Law School Case Brief
Filartiga v. Pena-Irala - 630 F.2d 876 (2d Cir. 1980)
The Alien Tort Statute does not grant new rights to aliens, but is simply an opening to the federal courts for adjudication of the rights already recognized by international law. Deliberate torture perpetrated under color of official authority violates universally accepted norms of the international law of human rights, regardless of the nationality of the parties. Thus, whenever an alleged torturer is found and served with process by an alien within United States borders, 28 U.S.C.S. § 1350 provides federal jurisdiction.
Citizens of Paraguay (appellants) filed an action in the United States against another citizen of Paraguay (appellee), for wrongfully causing the death of a family member. Appellants alleged that appellee tortured and killed the man in retaliation for his father's political actions and beliefs. The district court dismissed the action for want of subject matter jurisdiction. The district court felt constrained to narrowly construe the "law of nations" as employed in the Alien Tort Statute. Appellants challenged the district court's decision.
Did the district court have jurisdiction over the subject matter?
The court determined that deliberate torture perpetuated under color of official authority violated universally accepted norms of the international law of human rights, regardless of the nationality of the parties. Official torture had been prohibited by the law of nations. The prohibition was clear and unambiguous and admitted no distinction between treatment of aliens and citizens. Whenever an alleged torturer was found and served with process by an alien within the borders of the United States, federal jurisdiction was appropriate. The court determined that its jurisdiction was appropriate. The court reversed the decision of the district court, which dismissed appellants' complaint for want of subject matter jurisdiction.
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