Authors: Jonathan Horlick, Joe Cyr, Scott Reynolds, Andrew Behrman
Under the United States Alien Tort Statute, which permits non-U.S. citizens to bring lawsuits in U.S. courts for human rights violations that are violations of the law of nations, plaintiffs have filed claims against multinational oil and gas corporations for the direct or complicit commission of such violations carried out by the government of the country in which the corporation operated. In addition to exercising jurisdiction over U.S. corporations, U.S. courts have exercised jurisdiction in cases involving non-U.S. defendants for alleged wrongful conduct against non-U.S. plaintiffs committed outside the U.S.
The exercise of jurisdiction by U.S. courts over non-U.S. defendants for alleged wrongful conduct against non-U.S. plaintiffs committed outside of the U.S. raises serious questions as to the jurisdictional foundation on which the power of U.S. courts to adjudicate them rests. Defences that foreign defendants can raise against the exercise of jurisdiction by the U.S. courts are an objection to the extraterritorial assertion of jurisdiction, the act of state doctrine, the political question doctrine, forum non conveniens, and the principle of comity. These defences are bolstered by the support of the defendant’s home government and other governments.