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U.S. Supreme Court

Cert Petition Seeks to Hold Corporations Accountable Under Alien Tort Law

Posted Jun 13, 2011 5:30 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A pending cert petition asks the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that corporations can be sued for human rights abuses under the Alien Tort Statute.

SCOTUSblog says the petition “raises what may be the hottest international law issue now affecting business firms.”

The New York City-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last September that it had no jurisdiction to hear the case because the law applies to individuals but not to corporations. The ruling was left intact when the en banc court split 5-5 on the petition for a rehearing.

The case, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Inc., accuses Shell oil company of helping the Nigerian military government in the 1990s by sending troops to clamp down on activists demanding a greater share of oil revenue, the ABA Journal reported in January.

The cert petition (PDF posted by SCOTUSblog) raises two issues. The first is whether the issue of corporate civil liability should be treated as a jurisdictional issue, as it was in the 2nd Circuit. The Supreme Court could summarily overturn the 2nd Circuit on this point and remand, avoiding the second issue of whether the Alien Tort Statute applies to corporations, SCOTUSblog says.

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