April 24, 2018
Jesner v. Arab Bank, PLC, No. 16-499
Decided April 24, 2018
Today, the Supreme Court held 5-4 that a foreign corporation may not be sued under the Alien Tort Statute.
The Alien Tort Statute of 1789 (ATS) provides that foreign nationals may sue in federal court “for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1350. In recent years, plaintiffs increasingly have relied on the ATS to sue multinational corporations and banks in federal courts for alleged terrorist activities and human rights violations abroad. In this case, the plaintiffs sued Arab Bank, PLC—a Jordanian financial institution with a branch in New York—alleging that the bank helped finance terrorist attacks in the Middle East.
Whether foreign corporations can be sued in federal court in the United States under the ATS.
No. Neither the language of the ATS nor the Court’s precedents interpreting it supports extending the statute to reach suits against foreign corporations. The political branches, rather than the courts, are responsible for weighing foreign-policy concerns and deciding whether foreign corporations should face liability for acts like those at issue in this case. The Judiciary is “not well suited to make the required policy judgments that are implicated by corporate liability in cases like this one.”
“[A]bsent further action from Congress it would be inappropriate for courts to extend ATS liability to foreign corporations.”
Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority
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