District Court Holds That Corporations May Be Liable Under the ATS But That U.S. Corporation Organized to Bring Claims Lacked Standing to Sue

The World in U.S. Courts: Summer 2014 - Alien Tort Statute (ATS)/Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA)/Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VTVPA)/Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act (FSIA) | April.25.2014

Sikhs for Justice Inc. v. Indian National Congress Party, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, April 25, 2014

Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), an organization representing Sikhs allegedly injured in the wake of the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984, sued the then-ruling Indian National Congress Party (INC) and an individual in U.S. District Court in New York for various violations of human rights, in violation of the ATS and the TVPA.

INC moved to dismiss, first on the ground that it was a corporation and that corporations cannot be sued under the ATS. The Court rejected this argument, citing the Ntsebeza case discussed elsewhere in this issue and agreeing that it was free to address the question on its own because the law in the Circuit was so uncertain.

On the merits, the Court noted that the ATS was not given extraterritorial application, and concluded that the complaint failed to allege a sufficient connection between the actions claimed to give rise to the claim in the U.S. Specifically, SFJ argued that INC acted in the U.S. through a New York subsidiary set up to advance INC’s interests in the U.S. SFJ also argued that the victims of the alleged crimes lived in the U.S. and were suffering continued persecution because of ongoing activities by the defendants in India, including persecution of their family members. The Court rejected these grounds, finding the mere presence of the U.S. subsidiary an inadequate basis, and the alleged injuries felt in the U.S. to be irrelevant because all of the alleged conduct occurred in India. As alternative grounds for dismissal of the case, the Court concluded that SFJ, a U.S. corporation, did not satisfy the ATS requirement that a plaintiff be an “alien,” and that it did not properly represent individual aliens who might have standing to sue.

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