SCOTUS Holds Alien Tort Statute Cannot Be Used to Sue Foreign Corporations

April 27, 2018

Resolving a circuit split, the U.S. Supreme Court held on April 24, 2018 that common law liability under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) does not extend to foreign corporations. Jesner v. Arab Bank, PLC, No. 16-499, 2018 WL 1914663 (2018).

The Jesner plaintiffs alleged that they, or their family members, had been injured or killed by terrorist attacks perpetrated in the Middle East. The defendant, Arab Bank, PLC, is a foreign corporation based in Jordan, which the plaintiffs claimed permitted the terrorist groups to maintain accounts at the bank and transfer funds through its New York branch.

The ATS allows aliens to bring claims in the United States for torts “committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1350. The ATS does not specify who is a proper defendant under the statute. The question before the Supreme Court in Jesner was whether Arab Bank, as a foreign corporation based in Jordan, could be liable to the plaintiffs under the ATS.

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