U.S. Chamber Applauds Eleventh Circuit's Dismissal of Alien Tort Statute Lawsuit

Tuesday, August 11, 2009 - 8:00pm

Alien Tort Cases on the Rise, Hurt American Companies Doing Business Abroad , Conrad Says

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit made it more difficult for foreign plaintiffs to use an arcane law passed in 1789 to import tort lawsuits into U.S. Courts. Previously, the Chamber filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that the foreign lawsuit doesn't belong in American courts. The case is Sinaltrainal, et al. v. Coca-Cola Co., et al.

"We applaud the Eleventh Circuit for shutting down yet another effort to import foreign tort lawsuits into American courts," said Robin Conrad, executive vice president of the National Chamber Litigation Center, the Chamber's public policy law firm. "Alien Tort Statute cases are definitely on the rise. Foreign plaintiffs are filing meritless lawsuits under the statute to extort fat settlements from U.S. companies."

The Alien Tort Statute (ATS) is an obscure law passed by Congress in 1789 that allows foreign plaintiffs to bring lawsuits in American courts for offenses in violation of the "laws of nations." In this case, Colombian plaintiffs claim that Coca-Cola and other companies should be liable for the violent acts allegedly committed against the plaintiffs by Colombian police and paramilitary forces during a period of civil unrest in the country. Never in this litigation have the plaintiffs alleged that any of the corporate defendants committed or caused any of the alleged violent acts. The Eleventh Circuit agreed with the District Court that the lawsuit should be dismissed because the plaintiffs failed to show that the court should have jurisdiction to hear the case. The Chamber has filed in numerous other Alien Tort Statute cases, including a recent petition for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear Pfizer, Inc. v. Abdullahi, et al.

"The foreign plaintiffs are trying to twist the Alien Tort Statute to hold companies liable for little more than doing business in the wrong place at the wrong time," said Conrad. "So-called 'aiding and abetting' cases make it harder for American companies to do business abroad, because they can't predict when they might be sued for others' wrongful conduct."

NCLC is the public policy law firm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that advocates fair treatment of business in the courts and before regulatory agencies.

The U.S. Chamber is the world's largest business federation representing more than 3 million businesses and organizations of every size, sector, and region.

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