Are corporations complicit in torture in foreign countries exempt from lawsuit in United States courts?
The Ninth Circuit held that corporations may not be sued in United States courts for torture committed in other countries. The case arose out of the brutal response in 1998 by Nigeria’s military, allegedly ordered and supervised by Chevron, to protests against oil company activities. Some demonstrators were shot, two fatally, and others were detained and tortured. Victims sued Chevron in the United States under the Alien Tort Statute (see summary of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, above) and the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA), which establishes a right of civil action for victims of torture and extrajudicial killing. (The TVPA was passed by the United States Congress to comply with international human rights agreements.) After a decade of litigation in this case, the Ninth Circuit surprisingly ruled that, regardless of the facts of culpability, corporations could not be held liable under the TVPA. Public Good, along with a number of human rights and labor organizations, joined a brief authored by International Rights Advocates in support of rehearing or rehearing en banc, arguing that the decision was contrary to judicial precedent and the plain text and clear intent of the law. The panel decision threatens to deprive many victims of state-sponsored torture of their only legal recourse, leaving little incentive for corporations not to continue to enable – if not promote – torture in foreign contexts where violence protects profits.
621 F.3d 1116 (9th Cir. 2009), and rehearing en banc denied (Feb. 10, 2011), and cert. denied, 132 S.Ct. 1968 (2012)