District Court Finds no Specific or Personal Jurisdiction Over Parties in Connection With Acts Leading to Power Outage in Cameroon

The World in U.S. Courts: Summer 2014 - Personal Jurisdiction

William v. AES Corp., U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, June 26, 2014

Plaintiffs brought suit under the ATS against AES Corp., an American company headquartered in Virginia, and its Cameroonian subsidiary, Sonel, a power company, claiming violations of international law surrounding power failures in Cameroon that injured the Plaintiffs. Sonel moved to dismiss the action due to lack of general and specific personal jurisdiction.

The Court first analyzed specific personal jurisdiction, finding none. Plaintiff’s claims related only to acts concerning the power failure within Cameroon and did not allege any acts directed at Virginia or the United States. As for general personal jurisdiction, the Court found the parent corporation’s mere presence in Virginia was an inadequate basis, as definitively held by the U.S. Supreme Court in Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown. Because Plaintiffs made no allegations that Sonel was “at home” in Virginia, as required by Goodyear, the Court declined to find general personal jurisdiction. The Court also noted that Sonel has not had any contact with Virginia, let alone “continuous and systematic” contact.

In the alternative, Plaintiffs argued Sonel was a mere “alter ego” of the parent corporation, AES Corp., meaning jurisdiction over the parent extends to the subsidiary. However, the Court perfunctorily “disregarded” this argument, as the Plaintiffs failed to “plausibly allege” any facts that Sonel was an alter ego of the parent corporation. As a result, the Court dismissed Sonel from the suit.

[Editor’s note: The AES Corp. case is also addressed in this report in connection with its discussion of the Alien Tort Statute.]

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