May 08, 2012 Articles

A Primer for the Alien Tort Claims Act

If the Supreme Court overturns Kiobel, corporations could be exposed to liability in U.S. courts for actions that occurred anywhere around the globe.

By Ashish S. Joshi and Gabriele Neumann


Every U.S. company doing business overseas—especially in developing economies—should be interested in the outcome of two cases that are currently before the Supreme Court of the United States. In Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. and Mohamed v. Palestinian Authority, the Supreme Court faces the issue of whether corporations can be sued for violations of international law under U.S. statutes, including the Alien Tort Claims Act. These cases involve tort claims against non-natural persons—oil companies are alleged to have aided and abetted international law violations in Nigeria in Kiobel, and the Palestinian Authority is alleged to have committed torture and extrajudicial killing in Mohamed.

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