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D.C. Circuit says companies can be sued under Alien Tort Statute

Indonesian villagers can move forward with their suit against Exxon Mobil

A D.C. Circuit ruling today has expanded the split among courts as to whether corporations can be sued under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows U.S. courts to hear cases regarding alleged crimes committed in other countries.

In a 2-1 decision, the D.C. Circuit reinstated John Doe VII v. Exxon Mobil Corp., a lawsuit filed by Indonesian villagers against Exxon Mobil. The villagers claim the oil company is liable for murder, assault and torture purportedly carried out by Indonesian soldiers who guarded the company’s Indonesian facilities. A trial court had dismissed the case in 2009, but the D.C. Circuit today ruled that a corporation can be held liable “for torts based on heinous conduct allegedly committed by its agents in violation of the law of nations.”

In September 2010, in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, the 2nd Circuit took a different stance when it rejected Nigerian residents’ lawsuit against Royal Dutch Shell for alleged crimes against humanity. The appeals court denied the plaintiffs’ petition for a rehearing en banc in February. The plaintiffs filed a petition for certiorari last month.

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