District Court Finds Mere Knowledge in U.S. of Illegal Actions Elsewhere an Inadequate Basis for ATS Liability and Concludes That TVPA Cannot Support "Aiding and Abetting" Claim

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

Doe v. Cisco Systems, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, September 5, 2014

Plaintiffs are U.S. and Chinese citizens alleged to have been persecuted in China as a result of their practice of the Falun Gang religion.  They allege that the defendants—all associated with Cisco Systems—"knew of and assisted in the facilitation of human rights abuses" against the plaintiffs through the provision of a "customized security system."  This conduct is alleged to constitute "violations of the law of nations," and thus to be actionable under the ATS.

The U.S. District Court in California focused its attention on the question whether the claims "touch and concern the territory of the United States" so as to confer jurisdiction.  The Court observed that the existence of a U.S. defendant was not alone sufficient to confer jurisdiction.  Rather, it was necessary for the plaintiffs to allege that human rights violations were "planned, directed, or committed" in the U.S.  The Court found that this standard was not satisfied by allegations that the U.S. defendants merely acted with knowledge of violations by others.

Liability under the TVPA was alleged based on the theory that the defendants "aided and abetted" violations by others, but the Court concluded that no such claim existed under the statute.  With respect to a similar claim under the ATS, however, the Court found contrary precedent and agreed that such a claim might be brought.  But it found that the plaintiffs had failed to allege that the defendants' conduct had a "substantial effect" on the perpetration of the alleged human rights violations and thus dismissed the claim.

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