District Court Dismisses ATS Claim Where Alleged Conduct in US Was Not Directly Linked to Injuries Claimed in Other Countries

The World in U.S. Courts: Summer and Fall 2016 - Alien Tort Statute (ATS)/Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA)/Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA)

Ate v. Gülen, U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, June 29, 2016

Plaintiffs, citizens and residents of Turkey, sued a prominent Turkish cleric who is a permanent resident in the United States.  Among other things, the complaint alleged that the defendant, through a video speech posted on a U.S. website he controls, gave instructions resulting in the persecution and detention of the plaintiffs and others having similar religious beliefs, thereby violating the ATS.

The District Court observed that the ATS has no extraterritorial application, and that its scope is limited to activities that sufficiently “touch and concern” the “territory” of the U.S. to displace the presumption against application of the statute to events outside the U.S.  After an extensive review of precedent since the U.S. Supreme Court’s seminal decision in the Kiobel case, the Court described this inquiry as requiring consideration of (i) the relevant conduct to violate the ATS, (ii) the relationship between that conduct and the U.S., (iii) whether the conduct is of a nature sufficient to displace the presumption against extraterritorial effect, and (iv) whether the conduct itself states a claim for a violation of the law of nations (or aiding and abetting such a violation).  The Court found that these requirements were not met.  It observed that the speech did not direct that any specific action be taken against members of the movement of which the plaintiffs are part, only that some action be taken.  It concluded that the statement thus failed to constitute the “the minimum factual predicate” necessary to displace the presumption against extraterritoriality.  The plaintiffs also cited the defendant’s alleged approval of two episodes of a Turkish television series that allegedly contained instructions that the group be persecuted, but the Court similarly found this evidence to be only a “circumstantial and tenuous” allegation of a connection between the defendant and the claimed mistreatment in Turkey.  The Court also noted the absence of factors that had supported ATS claims in other cases:  Some involvement of the U.S. Government, conduct occurring over a long period of time, clear causal links between the conduct and injury alleged, the presence of organizations recognized by the U.S. Government as terrorist, and the presence in the U.S. of the individuals alleged actually to have carried out the violations of law.  For this and other reasons, the Court dismissed the complaint.

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