Luis Mujica v. AirScan, Inc.

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Procedure
  • Date Filed: 11-12-2014
  • Case #: 10-55515; 10-55516; 10-55587
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Bybee for the Court; Circuit Judge Ikuta; Partial Concurrence and Partial Dissent by Senior District Judge Zilly
  • Full Text Opinion

A corporation has no liability for claims under the Torture Victim Protection Act, and an Alien Torture Statute claim must “touch and concern the United States with sufficient force to displace the presumption against extraterritorial application”; also, the doctrine of international comity will bar state law claims where the federal government has a strong interest in respecting the judicial processes of other sovereigns and the foreign forum is adequate.

On December 13, 1998, Luis Alberto Galvis Mujica and other Colombian citizens (collectively “Plaintiffs”) were attacked in the Colombian village of Santo Domingo by the Colombian Air Force (“CAF”). The plaintiffs brought suit against AirScan, LLC and Occidental Petroleum Corporation (collectively “AirScan”), both American corporations, for alleged complicity in the bombing under the Alien Torture Statute (“ATS”), the Torture Victim Protection Act (“TVPA”), and California state law. The plaintiffs claimed that AirScan colluded with the CAF to bomb and raid their village in order to protect an oil pipeline. The district court denied AirScan’s motion on international comity and forum non conveniens grounds and dismissed all of plaintiffs’ claims pursuant to the political question doctrine. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit determined that AirScan was not liable under TVPA because it only encompasses claims against natural personals not corporations. Secondly, the panel analyzed the ATS claim in light of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., holding that a claim is only viable where there is a nexus between the conduct occurring abroad and the United States, and specifically, conduct must “touch and concern the United States with sufficient force to displace the presumption against extraterritorial application.” Because the plaintiffs’ claims arose out conduct occurring exclusively in Colombia, the U.S. nationality of AirScan is not enough in itself to rebut the presumption against extraterritoriality. Further, the panel concluded that a “true conflict” between domestic and foreign law is not a prerequisite for the application of the international comity doctrine. However, under the doctrine of international comity, the state law claims are not justiciable because the U.S. government has a strong interest against hearing cases that would be detrimental to foreign policy. Thus, the panel determined that judicial processes of other sovereigns must be respected where the foreign forum is adequate. AFFIRMED.

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