09 Jun Emailing Does Not Pass the Kiobel Test: US Court Dismisses ATS Case Against Anti-Gay Pastor
Distracted by #ComeyDay and other international crises, I missed this recent U.S. federal court decision in Sexual Minorities of Uganda v. Lively, dismissing an Alien Tort Statute lawsuit on Kiobel extra-territoriality grounds. While using unusually critical language to denounce U.S. pastor-defendant Scott Lively’s involvement in Uganda’s anti-homosexual laws and actions, the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts held:
…Defendant’s status as an American citizen and his physical presence in the United States is clearly not enough under controlling authority to support ATS extraterritorial jurisdiction. The sporadic trail of emails sent by Defendant to Uganda does not add enough to the record to demonstrate that Plaintiff’s claims “touch and concern the territory of the United States . . with sufficient force to displace the presumption against extraterritorial application.” Kiobel, 133 S. Ct. at 1669.
What is notable about this case is that the same court and judge refused to dismiss this case on Kiobel grounds back in 2013 with largely the same allegations. The main difference with the result in 2017 seems to be that discovery revealed that Lively, the U.S. pastor, did not provide any
financial backing to the detestable campaign in Uganda, he directed no physical violence, he hired no employees, and he provided no supplies or other material support. His most significant efforts on behalf of the campaign occurred within Uganda: itself, when he appeared at conferences, meetings, and media events.
On these facts, this seems like the right result. Kiobel requires something more than communications from the United States to “displace the presumption against extraterritoriality.” But caselaw continues to be a little muddy and I fully expect this to be appealed.