The Presumption Against Extraterritoriality vs. the U.S.’s Jurisdiction Over Invasions of its Neutral Rights: Can Chiquita and Balintulo Be Reconciled with the 18th Century Case Law on Extraterritorial Jurisdiction?

In a 2-1 decision issued last month, the Eleventh Circuit granted Chiquita’s motion to dismiss Cardona v. Chiquita Brands Int’l, Inc., a longstanding ATS case brought by four thousand Colombians alleging that, as part of its business operations in Colombia, Chiquita supervised and supplied a campaign of torture and murder conducted by Colombian terrorist organizations. In doing so, the Eleventh Circuit promptly broke the recent trend I sketched out in my previous post, by correctly applying the presumption against extraterritoriality to conclude that the ATS does not confer jurisdiction over “torture [that] occurred outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”

The majority opinion also explicitly rejected the nascent “international rights and obligations” test that the Fourth Circuit applied in Al Shimari. Judge Martin’s dissenting opinion just as explicitly adopted that test, and would have found jurisdiction over Chiquita on the grounds that “the United States would fail to meet the expectations of the international community were we to allow U.S. citizens to travel to foreign shores and commit violations of the laws of nations with impunity.” But writing for the majority, Judge Sentelle (of the D.C. Circuit, sitting by designation) summarily dismissed Judge Martin’s argument as a statement of policy rather than an applicable principle of law, finding that “[e]ven assuming the correctness of the assumption that the present complaint states violations of the law of nations, the dissent’s observation is not relevant to our determination in this case.” In other words: the presumption against extraterritoriality has no relationship with the U.S.’s foreign policy interests in complying with international obligations.

Chiquita is therefore the first firm rejection of the specialized (and misnamed) version of the presumption against extraterritoriality (a.k.a, the PAE-for-ATS) that the lower courts have distilled from Kiobel’s intentionally ambiguous holding. Although the Second Circuit has previously declined to find jurisdiction in a post-Kiobel ATS case on similar grounds, that case, Balintulo v. Daimler, is unlike Chiquita in that the Second Circuit would have reached the same result regardless of whether it applied the PAE or the PAE-for-ATS. In Chiquita, by contrast, application of the PAE-for-ATS should have resulted in a finding of jurisdiction. But the Eleventh Circuit instead took the Supreme Court at its word, and applied the “traditional” PAE.

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Kiobel’s Bowman Problem: Where the Legislature Has Enacted Laws to Defend the U.S. Government’s Interests, the Presumption Against Extraterritoriality Does Not Apply

Last week, in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, et al., the Supreme Court deviated from its prior two decisions under the ATS, and held that the ATS does not confer jurisdiction over violations of the law of nations that occur within a foreign territory. The ATS, the Court can concluded, can be presumed to apply to activity on the high seas, but nevertheless cannot be presumed to apply to activity that occurs outside of both U.S. territory and the high seas:

the presumption against extraterritoriality applies to claims under the ATS, and that nothing in the statute rebuts that presumption. ‘[T]here is no clear indication of extraterritoriality here,’ and petitioners’ case seeking relief for violations of the law of nations occurring outside the United States is barred.

Although I fully agree with the Court’s conclusion that jurisdiction did not exist over the claims being asserted by the Kiobel plaintiffs, the majority’s reliance on the presumption against extraterritoriality to reach this holding is ill-placed. The Court’s claim that the ATS was not intended to apply abroad is ahistorical, as the legislature is not required to specifically define a locus for statutes enacted to defend the U.S.’s security interests. The nature of the statute is itself proof that it was intended to apply outside of U.S. territory.

Kiobel acknowledges that the First Congress’ intent in including the ATS in the Judiciary Act of 1789 was, at least in major part, in order to “avoid[] diplomatic strife” by ensuring there would be a federal forum in which the citizens of foreign states could be provided relief for violations of the laws of nations. If such relief was not made available, and an alien’s injuries were not remedied, then the United States could itself be liable for a breach of international law. Because a private individual’s violation of international law could endanger the United States’ national interest, and require the United States to offer restitution for the offense, an ATS suit was a matter of public, and not private, concern.

Given that background, it seems incongruous to hold that the ATS does not evidence an intent to apply extraterritorially. In fact, the Court’s own case law has already reached that same conclusion, finding that the presumption against extraterritoriality does not apply to laws which “are enacted because of the right of the Government to defend itself” — the precise purpose for which the ATS has been enacted. United States v. Bowman, 260 U.S. 94 (1922).

Bowman found that the presumption against extraterritoriality did not apply to a federal statute prohibiting “conspir[ing] to defraud a corporation in which the United States was and is a stockholder,” even though no extraterritorial locus specified in the statute’s text. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court reversed the district court’s holding that it lacked jurisdiction over the offense — which had taken place on ships in the high seas and in the territory of Brazil — because the crime had been “committed without the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State thereof and on the high seas or within the jurisdiction of [a foreign state].” Therefore, the Court concluded,

We have in this case a question of statutory construction. The necessary locus, when not specially defined, depends upon the purpose of Congress as evinced by the description and nature of the crime and upon the territorial limitations upon the power and jurisdiction of a government to punish crime under the law of nations. Crimes against private individuals or their property, like assaults, murder, burglary, larceny, robbery, arson, embezzlement and frauds of all kinds, which affect the peace and good order of the community, must of course be committed within the territorial jurisdiction of the government where it may properly exercise it. If punishment of them is to be extended to include those committed outside of the strict territorial jurisdiction, it is natural for Congress to say so in the statute, and failure to do so will negative the purpose of Congress in this regard.

But the same rule of interpretation should not be applied to criminal statutes which are, as a class, not logically dependent on their locality for the Government’s jurisdiction, but are enacted because of the right of the Government to defend itself against obstruction, or fraud wherever perpetrated, especially if committed by its own citizens, officers or agents. Some such offenses can only be committed within the territorial jurisdiction of the Government because of the local acts required to constitute them. Others are such that to limit their locus to the strictly territorial jurisdiction would be greatly to curtail the scope and usefulness of the statute and leave open a large immunity for frauds as easily committed by citizens on the high seas and in foreign countries as at home. In such cases, Congress has not thought it necessary to make specific provision in the law that the locus shall include the high seas and foreign countries, but allows it to be inferred from the nature of the offense.

Although Bowman concerned a criminal statute, and not a civil act, the Court’s reasoning in that case applies to the ATS with equal force. It was not necessary for Congress to make specific provision for the ATS’s jurisdictional reach, because the ATS could be presumed to reach any act which might endanger the U.S.’s national interests, so long as such jurisdiction could be exercised in conformity of international law. (And if the U.S. was prohibited under international law from exercising jurisdiction over a particular offense, then the ATS’s purpose would not be implicated anyway, because in such a case the U.S. would not be at risk of breaching international law by failing to provide a forum or remedy.)

Bowman also refutes Kiobel’s holding that the ATS could be implied to cover piracy even in the absence of a specific provision noting that Congress intended the statute to apply to the high seas. Although the majority conceded that the ATS extended to acts that took place outside the U.S. — which is precisely the sort of statutory construction that the presumption against extraterritoriality prohibits — the Court was unconcerned by this inconsistency. The majority swept this issue aside by stating, “We do not think that the existence of a cause of action against [pirates] is a sufficient basis for concluding that other causes of action under the ATS reach conduct that does occur within the territory of another sovereign[.]” But as Michael noted in a previous post, this distinction between ‘high seas’ and ‘foreign territory’ is a wholly new creation, unsupported by prior case law. This decision is also inconsistent with Bowman, in which the Court noted that, for statutes to which the presumption against extraterritoriality has been held to apply, it applies equally to acts committed on the high seas as to acts committed on foreign territories. Prior to Kiobel, when a statute failed to specify a locus, there was no basis by which a statute could be held to differentiate between the high seas and foreign territories — either both were out or both were in, absent a specific Congressional directive that such a distinction be made.


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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