Kiobel Insta-Symposium: Degrees of Territoriality

by Roger Alford

“[E]ven 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. Corporations are often present in many countries, and it would reach too far to say that mere corporate presence suffices.”

That is the operative language in Kiobel. Which raises the question, if mere corporate presence is not enough, what kind and how much territorial activity within the United States is enough? After Kiobel, that will be a critical question for future ATS litigation. Without expressing an opinion on how much is enough, I thought it worth considering the types of activities that might be the subject of future litigation. Here’s a non-exhaustive list:

Execution. In some ATS cases it is alleged that individuals commit international law violations within the United States. Examples include allegations of unlawful conduct within U.S. prisons, immigration deportation centers, or military bases, or conduct within the United States such as sex trafficking or slavery.

Cross-border Conduct. In some ATS cases it is alleged that individuals commit international law violations based on conduct that occurs partly within the United States and partly outside the United States. Examples include cross-border kidnapping, airline hijacking, or piracy within and outside territorial waters.

Planning and Authorization. In some ATS cases it is alleged that individuals located within the United States either plan or authorize an international violation occurring abroad. If the judgment call to conduct an international violation occurred within the United States, is that enough? Examples include the decision to conduct medical experiments without patient consent or the approval within the United States to engage in extraterritorial torture or killings.

Design and Testing. In some ATS cases it is alleged that products known to harm individuals are designed and tested in the United States, but the manufacture and exposure to the product occurs abroad. Examples include the design and testing in the United States of pesticides or medicines known to cause death or blindness, with the manufacture and human exposure of those products occurring abroad.

Training. In some ATS cases it is alleged that individuals are trained within the United States to engage in conduct that would constitute an international law violation. Examples include training to commit acts of torture within the United States, and then committing those acts of torture abroad.

Construction. In some ATS cases it is alleged that products are manufactured within the United States and those products are then used abroad to commit international law violations. Examples include the manufacture of weapons, armor-plated bulldozers, pesticides, etc.

Contracting. In some ATS cases it is alleged that contracts for employment were signed within the United States, and the individuals committed acts abroad pursuant to those contracts that constitute an international law violation. Examples include contracts signed within the United States for nongovernmental security forces, but the performance of those contracts occurring abroad. Another territorial nexus might be a contract executed and performed abroad that has a territorial nexus based on the choice of law clause, such as a New York governing law clause.

Financing and Money Transfers. In some ATS cases it is alleged that the unlawful behavior and injuries occurred abroad but the financing for such conduct was done within the United States or the money used to commit such crimes was transferred through U.S. banks. Examples are too numerous to mention, but include the financing of terrorism or other unlawful conduct.

Electronic Communications. In some ATS cases it is alleged that unlawful conduct and resulting injuries occurred abroad, but the electronic communications with respect to such conduct occurred within the United States. With the root servers located in the United States, any Internet-based electronic communication might satisfy this territorial nexus. Communications conducted through email accounts based within the United States, such as Gmail and Yahoo, might also satisfy this territorial requirement.

Unlawful Gains. In some ATS cases it is alleged that the unlawful conduct and injuries occur abroad, but the benefits that accrue from such unlawful behavior are experienced at home. Examples include profits derived from corporate aiding and abetting government abuse, corporate profits from unlawful labor practices occurring abroad, or extraterritorial sex trafficking or criminal activity with the ill-gotten proceeds accruing at home.

Injury. In some ATS cases it is alleged that the unlawful conduct occurs abroad, but the resulting injuries occur within the United States. Examples include the expropriation of property located abroad owned by individuals located within the United States, poisoning or medical testing abroad with resulting injuries occurring within the United States, or torture or extrajudicial killing of individuals abroad that causes secondary injuries (intentional infliction of emotion distress) to loved ones within the United States.

“Extraterritorial Territory.” In some ATS cases, it is alleged that the unlawful conduct occurs abroad, but there is nonetheless a territorial nexus to the United States. Examples include conduct that occurs on U.S. territories, within U.S. embassies and consulates, on U.S. military bases located overseas, or on U.S.-flagged vessels or airlines.

Obviously, not all of these activities will touch and concern the United States with sufficient force to displace the presumption against extraterritoriality. But these are the kinds of questions that will be the subject of future litigation.

http://opiniojuris.org/2013/04/22/kiobel-insta-symposium-degrees-of-territoriality/

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  1. [...] But, when does a claim “touch and concern” the territory of the United States? Roger Alford notes that piracy may present an incident of “cross-border” conduct that could clarify this issue. [...]