Corporate Accountability

RELEASE: Supreme Court Leaves Some Corporations Answerable to Alien Tort Statute

WASHINGTON – Following the Supreme Court’s ruling today in Nestlé USA, Inc. v. John Doe I, Constitutional Accountability Center President Elizabeth Wydra issued the following reaction:

Today, the Supreme Court held that two American corporations, Nestle USA and Cargill, that allegedly contributed to the perpetration of child slavery in the Ivory Coast could not be sued in U.S. court because most of the challenged conduct occurred abroad. This decision is disappointing, particularly for the respondents, who had been forced as children to work on cocoa plantations.

But the Court refrained from striking an even larger blow: the Court initially agreed to hear these cases to consider whether the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which allows federal district courts to hear suits for torts “committed in violation of the law of nations,” exempts all corporations from suit.

Rather than decide that question and potentially foreclose future suits like this one, the Court resolved these cases on the ground that a “mere corporate presence” in the United States is insufficient to open the door to federal court.

As Justice Gorsuch pointed out in his concurring opinion, which echoed CAC’s amicus brief in support of the respondents, “That is a good thing: The notion that corporations are immune from suit under the ATS cannot be reconciled with the statutory text and original understanding,” and the Court properly declined to go down that road. Justice Alito also echoed CAC’s amicus brief in his dissenting opinion when he acknowledged that “[c]orporate status does not justify special immunity.”

Although today’s decision is disappointing and will have unfortunate repercussions for the victims in this case and beyond, we remain hopeful that the Court will continue to recognize that the ATS, in accordance with its text and Congress’s plan in passing it, allows federal district courts to hear suits against American corporations for violations of international law.

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Resources:

CAC case page in Nestlé USA, Inc. v. John Doe I; Cargill, Inc. v. John Doe I: https://www.theusconstitution.org/litigation/nestle-v-doecargill-v-doe/

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Constitutional Accountability Center is a think tank, public interest law firm, and action center dedicated to fulfilling the progressive promise of the Constitution’s text and history. Visit CAC’s website at www.theusconstitution.org.

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