WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court declared Wednesday that U.S. courts will not be the world’s forum for deciding lawsuits alleging human rights abuses by corporations and tyrants on foreign soil.
In a 9-0 decision, the high court tossed out a lawsuit brought by Nigerians against Royal Dutch Petroleum alleging the company conspired with the Nigerian regime in a campaign of rape, torture and murder in the oil-rich delta in the early 1990s.
The suit had become a test of whether U.S. courts could serve as a judicial forum for victims of gross human rights abuses abroad. Its claims were filed under the recently rediscovered Alien Tort Statute of 1789, which opened the courts to claims based on the “law of nations.”
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., in an opinion that was joined by four other justices, moved to limit the interpretation of that law in a decision that will be welcomed by corporate America.
Roberts invoked the “presumption against extraterritorial application” in holding that the 1789 law does not open the courthouse door to hearing legal claims based on conduct outside of this country. “United States laws govern domestically, but do not rule the world,” he said.