July 08, 2013 Articles

Supreme Court Limits ATS Litigation—But Door Remains Slightly Ajar

Some Alien Tort Statute cases that survive Kiobel will be the subject of continued litigation—and corporations remain likely targets.

By William B. Panlilio and Laurie Strauch Weiss – July 8, 2013

In Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 133 S.Ct. 1659 (2013), the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the applicability of the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) to alleged violations of international law committed by multinational corporations overseas. Although the Supreme Court rejected the claims in Kiobel because of the presumption against the extraterritorial application of statutes such as the ATS, the Supreme Court did not completely slam the door shut on ATS litigation. What types of ATS cases survive Kiobel will certainly be the subject of continued litigation— and corporations remain likely targets.

The ATS was enacted as part of the first Judiciary Act of 1789 and granted district courts original jurisdiction for torts committed by aliens in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States. In the past decades, plaintiffs have increasingly used the ATS to sue corporations for alleged international-law and human-rights violations for operations occurring mostly on foreign shores. In many cases, plaintiffs have accused corporations as varied as Unocal, IBM, Caterpillar, and Coca-Cola of aiding and abetting alleged international-law violations including torture and crimes against humanity.

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