226 F.3d 88 (2nd Cir. 2000), 99-7223[L], Wina v Royal Dutch Petroleum Co.

Docket Nº:Docket Nos. 99-7223[L], 99-7245[XAP]
Citation:226 F.3d 88
Party Name:KEN WIWA, individually and as Administrator of the Estate of his deceased father, KEN SARO-WIWA, OWENS WIWA, and BLESSING KPUINEN, individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of her husband, JOHN KPUINEN, and JANE DOE, Plaintiffs-Appellants-Cross-Appellees, v. ROYAL DUTCH PETROLEUM COMPANY, and SHELL TRANSPORT AND TRADING COMPANY, P.L.C., Defe
Case Date:September 14, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

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226 F.3d 88 (2nd Cir. 2000)

KEN WIWA, individually and as Administrator of the Estate of his deceased father, KEN SARO-WIWA, OWENS WIWA, and BLESSING KPUINEN, individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of her husband, JOHN KPUINEN, and JANE DOE, Plaintiffs-Appellants-Cross-Appellees,



Docket Nos. 99-7223[L], 99-7245[XAP]

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

September 14, 2000

Argued: October 22, 1999

Appeal from the judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Wood, J.) dismissing on forum non conveniens grounds suit under the Alien Tort Claims Act against foreign corporations alleged to have participated with the Nigerian government in human rights violations committed in Nigeria. The Court of Appeals (Leval, J.) holds (1) the district court's exercise of personal jurisdiction over the defendants was appropriate, but (2) the district court erred in dismissing on forum non conveniens grounds, in failing to give proper consideration to the choice of a U.S. forum by U.S. resident plaintiffs and to the interests of the United States in providing a forum for the adjudication of claims alleging international human rights abuses.

Affirmed in Part, Reversed in Part, and Remanded.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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JUDITH BROWN CHOMSKY, Elkins Park, PA (Jennifer M. Green, Beth Stephens, and Richard Herz, Center for Constitutional Rights, New York, NY on the brief) for Plaintiffs-Appellants-Cross-Appellees.

RORY O. MILLSON, Cravath, Swaine & Moore, New York, NY (Sandra C. Goldstein on the brief) for Defendants-Appellees-Cross-Appellants.

Before: OAKES, LEVAL and POOLER, Circuit Judges.

Leval, Judge:

This case concerns the application of forum non conveniens doctrine to suits under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), 28 U.S.C. § 1350, involving claimed abuses of the international law of human rights. Plaintiffs are three Nigerian emigres, and a woman identified only as Jane Doe to protect her safety, who allege that they (or in some cases their deceased next of kin) suffered grave human rights abuses at the hands of the Nigerian authorities. Defendants

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Royal Dutch Petroleum Company ("Royal Dutch") and Shell Transport and Trading Co., P.L.C. ("Shell Transport") are business corporations, incorporated in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom respectively, that are alleged to have directly or indirectly participated in or directed these abuses. The district court (Wood, J.) dismissed the action for forum non conveniens after determining that England is an adequate alternative forum and that a balancing of public interest and private interest factors make the British forum preferable. Plaintiffs appeal, arguing, inter alia, that the district court erred in not affording sufficient weight to the plaintiffs' choice of forum and to the interests of the United States in providing a forum for the adjudication of claims of abuse of international human rights. Defendants contend that, regardless of the propriety of a dismissal based on forum non conveniens, the court lacked personal jurisdiction over them. We hold that the district court properly exercised jurisdiction over the defendants. As to the dismissal for forum non conveniens, we reverse.


A. Allegations of the Complaint

Defendant Royal Dutch is a holding company incorporated and headquartered in the Netherlands. Defendant Shell Transport is a holding company incorporated and headquartered in England. The two defendants jointly control and operate the Royal Dutch/Shell Group, a vast, international, vertically integrated network of affiliated but formally independent oil and gas companies. Among these affiliated companies is Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, Ltd. ("Shell Nigeria"), a wholly-owned Nigerian subsidiary of the defendants that engages in extensive oil exploration and development activity in the Ogoni region of Nigeria.

The amended complaint ("the complaint") alleges that plaintiffs and their next of kin (hereafter collectively referred to as "Plaintiffs") were imprisoned, tortured, and killed by the Nigerian government in violation of the law of nations at the instigation of the defendants, in reprisal for their political opposition to the defendants' oil exploration activities. According to the complaint, Shell Nigeria coercively appropriated land for oil development without adequate compensation, and caused substantial pollution of the air and water in the homeland of the Ogoni people. A protest movement arose among the Ogoni. Ken Saro-Wiwa was an opposition leader and President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MSOP); John Kpuinen was a leader of the MSOP's youth wing.

Allegedly, Shell Nigeria recruited the Nigerian police and military to attack local villages and suppress the organized opposition to its development activity. Saro-Wiwa and Kpuinen were repeatedly arrested, detained and tortured by the Nigerian government because of their leadership roles in the protest movement. In 1995, Saro-Wiwa and Kpuinen were hanged, along with other Ogoni leaders, after being convicted of murder by a special military tribunal. Allegedly, they were convicted on fabricated evidence solely to silence political criticism and were not afforded the legal protections required by international law. The complaint further alleges that plaintiff Owens Wiwa (Saro-Wiwa's brother) was illegally detained by Nigerian authorities, that plaintiff Jane Doe was beaten and shot by the Nigerian military in a raid upon her village, and that Saro-Wiwa's family-including Ken Saro-Wiwa's 74-year-old mother-were beaten by Nigerian officials while attending his trial.

According to the complaint, while these abuses were carried out by the Nigerian government and military, they were instigated, orchestrated, planned, and facilitated by Shell Nigeria under the direction of the defendants. The Royal Dutch/Shell Group allegedly provided money, weapons,

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and logistical support to the Nigerian military, including the vehicles and ammunition used in the raids on the villages, procured at least some of these attacks, participated in the fabrication of murder charges against Saro-Wiwa and Kpuinen, and bribed witnesses to give false testimony against them.1

B. Facts Relating to Jurisdiction in New York

1. Defendants' New York Stock Exchange Listings and Sundry Activities

Neither of the defendants has extensive direct contacts with New York. Both companies list their shares, either directly or indirectly,2 on the New York Stock Exchange. They conduct activities in New York incident to this listing, including the preparation of filings for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the employment of transfer agents and depositories for their shares. Royal Dutch also maintains an Internet site, accessible in New York. They have participated in at least one lawsuit in New York as defendants, without contesting jurisdiction. They have for many years retained New York counsel.

Defendants own subsidiary companies that do business in the United States, including Shell Petroleum Inc. (SPI), a Delaware corporation. SPI in turn owns all the shares of Shell Oil Company (Shell Oil), the well-known oil and gas concern. Shell Oil has extensive operations in New York and is undisputedly subject to the jurisdiction of the New York courts.

2. Defendants' Maintenance of an Investor Relations Office in New York City

The defendants also maintain an Investor Relations Office in New York City, administered by James Grapsi, whose title is "Manager of Investor Relations." The office is nominally a part of Shell Oil. However, all of its functions involve facilitating the relations of the parent holding companies, the defendants Royal Dutch and Shell Transport, with the investment community. The expenses of the office (consisting primarily of rent and salaries) are directly paid in the first instance by Shell Oil, but Shell Oil is reimbursed by the defendants, who therefore bear the full expense of the office. Those expenses average about $45,000 per month, or about $500,000 per year. The Investor Relations Office's duties involve fielding inquiries from investors and potential investors in Royal Dutch and Shell Transport, mailing information about the defendants to thousands of individuals and entities throughout the United States, and organizing meetings between officials of the defendants and investors, potential investors, and financial analysts. Each year the Investor Relations Office organizes about six such sessions and schedules them for various financial centers throughout the United States, including New York. Grapsi manages these functions out of a New York City office located in the Southern District of New York, and characteristically seeks the defendants' approval before scheduling meetings and making other similar decisions.

C. Proceedings Below

Plaintiffs filed this action on November 8, 1996 and filed an amended complaint on April 29, 1997. The amended complaint seeks damages under the ATCA, the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961-1968, international law and treaties,

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Nigerian law, and various state law torts. More specifically, the complaint alleges that the defendants are liable for summary execution; crimes against humanity; torture; cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; arbitrary arrest and detention; violations of the rights to life, liberty, security of the person, and peaceful assembly and association; wrongful death; assault and...

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