Friday, November 12, 2010

Will Federal Court's Kiobel Ruling End Second Wave Of Alien Tort Statute Suits?

By John B. Bellinger III

Human rights lawsuits against multinational corporations in U.S. federal courts under the so-called "Alien Tort Statute" (ATS) may soon be coming to an end. In an important and unexpected decision in late September, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum that corporations -- in contrast to individuals -- may not be held liable under the ATS for violations of international law. The plaintiffs have sought en banc review by the Second Circuit, and the ruling is likely to be appealed in any event to the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court ultimately grants certiorari and upholds the Second Circuit's ruling (and there are good reasons to think it might), corporations themselves will no longer face the prospect of costly, protracted, and reputation-damaging ATS lawsuits. Future human rights plaintiffs, however, will continue to bring suits against foreign government officials and may shift their focus from corporations to individual corporate officers and directorsMore...