Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Jesner v. Arab Bank, PLC, Docket No. 16-499

Alien Tort Statute: International law: Corporate responsibility: Common law liability: Separation of powers: Judicial deference: Jurisdiction: Human rights: Bivens:

Alien Tort Statute, commonly referred to as the ATS. See 28 U. S. C. §1350.

Petitioners contend that international and domestic laws impose responsibility and liability on a corporation if its human agents use the corporation to commit crimes in violation of international laws that protect human rights. The question here is whether the Judiciary has the authority, in an ATS action, to make that determination and then to enforce that liability in ATS suits, all without any explicit authorization from Congress to do so.

During the pendency of this litigation, there was an unrelated case that also implicated the issue whether the ATS is applicable to suits in this country against foreign corporations. See Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 621 F. 3d 111 (CA2 2010).

After additional briefing and reargument in Kiobel, this Court held that, given all the circumstances, the suit could not be maintained under the ATS. Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 569 U. S. 108, 114, 124–125 (2013). The rationale of the holding, however, was not that the ATS does not extend to suits against foreign corporations. That question was left unresolved. The Court ruled, instead, that “all the relevant conduct took place outside the United States.” Id., at 124. Dismissal of the action was required based on the presumption against extraterritorial application of statutes.

The majority opinion in Kiobel, written by Judge Cabranes, held that the ATS does not apply to alleged international-law violations by a corporation. 621 F. 3d, at 120. Judge Cabranes relied in large part on the fact that international criminal tribunals have consistently limited their jurisdiction to natural persons. Id., at 132– 137. Judge Leval filed a separate opinion. He concurred in the judgment on other grounds but disagreed with the proposition that the foreign corporation was not subject to suit under the ATS. Id., at 196. Judge Leval conceded that “international law, of its own force, imposes no liabilities on corporations or other private juridical entities.” Id., at 186. But he reasoned that corporate liability for violations of international law is an issue of “civil compensatory liability” that international law leaves to individual nations. Ibid. Later decisions in the Courts of Appeals for the Seventh, Ninth, and District of Columbia Circuits agreed with Judge Leval and held that corporations can be subject to suit under the ATS. See Flomo v. Firestone Nat. Rubber Co., 643 F. 3d 1013, 1017–1021 (CA7 2011); Doe I v.Nestle USA, Inc., 766 F. 3d 1013, 1020 1022 (CA9 2014); Doe VIII v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 654 F. 3d 11, 40–55 (CADC 2011), vacated on other grounds, 527 Fed. Appx. 7 (CADC 2013). The respective opinions by Judges Cabranes and Leval are scholarly and extensive, providing significant guidance for this Court in the case now before it.

(…) The Judiciary Act also included what is now the statute known as the ATS. (…) As noted, the ATS is central to this case and its brief text bears repeating. Its full text is: “The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” 28 U. S. C. §1350.

(…) This Court now must decide whether common-law liability under the ATS extends to a foreign corporate defendant.

So it is proper for this Court to decide whether corporations, or at least foreign corporations, are subject to liability in an ATS suit filed in a United States district court. Before recognizing a common-law action under the ATS, federal courts must apply the test announced in Sosa. An initial, threshold question is whether a plaintiff can demonstrate that the alleged violation is “of a norm that is specific, universal, and obligatory.” 542 U. S., at 732. And even assuming that, under international law, there is a specific norm that can be controlling, it must be determined further whether allowing this case to proceed under the ATS is a proper exercise of judicial discretion, or instead whether caution requires the political branches to grant specific authority before corporate liability can be imposed. See id., at 732– 733, and nn. 20–21.

(…) It is proper now to turn first to the question whether there is an international-law norm imposing liability on corporations for acts of their employees that contravene fundamental human rights.

It does not follow, however, that current principles of international law extend liability—civil or criminal—for human-rights violations to corporations or other artificial entities. This is confirmed by the fact that the charters of respective international criminal tribunals often exclude corporations from their jurisdictional reach.

(…) Sosa is consistent with this Court’s general reluctance to extend judicially created private rights of action.

(…) This caution extends to the question whether the courts should exercise the judicial authority to mandate a rule that imposes liability upon artificial entities like corporations. Thus, in Malesko the Court held that corporate defendants may not be held liable in Bivens actions. See Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U. S. 388 (1971). Allowing corporate liability would have been a “marked extension” of Bivens that was unnecessary to advance its purpose of holding individual officers responsible for “engaging in unconstitutional wrongdoing.” Malesko, 534 U. S., at 74. Whether corporate defendants should be subject to suit was “a question for Congress, not us, to decide.” Id., at 72.

Neither the language of the ATS nor the precedents interpreting it support an exception to these general principles in this context. In fact, the separation-of-powers concerns that counsel against courts creating private rights of action apply with particular force in the context of the ATS. The political branches, not the Judiciary, have the responsibility and institutional capacity to weigh foreign-policy concerns. See Kiobel, 569 U. S., at 116–117. That the ATS implicates foreign relations “is itself a reason for a high bar to new private causes of action for violating international law.” Sosa, supra, at 727.

Congress, not the Judiciary, must decide whether to expand the scope of liability under the ATS to include foreign corporations.

(…)  The lack of a clear and well-established international-law rule is of critical relevance in determining whether courts should extend ATS liability to foreign corporations without specific congressional authorization to do so.

(…) Judicial deference requires that any imposition of corporate liability on foreign corporations for violations of international law must be determined in the first instance by the political branches of the Government.

(U.S.S.C., Apr. 24, 2018, Jesner v. Arab Bank, PLC, Docket No. 16-499, J. Kennedy)

Alien Tort Statute (28 U. S. C. §1350) : il s'agit d'une loi fédérale qui permet d'engager la responsabilité de personnes physiques impliquées dans des crimes contre les droits de l'homme. La question que pose cette affaire est de savoir si la responsabilité s'étend à des personnes morales, dans la mesure où elles ont été utilisées par leurs organes pour la commissions de tels crimes. La loi ne répond pas à cette question. Dès lors, la Cour y répond par la négative : elle n'entend pas créer une nouvelle voie de droit déduite de la Common law fédérale. C'est le Congrès qui est compétent pour légiférer à ce niveau.

La Cour observe que les Tribunaux pénaux internationaux ont de manière consistante limité leurs compétences aux personnes physiques.

Et pour créer une voie de droit sous l'angle de la Common law dans le cadre d'une action ATS, une cour fédérale devrait d'abord reconnaître que le demandeur a démontré que l'infraction alléguée portait sur une norme spécifique, universelle et obligatoire. Elle devrait ensuite reconnaître que l'action dont elle est saisie est susceptible de résolution judiciaire, en écartant la nécessité d'une attribution de compétence du législateur permettant l'intervention judiciaire pour ce type de cas.

En l'espèce, la Cour juge qu'il n'existe à ce jour pas de principe de droit international qui étendrait aux personnes morales une responsabilité civile ou pénale suite à la violation de droits de l'homme.

Par ailleurs, du principe de la séparation des pouvoirs découle qu'une cour de justice ne saurait sans autre créer le principe d'une responsabilité des personnes morales. La Cour a jugé dans une autre affaire que, sauf prescription contraire du Congrès, une personne morale ne saurait être responsable dans le cadre d'une action Bivens (seul l'officier public peut être responsable, en tant que personne physique).

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