October 1, 2012
Petitioner Esther Kiobel, representing a group of individuals from the Ogoni region in Nigeria, filed a class action lawsuit against Respondents, the Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., Shell Transport and Trading Company PLC, and Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, LTD (“Royal Dutch”) under the Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”). The ATS grants jurisdiction to some federal courts for certain violations of international law. Petitioners allege that Royal Dutch aided the Nigerian government in committing various acts of violence against protestors of the oil exploration projects in the Ogoni region. Petitioners claim that they have standing to sue under the ATS because the history, text, and purpose of the statute support the application of the ATS to actions in foreign countries. Petitioner also contends that previous court decisions interpreted the ATS to extend beyond U.S. territory. In response, Royal Dutch argues that the ATS is not an exception to the presumption that U.S. law does not apply extraterritorially, and should not be applicable to actions outside of the U.S. The Court's decision in this case will clarify the reach of the U.S. federal courts' jurisdiction over certain extraterritorial tort claims.
Whether the issue of corporate civil tort liability under the Alien Tort Statute ("ATS"), 28 U.S.C. § 1350, is a merits question, as it has been treated by all courts prior to the decision below, or an issue of subject matter jurisdiction, as the court of appeals held for the first time.
Whether an American federal court can hear a claim under the Alien Tort statute, when that claim arose out of conduct in a foreign country.