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Exxon Petitions for Rehearing of Alien Tort Statute Ruling

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by Publius
Posted August 11, 2011, 10:45 AM

The Blog of Legal Times reports that attorneys for Exxon Mobil Corp. have filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit requesting that the court review a panel decision exposing Exxon to liability under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) for the alleged torture of civilians in Indonesia.

Click here for the petition. Click here for the 2-1 panel decision. Judge Judith Rogers wrote the majority opinion.

The appellate case grew out of two lawsuits from civilians who claim they were tortured by the Indonesian military over a number of years while it was guarding Exxon facilities. In her opinion, Judge Rogers found:

The law of the United States has been uniform since its founding that corporations can be held liable for the torts committed by their agents. This is confirmed in international practice, both in treaties and in legal systems throughout the world.

Exxon argued that it was not subject to suit under the ATS both because under customary international law only individuals, rather than corporations, can face liability for human rights violations and because the statute, passed in 1789 to give district courts jurisdiction to hear tort suits from aliens for "violation(s) of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States," was not meant to apply to actions taken outside the country. In the petition, lawyers for Exxon write:

There is a strong presumption in American law that statutes do not apply extraterritorially, even where an express cause of action exists. There is nothing in the text or statutory history of the ATS sufficient to trump this strong presumption.

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