Can Corporations be Sued for Human Rights Abuses? In 2012, Supreme Court Will Decide

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The Supreme Court today agreed to hear two cases that are critical to our human rights litigation. Both cases, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Shell, and Mohamad v. Rajoub, consider whether corporations can be sued for human rights abuses. In Kiobel, the question is whether the Alien Tort Statute permits corporations to be sued. A bitterly divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held in that case that corporations cannot be sued, no matter how egregious their participation in violations of universally recognized human rights. Three other federal appeals courts have come to the opposite conclusion, finding that corporations can be sued—indeed, two of those decisions came after, and specifically rejected, the holding in Kiobel. ERI had submitted amicus briefs to the Second Circuit in that case.

The question in Mohamad is whether the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) permits suits against organizations, in that case, the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization, for summary execution and extrajudicial killing. In particular, the question is whether the statutory language, which allows “individuals” to be sued, includes entities or only natural persons. Here again, the Circuits are split on the issue. ERI serves as co-counsel for the Plaintiffs in Bowoto v. Chevron, which raises the question of whether corporations can be sued under the TVPA. We had also asked the Supreme Court to address the issue. Interestingly, however, the Court did not issue any ruling today on that request. We believe the most likely outcome will be that the Court will simply hold onto the case until it decides Mohamad, and then issue a short ruling in Bowoto based on the decision in Mohamad.

Kiobel and Mohamad will be argued together, probably in February or March. A decision is expected by the end of June.

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