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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

SCOTUS Says “No” to Most Alien Tort Statute Claims

It appears we have another decision that falls under the heading of "be careful what you wish for." SCOTUS this week declined to allow most "alien" tort suits in the US. in Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum. That is Royal Dutch Shell, whom the court ultimately found for in a strong 9-0 decision (while split on the reasoning). outcome was widely expected, and reduces risks for multinationals. Oil companies in particular faced claims of being involved in working with governments to control local populations.

The outcome is covered in many places, such as Alison Frankel’s useful comments, and the view from the Financial Times. A "pharma" perspective is at the always stimulating Drug & Device Law Blog, although some might say a case like the one described there might fall into the opening left at the end of Justice Robert’s opinion, depending on where corporate plans were made, or not made. The most substantive overall comments may be at OpinioJuris, which is putting on an instant symposium. Also notable is that the UKSC blog includes a guest post on the outcome, and its ties to an amicus brief filed by the UK government. The guest post is by Lyle Denniston of the SCOTUS blog.

Various business groups are rightly happy with the outcome, for the short term. The decision will block some suits presently on file in the US, and will block some future suits that might have been filed in the US. In the long-term, however, the outcome will add fuel to the increasing globalization of tort claiming. Plaintiff’s bars will continue to grow and expand in other nations. The next generation of lawyers and business persons will experience a different world of litigation, with more lawyers available more persons, and more claiming. But at least for some time, the values for damages will be lower than in the US, and so it’s an economic win for this generation of defendants.

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