Plaintiff Lawyers Discover IL

Plaintiff Lawyers Discover IL

That’s at the center of this interesting piece from Adam Liptak in today’s NY Times, on an Alien Tort Statute claim alleging the enslavement of child jockeys in the camel-racing business. The case was brought by the class-action firm Motley Rice against two camel owners who also happen to be high-ranking officials of the United Arab Emirates. (Isn’t there a sovereign immunity issue lurking in here somewhere?) Here’s a site put up by the defendants with the filings in the case. The complaint makes for some fairly chilling reading.

Should we be disturbed that plaintiff lawyers are getting into this action, with a clear eye to a payday at the end of the case? As Bill Dodge observes in the story, these firms won’t pick their battles carefully, which might well result in caselaw unfavorable to the internatinalist agenda.

On the other hand, perhaps it’s just a another sign of the internalization of IL into US legal practice. Other areas of law have to endure trial lawyers, so why shouldn’t we? I also suspect that in the early days of this sort of practice, there’s a good deal of low-hanging fruit, cases in which there are some real wrongs to be righted. If the class-action people manage to make things better for the child camel-jockeys (as they appear to have done already, in response to the making of the claim), does it make any difference that their motives may be unpure? We’re probably a long way off from international law claims being lodged against Netflix for false advertising and other cases in which the only party-in-interest is the lawyers themselves. In the meantime, the more IL weaves itself into the fabric of our legal system, the better.

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Observer
Observer

The description of the Sosa decision in this article really irked me: Liptak says the Court “limited claims to classic violations of international norms like piracy, torture and slavery.” I know this is a newspaper and not a law review article, but this overly narrow description makes the trial lawyers seem even more opportunistic and unconcerned with governing law than is needed.

Adam Liptak
Adam Liptak

I’d welcome an alternative to my formulation concerning the substantive limitations imposed by Sosa. That said, whatever its shortcomings, I don’t follow why my formulation made “the trial lawyers seem even more opportunistic and unconcerned with governing law than is needed.” Nobody, including the defendants, disputes that what is alleged in the complaint — slavery — states an ATS claim.

Adam Liptak

observer
observer

Adam – I didn’t read your paraphrasing of Sosa as simply applying to the child jockeys case, but setting out a clear line that, the story implied, the trial lawyers, with their focus on the bottom line, really didn’t take all that seriously. As for the Sosa holding itself, the court said it would permit ATS claims that are equivilantly serious to those contemplated by the statute’s drafters. That formulation leaves lots of room for claims that are relatively new on the scene — such as environmental degradation or corporate responsibility — but which arguably command a wide consensus among states. I wouldn’t describe these as “classic” violations of IL. More importantly, Sosa rejected the Bork view in Tel-Oren that the claims should be limited to those existing in 1789. Those are the types of claims lay readers would probably see as “classic,” as in venerable or time-tested. That the court opted for a more open-ended test, which is not a list but a category that can expand as international opinion changes, is a central aspect of the holding. I don’t think your phrasing captured that. All that said, I’m very happy to see you read this blog and respond… Read more »