Can foreigners sue international corporations in US courts?
A 223-year-old law says foreigners can file lawsuits in American courts for alleged violations of international law. But whether they can sue corporations remains a question for the Supreme Court.
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Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler told the justices that the ATS should be viewed as a reflection of US domestic law which permits lawsuits against corporations.Skip to next paragraph
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Corporations were subject to civil suit in 1789 and they still are under domestic US law, he said.
Some analysts have suggested the case represents something of a reprise of the Citizens United case in which the court’s conservatives ruled 5-4 that the First Amendment protects a corporation’s right to engage in political speech.
But Citizens United was not discussed during the oral argument.
During a second hour of argument, the high court heard a similar case, Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority (11-88), examining whether the Torture Victim Protection Act could be enforced against an organization in addition to an individual who allegedly carried out acts of torture or extra-judicial killing of a US citizen.
The issue arises in the case of Azzam Rahim, a US citizen of Palestinian heritage who died while being questioned by security officials on the West Bank.
Mr. Rahim, a successful businessman in Dallas, was picked up by Palestinian security officials while on a visit to his boyhood village on the West Bank. Two days later his body was delivered to his family. It was bruised and included cigarette burns and broken bones, suggesting he had been tortured prior to his death.
Rahim’s son, Asid Mohamad, filed a lawsuit in federal court in the US against three Palestinian officials, the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization. He charged that his father had been subjected to torture and extrajudicial killing in violation of the 1993 Torture Victim Protection Act.
A federal judge and a federal appeals court panel dismissed all charges against the Palestinian Authority and the PLO. The judge said the TVPA was only enforceable against individuals personally responsible for Mr. Rahim’s torture and death.
At issue before the Supreme Court is whether the lower courts were correct that only individuals may be sued under the TVRA, or whether organizations may also be held liable.
Decisions in both cases are expected by late June.