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Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co.

In a September 2010 ruling in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., the Second Circuit became the first and only appellate court to reject the proposition that corporations may be held liable for torts in violation of international law under the ATS. Subsequent decisions by the D.C. Circuit in Doe v. Exxon and the Seventh Circuit in Flomo v. Firestone explicitly rejected the Second Circuit’s reasoning. In October 2010, counsel for the plaintiffs filed a petition for rehearing. The Clinic submitted an amicus curiae brief in support of the petition on behalf of professors of legal history. The brief argues that the history and purpose of the ATS support what the text explicitly provides: that jurisdiction extends to all causes in which an alien sues for a tort in violation of the law of nations, including cases against corporate defendants. The plaintiffs filed a second petition for rehearing in February 2011 after the first petition for rehearing was denied. Following the denial of the second petition for rehearing, the plaintiffs filed petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2011.  The Clinic filed an amicus brief on behalf of professors of legal history in support of that petition.

The Kiobel case was filed by Nigerian plaintiffs and brings claims for extrajudicial killing, torture, crimes against humanity, and prolonged arbitrary arrest and detention. The plaintiffs allege that the company collaborated with the Nigerian government to commit these violations to suppress their lawful protests against oil exploration.

The petition for certiorari was granted by the U.S. Supreme Court on October 17, 2011. Oral argument took place on February 28, 2012. A week later, on March 6, the Court requested supplemental briefing on the question of whether the statute encompasses violations committed outside the territory of the United States. Supplemental briefs were filed with the Court in the summer of 2012, and re-argument took place on Oct. 1, 2012.

On April 17, 2013, the Supreme Court issued its decision. The Court held that a presumption against extraterritorial application of the ATS applied to the facts of the Kiobel, and affirmed the judgment of the Second Circuit court of appeals.

Contacts for this case: Tyler Giannini and Susan Farbstein

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