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Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: April 17, 2013
Case #: 10-1491
Roberts, C.J., delivered the Court's opinion, which Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito, JJ. joined. Kennedy, J., filed a concurring opinion. Alito, J., filed a concurring opinion, which Thomas, J., joined. Breyer, J., filed an opinion concurring in judgment, which Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined.
Full Text Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/10-1491_8n59.pdf

Civil Law: The presumption against extraterritoriality applies to claims under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which precludes civil claims for torts arising outside the jurisdiction of the United States.

Petitioner brought an action under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), alleging that respondent aided and abetted the Nigerian government in committing violations of the law of nations in Nigeria. Petitioner claims that in response to civilian protests the Nigerian government sanctioned violent suppression of the protesters. Petitioner further claims that Respondent supplied the Nigerian military with necessary tools for suppressive attacks on the protesters. After the demonstrations and attacks, the United States granted asylum to Petitioner, and Petitioner brought suit in federal court.  

The lower court dismissed some of the claims for failure to state a violation of the laws of nations. Respondent moved to dismiss the remainder of the claims, but the court denied the motion and certified its order for interlocutory appeal. On appeal, the court dismissed the entire complaint holding that the law of nations does not recognize corporate liability.   

Petitioner appealed to the Supreme Court. The Court affirmed and held that the presumption against extraterritoriality applies to claims under the ATS, which precludes civil claims for torts arising outside the jurisdiction of the United States. The Court dismissed petitioner’s complaint in its entirety, stating a strong presumption against extraterritorial application. Further, the court pointed out a strong deference of foreign policy decisions to the other political branches.