By: Professor Burt Neuborne [*]
The hope that the ATS would permit entrepreneurial lawyers to choreograph international human rights cases involving: (1) alien plaintiffs; (2) alien corporate defendants; and (3) acts wholly occurring abroad into an American court in an effort to take advantage of American discovery rules, Rule 23 class actions, and an independent judiciary is now history. All nine Justices in Kiobel slammed that door, which was probably a pipe dream in the first place. Chief Justice Roberts, writing for five Justices, including the maddeningly vague Justice Kennedy, ruled that the presumption against extraterritorial legislation blocked use of the ATS as a source of federal jurisdiction when neither the plaintiffs, nor the defendants, nor the operative facts had a significant link with the territorial United States. Mere corporate presence for the purposes of general jurisdiction over the defendant could not, ruled the Chief Justice, constitute the significant link to the territorial United States needed to rebut the presumption against extraterritorial legislation.
By: Carey Shenkman[*]
Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court set a deeply alarming precedent in its decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, holding in substance 5-4 that the presumption against extraterritoriality defends corporations from being held accountable for human rights abuses like torture, rape, and murder committed in other countries. For years, U.S. courts were the only recourse for victims from countries with powerless, dysfunctional, or corrupt judicial systems. Their cases were a rare check on the conduct of our companies and their subsidiaries abroad.
This morning, the Supreme Court dismissed the human rights claims of a group of Nigerian nationals against Royal Dutch Petroleum (Shell) under the Alien Tort Statute (A.T.S.) in a 9-0 decision, though the justices split 5-4 as to the reasoning. For the original opinion, see: Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 569 U.S. ___ (2013)
Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court on behalf of 5 justices. First, the Court held that the presumption against extraterritoriality, explained with force in Morrison v. National Australia Bank, 561 U.S. ___ (2010), applies to the statute and the federal common law cause of action under the statute. Second, the court found nothing in the statute’s language or history to rebut the presumption. Third, there are no facts to rebut the presumption in the instant case. Fourth and finally, the Court justifies its solution as preventing the ‘diplomatic strife’ that may arise from judicial interference in foreign policy, an area that is traditionally reserved to the political branches. The Court implied that even if the primary norm that created the cause of action might not cause strife, the judicial search for secondary rules (such as corporate liability) may still do so.