Splintered Ruling in Alien Tort Statute Case

POLITICS & POLICY

The Alien Tort Statute gives federal courts jurisdiction to hear certain civil actions filed by aliens. Today’s ruling by the Court in Nestle v. Doe arises from a complaint filed by six individuals from Mali who allege that they were trafficked into Ivory Coast as child slaves to work on cocoa farms and that U.S.-based companies Nestle USA and Cargill are liable under the ATS for buying cocoa from those farms and for providing the farms with technical and financial resources.

The line-up in today’s ruling is very complicated, so I figured I’d break it down:

1. In Part II of Justice Thomas’s lead opinion joined by seven other justices (all but Justice Alito), the Court holds that the plaintiffs are improperly seeking extraterritorial application of the ATS. “Nearly all the conduct that [plaintiffs] say aided and abetted forced labor … occurred in Ivory Coast.” While they pleaded that every major operational decision was made in or approved in the United States, “allegations of general corporate activity—like decisionmaking—cannot alone establish domestic application of the ATS.”

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