claims did no fulfill the requirements of §2679(b)(2)(B), although TVPA claims “arguably did.” But TVPA claims still dismissed, as “[i]n carrying out the direct orders of the President of the United States, Dr. Kissinger was most assuredly acting pursuant to U.S. law, if any, despite the fact that his alleged foreign coconspirators may have been acting under color of Chilean law. In addition, the TVPA claims appear to be barred by Dr. Kissinger’s qualified immunity from suit.”

54. Ganguly v. Charles Schwab & Co., Inc., 2004 WL 213016, (S.D.N.Y. 2004). Foreign investor seeking to hold brokerage firm liable for losses failed to allege any violation of international law.

55. Mujica v. Occidental Petroleum Corp., 381 F.Supp.2d 1164 (C.D.Cal. 2005). Court found act of state doctrine did not apply, and refused to dismiss certain ATS claims. It then, however, dismissed the entire case, under the political question doctrine.

56. Holland v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 496 F.Supp.2d 1 (D.D.C. 2005). TVPA only good against individual defendants.

57. Joo v. Japan, 413 F.3d 45 (2005). “We hold the appellants’ complaint presents a nonjusticiable political question, namely, whether the governments of the appellants’ countries resolved their claims in negotiating peace treaties with Japan. In so doing we defer to “the considered judgment of the Executive on [this] particular question of foreign policy.”

58. In re Iraq and Afghanistan Detainees Litigation, 479 F.Supp.2d 85 (D.D.C. 2007). Defendants were immune under the Westfall Act. Because the Geneva Convention is not a law enacted by Congress, but rather an international agreement, it does not fall within the Westfall Act’s exception for statutes.

59. Taveras v. Taveraz, 477 F.3d 767 (6th Cir. 2007). Court found parental child abduction does not violate law of nations. Further, “the nexus between Mr. Taveras’s asserted injury and the alleged law of nations violation (that the right of the United States to control who enters its borders was infringed) is highly tenuous, at best. As Sosa definitively established that the underlying tort itself must be in violation of the law of nations to be cognizable under the ATS, we reject Mr. Taveras’s Adra-styled argument that Ms. Taveraz’s fraudulent entry into the United States is sufficient to implicate a law of nations infraction and thereby propel his purely domestic tort action within the jurisdictional ambit of the ATS.”

60. Jama v. Esmor Corr. Serv., 2008 WL 724337 (D.N.J. 2007). “Four of Jama’s claims went to the jury [including] violation of the Alien Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1350.” Ignoring the fact that you cannot violate a jurisdictional statute, the jury found “no liability against any defendant under the Alien Tort Claims Act.” However, it several of the Defendants did settle, so this one can go in both the win column and the loss column.

61. Ruiz v. Fed. Gov’t of the Mexican Republic, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 74736 (W.D. Tex. 2007). “In his Complaint, Ruiz contends that the defendants’ actions have violated the UN Charter and the UDHR. Neither of these documents create a tort actionable under the ATS.

62. Harbury v. Hayden, 522 F.3d 413 (D.C.C. 2008). Stating that “the ATCA cannot be the subject of ‘a violation’ of a federal statute because the ATCA provides no substantive rights that could be the subject of any claimed violation”.

63. Presbyterian Church of Sudan v. Talisman Energy, Inc. (2d Cir. 2009). Second Circuit found that corporate defendant not liable for assisting others’ alleged violations of the ATS in the absence of evidence it intended that those violations be committed.

65. Hurst v. Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, 474 F.Supp.2d 19 (D.D.C. 2007): “In their Opposition, Plaintiffs assert for the first time a claim by Mulroy under the Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”), 28 U.S.C. § 1350, on the grounds that they asserted jurisdiction under the statute in their complaint, and they seek leave to amend if the claim was not sufficiently pleaded. The ATS does not provide jurisdiction over foreign states.”

66. Hoang Van Tu v. Koster, 364 F.3d 1196 (10th Cir. 2004). 10-year statute of limitations adopted from TVPA to bar claims.

67. Rojas Mamani v. Sanchez Berzain, 636 F.Supp.2d 1326 (S.D.Fla. 2009). TVPA claim — dismissed for failure to exhaust all remedies.

68. Turedi v. Coca-Cola Co., 343 Fed.Appx. 623 (2nd Cir. 2009): Dismissed for forum non conveniens.

-Susan

Second Circuit’s Error in Kiobel

This is kind of petty, and not particularly timely, but the Second Circuit’s decision in Kiobel contained one pretty blatant error I wanted to point out. It’s a minor mistake, and entirely insignificant regarding the outcome of the case, but it is perhaps indicative of a lack of familiarity with the history of the Alien Tort Statute:

Such civil lawsuits, alleging heinous crimes condemned by customary international law, often involve a variety of issues unique to ATS litigation, not least the fact that the events took place abroad and in troubled or chaotic circumstances. The resulting complexity and uncertainty—combined with the fact that juries hearing ATS claims are capable of awarding multibillion-dollar verdicts — has led many defendants to settle ATS claims prior to trial. Thus, our Court has published only nine significant decisions on the ATS since 1980 (seven of the nine coming in the last decade), and the Supreme Court in its entire history has decided only one ATS case.

Although much of this statement is subjectively wrong, the last line is outright false. Sosa was not the first — O’Reilly De Camara v. Brooke, 209 U.S. 45 (1908) was the first case brought under the Alien Tort Statute to make its way to the Supreme Court. Although the case was not particularly significant, it is notable in that it “perhaps implies that an unjustified seizure of an alien’s property in a foreign country by a United States officer would come within it.” See Khedivial Line, S. A. E. v. Seafarers’ Intern. Union, 278 F.2d 49 (2d. Cir. 1960).

The rest of that paragraph from the Kiobel decision is also dubious.

ATS cases “often involve a variety of issues unique to ATS litigation, not least the fact that the events took place abroad and in troubled or chaotic circumstances.” The Second Circuit is abusing the meaning of “unique,” here. Events that took place abroad and in chaotic or troubled circumstances are in fact frequently litigated in US courts, albeit usually involving fact patterns that are different from the typical ATS case.

The resulting complexity and uncertainty—combined with the fact that juries hearing ATS claims are capable of awarding multibillion-dollar verdicts — Juries may be capable of awarding multibillion-dollar verdicts in ATS cases, but that is true for all sorts of cases. The only case the Second Circuit cites to is Karadzic, which was a default judgment. Moreover, a jury decision on the merits in favor of a plaintiff in a corporate defendant case has happened exactly once in any ATS case ever, in Chowdhury v. Worldtel Bangladesh Holding, Ltd., 588 F. Supp.2d 375 (E.D.N.Y. 2008). Just once. That is hardly grounds for invoke the specter of “juries awarding multibillion-dollar verdicts.”

… has led many defendants to settle ATS claims prior to trial. Wait, don’t courts consider it a good thing when cases settle before trial? And wait a second here — “many defendants” is quite a stretch. I am only aware of seven ATS cases ever that resulted in a settlement. I’m willing to assume there are a few out there that I’ve missed, but not many. The Second Circuit itself lists only two. There have been, by an extremely conservative estimate, maybe three hundred ATS cases in total that were “legitimate.” By legitimate, I mean not jail-mail and not filed by obviously crazy people. Of these three hundred or so cases, under a dozen have ever resulted in a settlement. So at the extreme, a mere 3% of ATS cases wind up settling. The average settlement rate for torts in federal courts is around 67%. I therefore find it absolutely ridiculous that the Second Circuit is using the threat that “many defendants settle before trial” as a reason for why the ATS is ‘dangerous’ or ‘unpredictable.’

There are other errors in Kiobel that are more significant, and are legal errors rather than factual ones, but these mischaracterizations are telling. The court was not simply adjudicating the merits of the plaintiffs’ claims — obviously the court found that its fears of what the ATS was capable of doing to be significant enough to include in its opinion. But these fears were based on stilted facts, not on the actual record.

-Susan