International Law

2nd Circuit Bars Alien Tort Suits for Corporate Human Rights Abuses Overseas

A federal appeals court has ruled that a law used to collect damages in the United States for human rights abuses in other countries does not apply to corporations.

The Alien Tort Statute can be used to sue only individuals, not corporations, according to the New York City-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) and the New York Law Journal covered the opinion (PDF posted by the New York Law Journal) issued on Friday.

The court ruled in a suit against The Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. for alleged human rights violations during oil exploration in Nigeria. The plaintiffs had claimed the companies were liable for military attacks on environmental protesters.

Pepperdine University law professor Donald Childress III told the Wall Street Journal the decision “threatens to effectively stop Alien Tort Statute litigation in its tracks.” Foreign governments are largely immune from suits, he said, and corporate defendants “have the deep pockets.”

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