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), plaintiff individuals sued defendant oil exploration and production corporations asserting that it 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, thereby aiding and abetting violations of the law of nations. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed certain of the individuals' claims, denied the corporations' motion to dismiss the remaining claims, and certified its entire order for interlocutory appeal.
Did the district court err in its decision to dismiss certain of the individuals' claims, to deny the corporations' motion to dismiss the remaining claims, and to certify its entire order for interlocutory appeal?
Yes, as regards to its decision to deny the corporations' motion to dismiss the remaining claims.
The court affirmed the district court's order insofar 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. According to the court, 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, the court held that customary international law had steadfastly rejected corporate liability for international crimes. Further, the court noted that 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, the court held that they failed to allege violations of the law of nations, and their claims fell outside the jurisdiction of the ATS.
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