Sarei v. Rio Tinto

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Tort Law
  • Date Filed: 10-25-2011
  • Case #: 02-56256; 02-56390; 09-56381
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: En Banc: Circuit Judge Schroeder for the Court; Circuit Judges Silverman, Rawlinson and Berzon; Circuit Judge Reinhard concurring; Circuit Judges Pregerson, McKeown and Bea partially concurring and partially dissenting; Circuit Judges Kleinfeld and Ikuta dissenting
  • Full Text Opinion

Since plaintiff’s claims of genocide and crimes against humanity are claims for violation of internationally accepted norms that are “specific, universal and obligatory,” those claims, under Sosa , fall in the limited category of Alien Tort Statute claims that receive federal jurisdiction.

This Alien Tort Statute ("ATS") case is again on appeal after the Ninth Circuit previously remanded the case back to the district court. The Plaintiffs ("PNG") in this case, are current or former residents of the Bougainville Island in Papua New Guinea, and the case arose from the operations of Rio Tinto mining group ("Rio") and an uprising against Rio that resulted in the use of force and consequently, many deaths. On the previous appeal, the Ninth Circuit plurality determined that prudential exhaustion principles applied in this case, and on remand the District Court found it inappropriate to require prudential exhaustion on PNG’s claims for crimes against humanity, war crimes and racial discrimination. Rio appealed to the Ninth Circuit to determine if there is federal jurisdiction over the remaining claims. The Supreme Court held in Sosa, that the ATS grants federal jurisdiction for a limited category of claims for violations of internationally accepted norms, and that those norms must be “specific, universal and obligatory.” The Supreme Court noted that a related consideration is whether international law extends the scope of liability for a violation of a given norm to the perpetrator being sued, if the defendant is a private actor such as a corporation or an individual. The Ninth Circuit determined that since there is a distinction between genocide and crimes against humanity in international law, PNG’s claims of genocide and war crimes fall under the limited federal jurisdiction, but the other claims do not. Therefore, the Ninth Circuit determined that since the claims for racial discrimination and crimes against humanity do not fall under the limited federal jurisdiction, the district court’s requirement of prudential exhaustion is proper. AFFIRMED in part, REVERSED and REMANDED in part.

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