Library of Congress

Law Library of Congress

The Library of Congress > Law Library > News & Events > Global Legal Monitor

United States: Appellate Court Rules Alien Tort Statute Provides Federal Jurisdiction over Claims Arising from Injuries Inflicted Abroad

(July 7, 2014) The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has ruled that under the Alien Tort Statute, an American corporation in certain circumstances can be sued for alleged violations of international law where the injuries occurred outside the United States, if the claims sufficiently “touch and concern” United States territory. (Al Shimari v. CACI Premier Technology, Inc., No. 13-1937 (June 30, 2014), U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit website.)

During the second Iraq War, defendant-appellee CACI Premier Technology, Inc., a corporation headquartered in Virginia, contracted with the United States to provide civilian contractors to interrogate detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison at Baghdad. Plaintiffs-appellants, four Iraqi nationals, filed a federal lawsuit claiming CACI employees violated international law by torturing them at Abu Ghraib. They asserted the district court had jurisdiction under the Alien Tort Statute, which provides that “[t]he district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” (28 U.S.C. § 1350 (2012), Office of the Law Revision Counsel website.) The district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims based on the Alien Tort Statute, because the acts giving rise to the claims occurred exclusively in Iraq. (Al Shimari v. CACI, supra, slip op. at 14-15.)

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit applied the Supreme Court’s decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. (133 S. Ct. 1659 (2013), slip op. available at the Supreme Court website), which held that the Alien Tort Statute must be interpreted in light of a canon of statutory interpretation known as the presumption against extraterritorial application of acts of Congress (id. at 4-5), and that “even where the claims touch and concern the territory of the United States, they must do so with sufficient force to displace the presumption against extraterritorial application” (id. at 14).

The Fourth Circuit ruled that in this case, while the alleged torture occurred in Iraq, the plaintiffs’ claims “touch and concern” United States territory sufficiently to overcome the presumption against extraterritorial application. Specifically, the Fourth Circuit noted:

· The alleged acts of torture were committed by United States citizens employed by CACI, an American corporation;

· The alleged torture occurred at a military facility operated by U, S, government personnel;
· The employees alleged to have engaged in torture were hired by CACI in the United States to fulfill a contract between CACI and the U. S. Department of the Interior;
· The contract was issued by an Interior Department office in Arizona;
· CACI was authorized to collect payments by mailing invoices to government accounting offices in Colorado;
· The contract required CACI interrogators to obtain security clearances from the U. S. Department of Defense; and
· CACI’s managers in the United States allegedly were aware of reports of misconduct abroad, attempted to “cover up” the misconduct, and “implicitly, if not expressly, encouraged” it. (Al Shimari v. CACI, supra, slip op. at 25-26.)

The Fourth Circuit further noted that while the presumption against extraterritorial application is premised on avoiding “unintended clashes between our laws and those of other nations,” that concern is inapplicable because this case involves enforcing the customary law of nations. (Id. at 28.) Lastly, the Fourth Circuit observed that Congress has enacted laws providing that torture is contrary to U. S. foreign policy, and therefore recognition of the torture claims in this case would not require “unwarranted judicial interference in the conduct of foreign policy.” (Id. at 29.) The Fourth Circuit therefore vacated the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claims under the Alien Tort Statute. (Id. at 31.)

On a separate issue – whether the lawsuit implicates the political question doctrine, under which courts will decline jurisdiction on matters better left to other branches of government – the Fourth Circuit remanded the case to the district court for further factual development. It directed the district court to allow discovery on whether the CACI interrogators acted under the direct control of the United States military and whether national defense interests were closely intertwined with military decisions governing CACI’s conduct, such that a decision would require the judiciary to question judgments made by the military. (Id. at 32-48.)