Kobel v. Dutch Petroleum

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Corporations
  • Date Filed: October 17, 2011
  • Case #: 10-1491
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Court below: 621 F.3d 111 (2d Cir. 2010)
  • Full Text Opinion

(1) Whether the question of corporate civil tort liability under the Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”), 28 U.S.C. §1350, is a question of merits or one of subject matter jurisdiction; and (2) whether a corporation may be held liable for a tort committed in violation of the law of nations, such as torture or genocide, under the ATS like any other private party defendant or whether they are immune from such liability.

The ATS provides jurisdiction over tort actions brought by aliens for violations of the law of nations including war crimes and crimes against humanity. Nigerian nationals filed a class action under the ATS claiming that three different oil corporations enlisted the Nigerian government to use its armed forces to suppress resistance to oil exploration and in so doing committed human rights violations.

The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed claims against corporate defendants in part, and certified an entire order for interlocutory appeal. The Second Circuit held that the ATS did not confer jurisdiction on claims against corporations since customary international law did not recognize corporate liability as a universal norm. Therefore, corporate defendants were not subject to liability under the ATS or under customary international law. The same court denied a petition for rehearing as well as a petition for a rehearing en banc. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider the two issues presented above.

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