Viii v. Exxon Mobil Corp..

Decision Date08 July 2011
Docket NumberNos. 09–7125,09–7135.,09–7134,09–7127,s. 09–7125
Citation654 F.3d 11,397 U.S.App.D.C. 371
PartiesJohn DOE VIII, et al., Appellantsv.EXXON MOBIL CORPORATION, et al., Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit


Appeals from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, (No. 1:07–cv–01022), (No. 1:01–cv–01357).Agnieszka Fryszman argued the cause for appellants on State Claims. Paul Hoffman argued the cause for appellants on Federal Claims. With them on the briefs were Kathleen M. Konopka, Maureen E. McOwen, Terrence P. Collingsworth, and Piper M. Hendricks. Charles J. Ogletree Jr. and Joseph M. Sellers entered appearances.Marco B. Simons was on the brief for amicus curiae EarthRights International (ERI) in support of appellants.Jennifer M. Green was on the brief for amici curiae University of Minnesota Law School, et al. in support of appellants.William J. Aceves was on the brief for amici curiae International Law Scholars in support of appellants.Muneer I. Ahmad was on the brief for amici curiae Arthur Miller, Erwin Chemerinsky, and Professors of Federal Jurisdiction and Legal History in support of appellants.Sri Srinivasan argued the cause for appellees/cross-appellants. With him on the brief were Walter Dellinger, Anton Metlitsky, Theodore V. Wells Jr., Alex Young K. Oh, Nikhil Singhvi, Martin J. Weinstein, and Patrick J. Conlon.Robin S. Conrad, Alan E. Untereiner, and Mark T. Stancil were on the brief for amicus curiae The Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America in support of appellees.Jeffrey A. Lamken and Robert K. Kry were on the brief for amici curiae National Foreign Trade Council, Inc. et al. in support of appellees.Daniel J. Popeo and Richard A. Samp were on the brief for amici curiae Washington Legal Foundation, et al. in support of appellees.Before: ROGERS, TATEL, and KAVANAUGH, Circuit Judges.Opinion for the Court by Circuit Judge ROGERS.Opinion dissenting in part by Circuit Judge KAVANAUGH.ROGERS, Circuit Judge:

Pursuant to a contract with the Indonesian government, Exxon Mobil Corporation, a United States corporation, and several of its wholly owned subsidiaries (hereinafter Exxon) operated a large natural gas extraction and processing facility in the Aceh province of Indonesia in 20002001. Plaintiffs-appellants are fifteen Indonesian villagers from the Aceh territory. Eleven villagers filed a complaint in 2001 alleging that Exxon's security forces committed murder, torture, sexual assault, battery, and false imprisonment in violation of the Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”) and the Torture Victim Protection Act (“TVPA”), and various common law torts. (The Doe I complaint.) Four other Aceh villagers alleged in 2007 that Exxon committed various common law torts. (The Doe VIII complaint.) All plaintiffs-appellants allege that Exxon took actions both in the United States and at its facility in the Aceh province that resulted in their injuries. The district court dismissed the statutory claims, see Doe I v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 393 F.Supp.2d 20 (D.D.C.2005), and discovery proceeded on the tort claims. 1 Those claims, however, were subsequently dismissed for lack of prudential standing. See Doe VIII v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 658 F.Supp.2d 131 (D.D.C.2009). Plaintiffs-appellants challenge the dismissals of their complaints and Exxon filed a cross-appeal, inter alia raising for the first time that as a corporation it was immune from liability under the ATS.2

For the reasons that follow, we conclude that aiding and abetting liability is well established under the ATS. We further conclude under our precedent that this court should address Exxon's contention on appeal of corporate immunity and, contrary to its view and that of the Second Circuit, we join the Eleventh Circuit in holding that neither the text, history, nor purpose of the ATS supports corporate immunity for torts based on heinous conduct allegedly committed by its agents in violation of the law of nations. We affirm the dismissal of the TVPA claims in view of recent precedent of this court. We conclude, however, that Exxon's objections to justiciability are unpersuasive and that the district court erred in ruling that appellants lack prudential standing to bring their non-federal tort claims and in the choice of law determination. Finally, we conclude that Exxon's challenge to the diversity of parties in the Doe VIII complaint is to be resolved initially by the district court. Therefore, we affirm the dismissal of plaintiffs-appellants' TVPA claims, reverse the dismissal of the ATS claims at issue in this appeal, along with plaintiffs-appellants' non-federal tort claims, and remand the cases to the district court.


Accepting the allegations of the complaints as true, and construing the complaints in favor of plaintiffs-appellants, as we must, see Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975), the plaintiffs claim that Exxon's security forces were comprised of members of the Indonesian military and that Exxon and its subsidiaries, which were incorporated at the time of the filing of the first complaint in New Jersey and Delaware, Doe I Compl. ¶¶ 17, 20, 23, retained these soldiers as guards for its natural gas facility even though Exxon was aware that the Indonesian army had committed human rights abuses in the past, id. ¶¶ 39–47; Doe I Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 55–66; Doe VIII Compl. ¶¶ 39–59, and knew that performance of the security contract would lead to human rights violations by Indonesian soldiers against the residents of Aceh. Doe I Compl. ¶¶ 64, 71; Doe I Am. Compl. ¶¶ 60, 66, 125; Doe VIII Compl. ¶¶ 51–53, 79. The human rights abuses alleged included genocide, extrajudicial killing, torture, crimes against humanity, sexual violence, and kidnaping. Doe I Compl. ¶ 64. In addition to extrajudicial killings of some of the plaintiffs-appellants' husbands as part of a “systematic campaign of extermination of the people of Aceh by [d]efendants' [Indonesian] security forces,” id. ¶ 65, the plaintiffs-appellants were “beaten, burned, shocked with cattle prods, kicked and subjected to other forms of brutality and cruelty” amounting to torture, id. ¶ 66, as well as forcibly removed and detained for lengthy periods of time, id. ¶ 67. Plaintiffs-appellants claim that Exxon or its agents, by decisions made in the United States, id. ¶¶ 30, 32–33, and at its Aceh plant, id. ¶¶ 55–57, “committed acts that had the intent and the effect of grossly humiliating and debasing” either them or their deceased husbands by “forcing them to act against their will and conscience, inciting fear and anguish, and breaking their physical and/or moral resistance” by actions that constitute “inhuman or degrading treatment in violation of the law of nations.” Id. ¶ 68.

According to the complaints, these actions of the Indonesian military could be attributed to Exxon because they were committed by a unit dedicated only to Exxon's Aceh facility and Exxon had the authority “to control and direct[ ] the soldiers' actions. Id. ¶ 40. Plaintiffs-appellants claim Exxon was aware of the atrocities committed by the Indonesian military in Aceh, as confirmed by public reports including reports of atrocities committed by Exxon's dedicated unit, and that Exxon nonetheless provided logistical and material support to the military by hiring mercenaries to provide advice, training, intelligence, and equipment to the unit while Exxon profited from the operation of its Aceh facility. Id. ¶¶ 39–41, 46. By acting together with Indonesian security forces, the plaintiffs-appellants claim that Exxon acted under color of Indonesian law. Id.

On October 1, 2001, Exxon moved to dismiss the complaint, and after a hearing on the motion the district court requested the Office of Legal Adviser of the Department of State to inform the court whether the Department deemed adjudication of the case to affect adversely the interests of the United States. On July 29, 2002, the Office of Legal Adviser filed a statement of interest and attached a statement of the Indonesian Ambassador to the United States. Thereafter, the district court dismissed the statutory claims. It ruled that aiding and abetting was not actionable under the ATS, Doe I, 393 F.Supp.2d at 24, that “sexual violence” is not sufficiently recognized as a violation of the law of nations to be actionable under the ATS, and that Exxon could not be liable for genocide and crimes against humanity because adjudication of such claims would “be an impermissible intrusion in Indonesia's internal affairs.” Id. at 25. Although concluding that “resolving claims of complicity in arbitrary detention, torture, and extrajudicial killing pose [d] less of a threat of infringing Indonesia's sovereignty,” id., the district court ruled that the plaintiffs could not assert such claims against Exxon because color-of-law jurisprudence developed in lawsuits under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 was inapplicable in view of Sosa v. Alvarez–Machain, 542 U.S. 692, 124 S.Ct. 2739, 159 L.Ed.2d 718 (2004). Doe I, 393 F.Supp.2d at 25–26. The district court also ruled that joint action with the Indonesian military was not sufficiently alleged, but even if it were the required inquiry would raise justiciability concerns, and to the extent state action could be alleged under a proximate cause theory, that theory was not sufficiently alleged in the complaint. Id. at 26–27. The district court declined to hold, as Exxon urged, that the ATS claims must be dismissed due to plaintiffs-appellants' failure to exhaust remedies in Indonesia because it was apparent that such efforts would be futile. Id. at 24–25.

On appeal, plaintiffs-appellants challenge the dismissal of their ATS and TVPA claims based on prohibitions of extrajudicial killing, torture, and prolonged arbitrary detention, but do not appeal the dismissal of their claims of genocide, crimes against humanity, or sexual violence. They...

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