Law School Case Brief
Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. - 621 F.3d 111 (2d Cir. 2010)
Corporate liability is not a norm that courts can recognize and apply in actions under the Alien Tort Statute, 28 U.S.C.S. § 1350, because the customary international law of human rights does not impose any form of liability on corporations, civil, criminal, or otherwise.
Pursuant to the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), 28 U.S.C.S. § 1350, plaintiff individuals sued asserting that defendant oil exploration and production corporations aided the Nigerian government in suppressing their resistance to oil exploration by allowing corporate property to be used as a staging ground for attacks and by providing food and compensation for Nigerian soldiers, in violation of the law of nations. The district court dismissed certain of the individuals' claims, denied the corporations' motion to dismiss the remaining claims, and certified its entire order for interlocutory appeal.
Was the district court's dismissal of certain of the claims against the corporations proper?
The court affirmed the district court's order as it dismissed certain of the claims against the corporations and reversed the district court's order insofar as it declined to dismiss the remaining claims against the corporations. The court found that the ATS provided jurisdiction over a tort suit brought by an alien alleging a violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the U.S. Jurisdiction under the ATS was limited to the "law of nations," which involved a violation of an international norm that was specific, universal, and obligatory; such claims included war crimes and other crimes against humanity such as genocide and torture. However, customary international law had steadfastly rejected corporate liability for international crimes. Further, no international tribunal had ever held a corporation liable for a violation of the law of nations, and sources of customary international law had explicitly rejected the idea of corporate liability. Accordingly, insofar as the individuals brought claims against corporations, they failed to allege violations of the law of nations, and their claims fell outside the jurisdiction of the ATS.
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