Back in June I wrote about the dismissal of Al-Shimari v. CACI Premier Technology Inc., the case against the US private contracting company brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on behalf of Iraqis who were tortured at Abu Ghraib prison. The U.S. district court dismissed the case after concluding that it lacked jurisdiction in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum. I explained in my previous post why I thought that ruling was incorrect.
In the latest twist, the Court has now ordered the Iraqi victims to pay $14,000 worth of CACI’s legal expenses. Last month, CACI demanded that the Iraqi victims pay CACI’s legal expenses – amounting to $15,580.
There is legally nothing improper with requesting legal expenses. But that doesn’t make it any less galling given the circumstances of this case. Indeed, few large companies actually exercise the right to collect costs when sued by individuals for violations of civil rights or human rights, according to Professor Chibundu, a law professor at the University of Maryland School of Law.
Here, CACI was sued for torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and war crimes. Significantly, the dismissal of the case did not exonerate the corporate defendants. The district court’s decision was not based on a finding that CACI was innocent – it was based only on the court’s conclusion that it lacked jurisdiction since the alleged abuse happened in Iraq, not the U.S.
I was surprised that CACI had the audacity to make such a request, but I am shocked the court granted it. The plaintiffs had opposed the demand for costs, arguing that CACI’s request was both unjust and out of time. The plaintiffs have minimal financial means, particularly when compared to the corporate defendant. “Given the wealth disparities between this multi-billion dollar entity and four torture victims, given what they went through, it’s surprising and appears to be an attempt to intimidate and punish these individuals for asserting their rights to sue in US courts,” Baher Azmy,attorney for the plaintiffs and legal director for CCR, told Common Dreams.
A Federal Judge denied a similar request by Chevron to have Nigerian victims of abuses pay the oil company’s costs arising out of Bowoto v. Chevron, a human rights lawsuit that went to trial in 2008. Although the jury found in favor of Chevron at trial, the Judge found that making the victims pay such costs would chill future civil rights litigation and was unwarranted given the “extreme economic disparity” between the victims and the company.
Especially in the wake of Kiobel, we’ve seen multinational corporations grow increasingly bold in arguing they are immune from any liability for conduct occurring outside the U.S. Demanding costs from indigent victims of corporate abuse who dare try and seek redress in the courts puts yet another obstacle in the way for victims of corporate abuse. Does anything go in corporate litigation now?
The case against CACI isn’t over yet. The plaintiffs have appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.