Supreme Court Update: Watching for Activity on Corporate Human Rights Cases

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On this first day of the Supreme Court’s new term, we have our eye on three pending cert petitions – requests that the Court hear a case – that are critical to our human rights litigation. All three cases, Bowoto v. Chevron (in which ERI serves as co-counsel for the Plaintiffs), Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Shell, and Mohamad v. Rajoub, address the question of whether corporations can be sued for human rights abuses.

Bowoto and Mohamad raise the question of whether corporations can be sued under the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA), whereas Kiobel raises the question of whether suits against corporations are permitted under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). The Courts of Appeals, the federal courts just below the Supreme Court, are divided on both questions, with most holding that the ATS does permit suits against corporations, and most holding that the TVPA does not.

Since all of these petitions were briefed over the summer, we expected that the Court would have decided whether to hear these cases by today. Instead, these cases will be considered by the Court at its next private conference, on October 7.

In one interesting development, however, the Supreme Court today denied Shell’s request that, if the Court were to hear Kiobel, it also consider whether the TVPA displaces claims for torture and extrajudicial killing under the ATS. This is great news. If the Court does decide whether or not to hear these cases at its Friday conference, we should know by next Monday morning. So stay tuned!

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