District Court Rejects Prudential Challenges to ATS Complaint Because of the Inadequacy of a Non-U.S. Forum for the Claim, but Dismisses Claim Without Prejudice Based on Failure to Allege Sufficient Connection With U.S.

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. ExxonMobil Corporation, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, September 24, 2014

Plaintiffs are Indonesian citizens who filed suit under the ATS for injuries allegedly inflicted on them by Indonesian soldiers employed by ExxonMobil entities to provide security at a natural gas production facility in Indonesia.  The U.S. District Court in Washington, DC addressed a number of grounds advanced by ExxonMobil for dismissal of the complaint.

The Court first rejected the argument that the complaint implicated the "Act of State Doctrine," under which sovereign acts of non-U.S. countries taken within their borders are presumed to be lawful, finding the private employment of the solders rendered the doctrine inapplicable.

The Court also disposed of ExxonMobil's arguments that the litigation should be dismissed on grounds of "international comity" and forum non conveniens (the U.S. forum is unjustly inconvenient to a defendant) grounds, finding both arguments precluded by the inadequacy of an alternative forum in Indonesia where the case could be heard against all defendants.  ExxonMobil's argument that the case should be dismissed because it implicated the "Political Question Doctrine" was rejected because no political decision of the U.S. Government was presented.

Turning to the ATS, ExxonMobil argued that the plaintiffs' claims impermissibly called for an extraterritorial application of the statute.  The Court noted that ATS claims could proceed even though some element of non-U.S. activity was involved where the claims nonetheless "touch and concern the territory of the United States."  The Court first rejected the plaintiffs' claim that the status of the ExxonMobil parent as a U.S. corporation itself was a sufficient contact to support jurisdiction.  It noted in the complaint generalized allegations of activities in the U.S. that might be related to ExxonMobil's security operations in Indonesia, but found these to lack the specificity required.  It allowed the plaintiffs a chance to replead, however, since the complaint predated the U.S. Supreme Court's 2013 decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., which articulated a new standard for ATS extraterritoriality.

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