Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., No. 10–1491.

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtChief Justice ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.
Citation569 U.S. 108,133 S.Ct. 1659,185 L.Ed.2d 671
Decision Date17 April 2013
Docket NumberNo. 10–1491.
Parties Esther KIOBEL, individually and on behalf of her late husband, Dr. Barinem Kiobel, et al., Petitioners v. ROYAL DUTCH PETROLEUM CO. et al.

569 U.S. 108
133 S.Ct.
1659
185 L.Ed.2d 671

Esther KIOBEL, individually and on behalf of her late husband, Dr. Barinem Kiobel, et al., Petitioners
v.
ROYAL DUTCH PETROLEUM CO. et al.

No. 10–1491.

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued Feb. 28, 2012.
Reargued Oct. 1, 2012.

Decided April 17, 2013.


Paul L. Hoffman, Venice, CA, for Petitioners.

Kathleen M. Sullivan, New York, NY, for Respondents.

Donald B. Verilli, Jr., Solicitor General, for the United States as amicus curiae, by special leave of the Court, supporting the Respondents.

Carey R. D'Avino, Berger & Montague, P.C., Philadelphia, PA, Paul L. Hoffman, Counsel of Record, Erwin Chemerinsky, Adrienne J. Quarry, Victoria Don, Catherine E. Sweetser, Robert P. Baker, Schonbrun DeSimone, Seplow Harris Hoffman & Harrison LLP, Venice, CA, for Petitioners.

Kathleen M. Sullivan, Counsel of Record, Faith E. Gay, Sanford I. Weisburst, Isaac Nesser, Todd S. Anten, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP, New York, NY, for Respondents.

Chief Justice ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.

569 U.S. 111

Petitioners, a group of Nigerian nationals residing in the United States, filed suit in federal court against certain

569 U.S. 112

Dutch, British, and Nigerian corporations. Petitioners sued under the Alien Tort Statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1350, alleging that the corporations aided and abetted the Nigerian Government in committing violations of the law of nations in Nigeria. The question presented is whether and under what circumstances

569 U.S. 113

courts may recognize a cause of action under the Alien Tort Statute, for violations of the law of nations occurring within the territory of a sovereign other than the United States.

I

Petitioners were residents of Ogoniland, an area of 250 square miles located in the Niger delta area of Nigeria and populated by roughly half a million people. When the complaint was filed, respondents Royal Dutch Petroleum Company and Shell Transport and Trading Company, p.l.c., were holding companies incorporated in the Netherlands and England, respectively. Their joint subsidiary, respondent Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, Ltd. (SPDC), was incorporated in Nigeria, and engaged in oil exploration and production in Ogoniland. According to the complaint, after concerned residents of Ogoniland began protesting the environmental effects of SPDC's practices, respondents enlisted the Nigerian Government to violently suppress the burgeoning demonstrations. Throughout the early 1990's, the complaint alleges, Nigerian military and police forces attacked Ogoni villages, beating, raping, killing, and arresting residents and destroying or looting property. Petitioners further allege that respondents aided and abetted these atrocities by, among other things, providing the

133 S.Ct. 1663

Nigerian forces with food, transportation, and compensation, as well as by allowing the Nigerian military to use respondents' property as a staging ground for attacks.

Following the alleged atrocities, petitioners moved to the United States where they have been granted political asylum and now reside as legal residents. See Supp. Brief for Petitioners 3, and n. 2. They filed suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleging jurisdiction under the Alien Tort Statute and requesting relief under customary international law. The ATS provides, in full, that "[t]he district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed

569 U.S. 114

in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1350. According to petitioners, respondents violated the law of nations by aiding and abetting the Nigerian Government in committing (1) extrajudicial killings; (2) crimes against humanity; (3) torture and cruel treatment; (4) arbitrary arrest and detention; (5) violations of the rights to life, liberty, security, and association; (6) forced exile; and (7) property destruction. The District Court dismissed the first, fifth, sixth, and seventh claims, reasoning that the facts alleged to support those claims did not give rise to a violation of the law of nations. The court denied respondents' motion to dismiss with respect to the remaining claims, but certified its order for interlocutory appeal pursuant to § 1292(b).

The Second Circuit dismissed the entire complaint, reasoning that the law of nations does not recognize corporate liability. 621 F.3d 111 (2010). We granted certiorari to consider that question. 565 U.S. ––––, 132 S.Ct. 472, 181 L.Ed.2d 292 (2011). After oral argument, we directed the parties to file supplemental briefs addressing an additional question: "Whether and under what circumstances the [ATS] allows courts to recognize a cause of action for violations of the law of nations occurring within the territory of a sovereign other than the United States." 565 U.S. ––––, 132 S.Ct. 1738, 182 L.Ed.2d 270 (2012). We heard oral argument again and now affirm the judgment below, based on our answer to the second question.

II

Passed as part of the Judiciary Act of 1789, the ATS was invoked twice in the late 18th century, but then only once more over the next 167 years. Act of Sept. 24, 1789, § 9, 1 Stat. 77; see Moxon v. The Fanny, 17 F. Cas. 942 (No. 9,895) (D.C.Pa.1793) ; Bolchos v. Darrel, 3 F. Cas. 810 (No. 1,607) (D.C.S.C.1795) ; O'Reilly de Camara v. Brooke, 209 U.S. 45, 28 S.Ct. 439, 52 L.Ed. 676 (1908) ; Khedivial Line, S.A.E. v. Seafarers' Int'l Union, 278 F.2d 49, 51–52 (C.A.2 1960) (per curiam ). The statute

569 U.S. 115

provides district courts with jurisdiction to hear certain claims, but does not expressly provide any causes of action. We held in Sosa v. Alvarez–Machain, 542 U.S. 692, 714, 124 S.Ct. 2739, 159 L.Ed.2d 718 (2004), however, that the First Congress did not intend the provision to be "stillborn." The grant of jurisdiction is instead "best read as having been enacted on the understanding that the common law would provide a cause of action for [a] modest number of international law violations." Id., at 724, 124 S.Ct. 2739. We thus held that federal courts may "recognize private claims [for such violations] under federal common law." Id., at 732, 124 S.Ct. 2739. The Court in Sosa rejected the plaintiff's claim in that case for "arbitrary arrest and detention," on the ground that it failed to state a violation of the law of nations with the requisite "definite content and acceptance among civilized nations." Id., at 699, 732, 124 S.Ct. 2739.

133 S.Ct. 1664

The question here is not whether petitioners have stated a proper claim under the ATS, but whether a claim may reach conduct occurring in the territory of a foreign sovereign. Respondents contend that claims under the ATS do not, relying primarily on a canon of statutory interpretation known as the presumption against extraterritorial application. That canon provides that "[w]hen a statute gives no clear indication of an extraterritorial application, it has none," Morrison v. National Australia Bank Ltd., 561 U.S. 247, ––––, 130 S.Ct. 2869, 2878, 177 L.Ed.2d 535 (2010), and reflects the "presumption that United States law governs domestically but does not rule the world," Microsoft Corp. v. AT & T Corp., 550 U.S. 437, 454, 127 S.Ct. 1746, 167 L.Ed.2d 737 (2007).

This presumption "serves to protect against unintended clashes between our laws and those of other nations which could result in international discord." EEOC v. Arabian American Oil Co., 499 U.S. 244, 248, 111 S.Ct. 1227, 113 L.Ed.2d 274 (1991) (Aramco ). As this Court has explained:

"For us to run interference in ... a delicate field of international relations there must be present the affirmative
569 U.S. 116
intention of the Congress clearly expressed. It alone has the facilities necessary to make fairly such an important policy decision where the possibilities of international discord are so evident and retaliative action so certain." Benz v. Compania Naviera Hidalgo, S.A., 353 U.S. 138, 147 [77 S.Ct. 699, 1 L.Ed.2d 709] (1957). The presumption against extraterritorial application helps ensure that the Judiciary does not erroneously adopt an interpretation of U.S. law that carries foreign policy consequences not clearly intended by the political branches.

We typically apply the presumption to discern whether an Act of Congress regulating conduct applies abroad. See, e.g., Aramco, supra, at 246, 111 S.Ct. 1227 ("These cases present the issue whether Title VII applies extraterritorially to regulate the employment practices of United States employers who employ United States citizens abroad"); Morrison, supra, at ––––, 130 S.Ct., at 2876–2877 (noting that the question of extraterritorial application was a "merits question," not a question of jurisdiction). The ATS, on the other hand, is "strictly jurisdictional." Sosa, 542 U.S., at 713, 124 S.Ct. 2739. It does not directly regulate conduct...

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160 practice notes
  • Cohen v. Facebook, Inc., 16-CV-4453 (NGG) (LB) 16-CV-5158 (NGG) (LB).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • May 18, 2017
    ...extraterritoriality is ‘typically’ applied to statutes ‘regulating conduct,’ " id. at 2100 (quoting Kiobel v. Roval Dutch Petroleum, 569 U.S. 108, 133 S.Ct. 1659, 1664, 185 L.Ed.2d 671 (2013) ), the Supreme Court recently clarified that, "regardless of whether the statute in question regula......
  • Kaplan v. Cent. Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran, No. 16-7142
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • July 20, 2018
    ...Court has established that "the presumption against extraterritoriality" governs the ATS's reach. Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co ., 569 U.S. 108, 124, 133 S.Ct. 1659, 185 L.Ed.2d 671 (2013). ATS claims involving extraterritorial activity can "displace the presumption" only if "the claim......
  • King v. Export Dev. Can. (In re Zetta Jet USA, Inc.), Case No.: 2:17-bk-21386-SK
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Ninth Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Central District of California
    • July 29, 2020
    ...Id at 17-18, 25-26 (Torborg 12/9/19 Decl. ¶¶ 16-17, 22-23, Exs. L, M, R, S; Complaint ¶ 108; Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 569 U.S. 108, 124-25, 133 S.Ct. 1659, 185 L.Ed.2d 671 (2013) ; Morrison v. Nat'l Australia Bank Ltd., 561 U.S. 247, 266, 130 S.Ct. 2869, 177 L.Ed.2d 535 (2010) )......
  • Roe v. Howard, No. 17-2338
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • February 25, 2019
    ...respect to Linda’s relevant conduct. Specifically, the court applied the Supreme Court’s decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. , 569 U.S. 108, 133 S.Ct. 1659, 185 L.Ed.2d 671 (2013), and this Court’s decision in Al Shimari v. CACI Premier Tech., Inc. , 758 F.3d 516 (4th Cir. 2014)......
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152 cases
  • Cohen v. Facebook, Inc., 16-CV-4453 (NGG) (LB) 16-CV-5158 (NGG) (LB).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • May 18, 2017
    ...extraterritoriality is ‘typically’ applied to statutes ‘regulating conduct,’ " id. at 2100 (quoting Kiobel v. Roval Dutch Petroleum, 569 U.S. 108, 133 S.Ct. 1659, 1664, 185 L.Ed.2d 671 (2013) ), the Supreme Court recently clarified that, "regardless of whether the statute in question regula......
  • Kaplan v. Cent. Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran, No. 16-7142
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • July 20, 2018
    ...Court has established that "the presumption against extraterritoriality" governs the ATS's reach. Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co ., 569 U.S. 108, 124, 133 S.Ct. 1659, 185 L.Ed.2d 671 (2013). ATS claims involving extraterritorial activity can "displace the presumption" only if "the claim......
  • King v. Export Dev. Can. (In re Zetta Jet USA, Inc.), Case No.: 2:17-bk-21386-SK
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Ninth Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Central District of California
    • July 29, 2020
    ...Id at 17-18, 25-26 (Torborg 12/9/19 Decl. ¶¶ 16-17, 22-23, Exs. L, M, R, S; Complaint ¶ 108; Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 569 U.S. 108, 124-25, 133 S.Ct. 1659, 185 L.Ed.2d 671 (2013) ; Morrison v. Nat'l Australia Bank Ltd., 561 U.S. 247, 266, 130 S.Ct. 2869, 177 L.Ed.2d 535 (2010) )......
  • Roe v. Howard, No. 17-2338
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • February 25, 2019
    ...respect to Linda’s relevant conduct. Specifically, the court applied the Supreme Court’s decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. , 569 U.S. 108, 133 S.Ct. 1659, 185 L.Ed.2d 671 (2013), and this Court’s decision in Al Shimari v. CACI Premier Tech., Inc. , 758 F.3d 516 (4th Cir. 2014)......
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3 firm's commentaries
  • Terrorist (Litigation) Threats
    • United States
    • LexBlog United States
    • February 14, 2022
    ...overseas evils should be adjudicated in American courtrooms. The Supreme Court put a damper on that in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 569 US 108 (2013). We endorsed Kiobel’s exercise of restraint – its presumption against extraterritorial application – here, and we quoted from Steppen......
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    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
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    ...to foreign corporations but left open the question of whether it could apply to domestic corporations. Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co, 569 U.S. 108 General Corporate Activity in the United States Is Not Sufficient to Support ATS Jurisdiction In Nestlé, the Malian plaintiffs accused Nest......
  • Supreme Court Rejects Human Rights Lawsuit Against U.S. Corporations, But Leaves Door Open For Future Claims
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • October 11, 2021
    ...to foreign corporations but left open the question of whether it could apply to domestic corporations. Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co, 569 U.S. 108 General Corporate Activity in the United States Is Not Sufficient to Support ATS Jurisdiction In Nestlé, the Malian plaintiffs accused Nest......
4 books & journal articles
  • DEFERRING TO FOREIGN COURTS.
    • United States
    • University of Pennsylvania Law Review Vol. 169 Nbr. 8, August 2021
    • August 1, 2021
    ...at *2-3, *8 (C.D Cal. Mar. 8, 2010). (143) Id. at *9-10. (144) Mujica, 771 F.3d at 591 (citing Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 569 U.S. 108 (145) See Mujica v. Occidental Petroleum Corp., 381 F. Supp. 2d 1164, 1194-95 (C.D. Cal. 2005) ("[T]his case involves foreign relations, an area o......
  • The Missing D in U.s. Foreign Relations Law
    • United States
    • Georgetown Law Journal Nbr. 109-5, June 2021
    • June 1, 2021
    ...of statutory construction to limit the reach of a federal statute implementing treaty obligations); Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 569 U.S. 108, 117 (2013) (limiting international human rights litigation under the Alien Tort Statute by applying the presumption against extraterritorial......
  • CRIMINAL LAW - NINTH CIRCUIT HOLDING HIGHLIGHTS CUMBERSOME APPLICATION OF PRESUMPTION AGAINST EXTRATERRITORIALITY IN FEDERAL STATUTES WITH STATE PREDICATES - UNITED STATES V. PEREZ.
    • United States
    • Suffolk Transnational Law Review Vol. 44 Nbr. 1, January 2021
    • January 1, 2021
    ..."When a statute gives no clear indication of an extraterritorial application, it has none." Id; Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 569 U.S. 108, 125 (2013) (applying presumption of extraterritoriality to Alien Tort Claims Act). "Even where the claims touch and concern the territory of the......
  • HUMAN RIGHTS AND WRONGS: The Dark Canon of the United States Supreme Court in Environmental Law.
    • United States
    • UCLA Journal of Environmental Law & Policy Vol. 39 Nbr. 2, September 2021
    • September 22, 2021
    ...Trial_Speech_of_Ken_Saro-Wiwa [https://perma.cc/J64G-Y63G]. (340.) See Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 569 U.S. 108 (341.) Filartiga v. Pena-Irala, 630 F. 2d 876, 890 (2d Cir. 1980). (342.) Id. at 878. (343.) Id. (344.) J. Patrice McSherry, Chapter 5: "Industrial repression" and Operat......

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