Justices Decide Alien Tort Statute Does Not Apply to Conduct in Foreign Countries As Urged in Arnold & Porter Amicus Briefs

April 23, 2013

Washington, D.C., April 23, 2013 -- In a significant victory for the international business community, the Supreme Court held on April 17, 2013, that the Alien Tort Statute ("ATS") should be presumed not to reach alleged misconduct that "took place outside the United States." The Court's decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum should substantially reduce ATS litigation against multinational companies that operate in developing countries.

The Court's opinion, authored by the Chief Justice, reflects arguments urged in two amicus briefs submitted by Arnold & Porter on behalf of six multinational companies. The briefs argued that the ATS was never intended to permit, and could not be read to support, claims in U.S. courts involving conduct that occurs in foreign countries. The Court's ruling was likewise based on the presumption against extraterritorial application of federal law - a presumption that was not overcome by the statute's text, purpose, or history. Limiting the ATS to actions primarily concerned with conduct in the United States reduces friction with foreign governments and minimizes the intrusion of the judiciary into the conduct of foreign affairs.

Arnold & Porter attorneys John Bellinger (who previously served as The Legal Adviser for the Department of State), Lisa Blatt, Ramon Marks, and Reeves Anderson filed two amicus briefs on behalf of a group of U.S. companies, including BP America, Caterpillar, ConocoPhillips, General Electric, Honeywell, and Monsanto. They were joined on the briefs by Bancroft attorneys Paul Clement and Jeffrey Harris on behalf of IBM Corporation. Arnold & Porter's and Bancroft's original amicus brief was credited by Reuters for "refocus[ing] the Supreme Court's attention in Kiobel from corporate liability under the ATS to extraterritoriality" when the Justices last year took the unusual step of ordering a re-briefing. At that time, Corporate Counsel magazine opined that "[i]f general counsel ever wonder whether their companies' friend-of-the-court briefs really have any impact, they only need to look at this week's U.S. Supreme Court action involving the Alien Tort Statute."

Arnold & Porter represents and advises clients in ATS litigation throughout the United States.

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