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Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: April 18, 2012
Case #: 11-88
Sotomayor, J., joined by Roberts, C.J., Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan, JJ., and joined by Scalia, J. except for part III-B. Breyer, J. filed a concurring opinion.
Full Text Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/11-88.pdf

Tort Law: The Tortured Victims Protection Act's authorization of a suit against an "individual" only extends liability to natural persons and not to non-sovereign organizations.

While visiting the West Bank in 1995, Azzam Rahim, a United States citizen, was arrested by Palestinian Authority intelligence officers. Rahim was imprisoned, tortured and eventually killed. Petitioners filed a suit under the Tortured Victims Protection Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1350, (“TVPA”) against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The district court dismissed the case, interpreting the TVPA’s authorization of a suit against an “individual” to apply only to natural persons. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed.

The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Congress intended for the TVPA to only extend liability to natural persons, and not, as Petitioners argued, to non-sovereign organizations. The Court reasoned that the word “individual” ordinarily refers to a natural person when used by Congress, the Court, and in everyday parlance. The use of “individual” in the text of the TVPA indicated that Congress intended to give the word its ordinary meaning. In addition, the Court noted that the legislative history of the TVPA demonstrated that Congress intended to extend liability under the TVPA only to natural persons.