Kiobel Insta-Symposium: Interpreting “Touch and Concern”
A few posts yesterday suggest that the reports of the death of the ATS have been greatly exaggerated. Oona Hathaway argues that “[t]hose celebrating the demise of the ATS may thus find themselves surprised to discover that the end result of the Supreme Court’s decision yesterday may not be the end of the ATS after all, but instead a renewed focus of ATS litigation on U.S. corporations.” Marty Lederman argues that “the language and history of the ATS provide no basis for wholly rebutting the presumption against extraterritoriality; but that there also remain unresolved sets of “significant” cases in which the conduct alleged might be sufficient to “displace” the presumption…. [T]he cases most amenable to such displacement would be those in which a U.S. person or corporation is responsible for the violation.”
In both cases they seize on the “touch and concern” language in Section IV of the majority opinion in Kiobel, which states as follows:
On these facts, all the relevant conduct took place outside the United States. And 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. See Morrison, 561 U. S. ___ (slip op. at 17–24). Corporations are often present in many countries, and it would reach too far to say that mere corporate presence suffices. If Congress were to determine otherwise, a statute more specific than the ATS would be required.
They seem to suggest that “touch and concern” is not about U.S. conduct, but rather U.S. interests. I respectfully disagree.
One cannot interpret that phrase without looking to pages 17-24 of the Morrison slip opinion. That section of Morrison clearly addresses the question of conduct that partly occurs abroad and partly occurs at home.
Here’s a few choice excerpts from the relevant section of Morrison:
[I]t is a rare case of prohibited extraterritorial application that lacks all contact with the territory of the United States. But the presumption against extraterritorial application would be a craven watchdog indeed if it retreated to its kennel whenever some domestic activity is involved in the case…
“[W]e think that the focus of the Exchange Act is not upon the place where the deception originated, but upon purchases and sales of securities in the United States…. Those purchase-and-sale transactions are the objects of the statute’s solicitude. It is those transactions that the statute seeks to “regulate”; it is parties or prospective parties to those transactions that the statute seeks to “protec[t]….”
The Solicitor General suggests a different test, which petitioners also endorse: “[A] transnational securities fraud violates [§]10(b) when the fraud involves significant conduct in the United States that is material to the fraud’s success.” Neither the Solicitor General nor petitioners provide any textual support for this test. The Solicitor General sets forth a number of purposes such a test would serve … [b]ut it provides no textual support for the last of these purposes, or for the first two as applied to the foreign securities industry and securities markets abroad. It is our function to give the statute the effect its language suggests, however modest that may be; not to extend it to admirable purposes it might be used to achieve….
The Solicitor General points out that the “significant and material conduct” test is in accord with prevailing notions of international comity. If so, that proves that if the United States asserted prescriptive jurisdiction pursuant to the “significant and material conduct” test it would not violate customary international law; but it in no way tends to prove that that is what Congress has done….
Section 10(b) reaches the use of a manipulative or deceptive device or contrivance only in connection with the purchase or sale of a security listed on an American stock exchange, and the purchase or sale of any other security in the United States. This case involves no securities listed on a domestic exchange, and all aspects of the purchases complained of by those petitioners who still have live claims occurred outside the United States.
In light of Morrison, how should one interpret the Court in Kiobel when it says 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. See Morrison, 561 U. S. ___ (slip op. at 17–24).” I think the answer can only be that it is a reference to conduct that occurs at least partly within the United States. I say that because the referenced language in Morrison addresses situations in which the presumption applies, but to avoid it being a “craven watchdog” must be reconciled with some U.S. activity. Section IV in Kiobel concerns situations in which there is both territorial and extraterritorial conduct. It is not a backdoor attempt to embrace Justice Breyer’s concurring opinion, or an attempt to convert domestic conduct into domestic interests.
The “significant questions” that remain unanswered by Kiobel are how much and what kind of domestic activity is sufficient to rebut the presumption against extraterritoriality. Consistent with Morrison, those questions must be answered in light of the text, history, and purpose of the statute as interpreted by the Court in Section III of Kiobel.