Corporate Liability Under the Alien Tort Statute
By James E. Berger & Charlene C. Sun
On July 8, 2011 and July 11, 2011, the Courts of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and the Seventh Circuit, respectively, handed down decisions concerning the scope of liability under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), 28 U.S.C. § 1350, a federal statute that grants district courts jurisdiction to entertain suits sounding in torts committed in violation of international law.
The implications of the Courts rulings are significant, and have deepened a split among the federal appellate courts by holding that corporations are subject to civil liability under the ATS on the ground that they aided and abetted violations of customary international law undertaken by third parties in the nations where they were operating. By so ruling, the Courts signaled their disagreement with the Second Circuits recent ruling in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 621 F.3d 111 (2d Cir. 2010), which held that corporations could not be held liable under the ATS.