Alien Tort Statute -- active

Doe v. Nestle   (9th Circuit)

Scope of Alien Tort Statute

The NAM filed an amicus brief to oppose a class action lawsuit that seeks to impose overbroad civil liability on manufacturers under the U.S. Alien Tort Statute. The lawsuit alleges that major food producers violated the Alien Tort Statute by purchasing cocoa from African producers engaged in criminal conduct and human rights violations. The defendant food producers moved to dismiss the complaint. A federal district court granted the motion to dismiss, finding that the complaint seeks an improper extraterritorial application of the Alien Tort Statute because the alleged violations occurred in Africa. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the plaintiffs should be allowed to pursue their claims against the major food producers for "aiding and abetting" the cocoa producers' alleged violations. The Ninth Circuit reasoned that the major business decisions about the cocoa purchases and related payments were made within the United States, and therefore a domestic application of the Alien Tort Statute is appropriate. This interpretation of the Alien Tort Statute would open the floodgates to potential claims against manufacturers for any payments to foreign suppliers whom a plaintiff could allege is involved in any conduct that violates international norms. Over the past two decades, companies have been named as defendants in hundreds of these types of lawsuits. The suits are typically litigated for a decade or more, imposing substantial legal and reputational costs on corporations that operate in developing countries and chilling further investment. A class-action lawsuit on such a basis could impose massive settlement pressure on companies involved in no wrongdoing whatsoever. Such a precedent would enrich opportunistic trial lawyers while harming manufacturers and doing nothing to alleviate violations of international law. The NAM's amicus brief supports en banc review by identifying the harmful consequences this decision would have on all manufacturers.

Related Documents:
NAM brief  (December 7, 2018)


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