Friday, June 25, 2010

Judge Kimba Wood Dismisses Defendant from Alien Tort Statute Class Action for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction
Posted on June 25, 2010 by Russell Jackson

Today's featured opinion has a somewhat tortured procedural history, but its ultimate holding -- that U.S. courts lacked personal jurisdiction over a foreign Alien Tort Statute defendant -- provides some encouragement for defendants who become mired in ATS litigation in the U.S. See Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 02 Civ. 7618 (KMW) (HBP), Slip op. (S.D.N.Y. June 21, 2010) (Law360 subscription required). Opinion and Order.
The dispute in Kiobel and some related litigation centered around allegations that certain oil companies cooperated with agents of the Nigerian government to use violence to suppress protests of oil exploration and development. The district court previously had granted a motion to dismiss brought by a Nigeria company, finding that America lacked personal jurisdiction over the company. Plaintiffs in a related suit appealed an identical decision, and the Second Circuit reversed, ordering the district court to allow discovery into the facts surrounding the jurisdictional issues. After having done so in this case, the court once again considered the defendant's motion to dismiss. Judge Wood held that plaintiffs failed to assert jurisdictional facts sufficient to establish "continuous and systematic general business contacts" with the United States, which is required for the assertion of general jurisdiction. See Slip op. at 2.
The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria ("SPDC") is a Nigerian corporation with its headquarters in Nigeria. It has no office, place of business, address or phone in the U.S., and it is not licensed to business here. Plaintiffs offered three reasons why SPDC should be subject to U.S. jurisdiction.