The World in U.S. Courts: Spring 2014 - Alien Tort Statute (ATS)/Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA)/Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VTVPA)
Nepali plaintiffs residing in Nepal sued various companies, including the U.S. company KBR, Inc., in U.S. District Court in Texas alleging that they had been illegally transported from their homes to jobs in Iraq. Claims brought under RICO and the Alien Tort Statute had previously been dismissed, with the court finding that claims under the VTVPA applied to the extraterritorial conduct alleged. In this opinion, the court changes its mind as to the VTVPA claims, concluding that, prior to amendments passed in 2008, there were inadequate references in the text of the VTVPA to override the presumption against the extraterritorial application of a U.S. law. The court also rejected a claim that the 2008 amendment should be applied retroactively to the alleged conduct occurring in 2004. In an issue rarely addressed in U.S. caselaw, the court found that amendments extending U.S. laws to acts occurring in other countries were "substantive" changes, rather than "procedural" ones, and therefore that it was required to apply a separate presumption that the change in law was not intended to be given retroactive application. Finding no basis on which to upset that presumption, the court ruled that the 2008 amendment would not act to allow the 2004 claims to be heard.