Warmest congratulations to OJ’s very own Julian Ku, on his election to ALI – the American Law Institute. (For those unfamiliar with ALI and its work, this is a great honor in the American legal profession. Among other things, it produces the Restatements of Law, as well as model codes and annotated commentaries and “Principles” on various legal topics.)
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The debate over autonomous weapons is not so visible in the United States, but the ban campaign launched by Human Rights Watch a year ago – an international NGO coalition called the “Campaign to Stop Killer Robots” – has been quite active in Europe and at the UN, where a number of countries raised the issue in their statements to the General Assembly’s First Committee (disarmament issues). Matthew Waxman and I have been writing about this issue for several years; we have a short policy paper on the topic available at SSRN, “Law and Ethics for Autonomous Weapon Systems,” and we’re pleased to note our op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Monday (November 4), “Killer Robots and Laws of War.” We argue against a ban, on a number of grounds (it can be found open access at RealClearPolitics, here). Here are a couple of grafs from midway through the piece (later on I’ll add links to the ban campaign and some other resources; must go teach class!):
[A] ban is unlikely to work, especially in constraining states or actors most inclined to abuse these weapons. Those actors will not respect such an agreement, and the technological elements of highly automated weapons will proliferate. Moreover, because the automation of weapons will happen gradually, it would be nearly impossible to design or enforce such a ban. Because the same system might be operable with or without effective human control or oversight, the line between legal weapons and illegal autonomous ones will not be clear-cut.
If the goal is to reduce suffering and protect human lives, a ban could prove counterproductive. In addition to the self-protective advantages to military forces that use them, autonomous machines may reduce risks to civilians by improving the precision of targeting decisions and better controlling decisions to fire. We know that humans are limited in their capacity to make sound decisions on the battlefield: Anger, panic, fatigue all contribute to mistakes or violations of rules. Autonomous weapons systems have the potential to address these human shortcomings. No one can say with certainty how much automated capabilities might gradually reduce the harm of warfare, but it would be wrong not to pursue such gains, and it would be especially pernicious to ban research into such technologies.
That said, autonomous weapons warrant careful regulation. Each step toward automation needs to be reviewed carefully to ensure that the weapon complies with the laws of war in its design and permissible uses. Drawing on long-standing international legal rules requiring that weapons be capable of being used in a discriminating manner that limits collateral damage, the U.S. should set very high standards for assessing legally and ethically any research and development programs in this area. Standards should also be set for how these systems are to be used and in what combat environments.
Guest commentary here at OJ by Adam N. Steinman (Seton Hall) on the Supreme Court’s oral argument in Daimler AG v. Bauman, along with earlier comments on the case by John Bellinger at Lawfare, have been helpful to me – no expert in civil procedure, certainly – in understanding issues of jurisdiction in Daimler, Kiobel, and other such cases. As Professor Steinman notes, although Daimler is an ATS case, the question for SCOTUS argument is much broader than merely the ATS statute alone. The Court’s question runs to the kinds of contacts necessary to sustain jurisdiction not just across borders, but across legally distinct (though, through share ownership, economically interlinked) corporate entities that make up the contemporary multinational enterprise:
“[W]hether it violates due process for a court to exercise general personal jurisdiction over a foreign corporation based solely on the fact that an indirect corporate subsidiary performs services on behalf of the defendant in the forum State.”
This is a different question from that presented in Kiobel, which addresses so-called “foreign-cubed” ATS cases. It is instead to ask when it is proper for a US court to find jurisdiction over a foreign corporate entity on the basis of of a US corporate subsidiary. Chief Justice Roberts flagged the importance of this further question at the very end of his Kiobel opinion, which relied upon the presumption against extraterritoriality; for something to “touch and concern” the United States, he said, sufficient to satisfy jurisdictional requirements under the ATS, contacts would have to be more than mere corporate presence. Corporations are often
present in many countries, and it would reach too far to say that mere corporate presence suffices … a statute more specific than the ATS would be required.
Daimler offers a case premised on this issue. What contacts, activities, and relationships across legally distinct corporate entities suffice? What is merely “mere” and doesn’t? The Ninth Circuit’s ruling in favor of jurisdiction over Daimler AG (a foreign corporation – not its US, Delaware-chartered corporate subsidiary) relied upon an agency theory that had the effect, with respect to jurisdiction at least, of disregarding the separation of distinct corporate legal entities in favor of treating the multinational enterprise as a unitary enterprise. The agency theory permitted the Ninth Circuit to find, in turn, “general jurisdiction” over Daimler AG.
Professor Steinman gives a much more nuanced account of this, but at a crude level, it’s a two-step process using agency theory to disregard the legal walls between corporate entities, and then a “general jurisdiction” assertion over the whole enterprise. This means, however, that if the Court is inclined (as observers widely think it is) to rule for Daimler, it has a variety of ways and places where it could fault the Ninth Circuit’s steps to general jurisdiction, some broader than others.
In an essay on Kiobel for the most recent Cato Supreme Court Review, I remarked that it might turn out the real work of the Chief Justice’s Kiobel opinion might be done, less by the presumption against extraterritoriality, than by the answer to final, dangling question: how much “corporate presence” is enough?
In earlier days, ATS plaintiffs didn’t see themselves having to worry about questions contacts with the forum, jurisdiction over persons or the territorial locus of activities. Jurisdiction was satisfied by having (only) a foreign plaintiff and a violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States. Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain put some (delphic) limits on the nature of the “law of nations” violations that had to be at issue, but those were in terms of subject matter, not where the alleged violations took place or by what kind of a defendant. Kiobel made territory, contacts, presence, nationality of defendants an issue running beyond beyond Sosa‘s subject matter constraints. I added in my Cato essay, comparing Kiobel to Daimler:
[T]he questions [in Daimler] are not the same as an acknowledged “foreign-cubed” case [Kiobel] because at issue is whether and what contact are sufficient to establish perosnal jurisdiction. Bauman [v. Daimler AG] is really an attempt by the plaintiffs to turn a foreign-cubed case into one by which agency theory provides a path to finding personal jurisdiction – and thus is no longer entirely “foreign” or premised purely on “universal” considerations.
Analysis and discussion of these ATS cases has mostly been in terms of cross-border jurisdiction. I’m pretty sure corporation law scholars have not taken note; I teach both Business Associations and International Business Transactions and don’t see stirrings among scholars of business organizations. It’s tangential to corporate law, at one level, of course. Still, just under the surface of the jurisdiction issues is a question about the robustness of corporate form. (Note: Since posting this, I’ve been reading more extensively through the amicus briefs – the corporate questions were thoroughly discussed there, and they do show up throughout the oral argument; I’ve added one quotation from Justice Breyer in the oral argument, below.)
How much legal separation (that is, legal insulation) does legally distinct corporate existence confer, whether for purposes of jurisdiction or liability? Seen from within corporation law doctrines, the question is one of piercing the corporate veil, at least to get at other corporations that have links to each other through share ownership, even if not to get to ultimate shareholder-investors. The opening questions from Justice Scalia to the Daimler AG counsel ask, after all, about the legal effects of the “corporate form” (not corporate forum, as the initial oral argument transcript puts it). Late in the argument, Justice Breyer says to counsel to Bauman (the Argentine plaintiffs in the underlying ATS suit):
You’re seeing it through the lens of jurisdiction. I’m not. I’m seeing it through the lens of corporate law. Five shareholders get together from outside California and they set up a corporation in California. Why? To insulate themselves from liability, particularly lawsuits. Now, instead of those five shareholders, everything is the same, but now it’s a German corporation and suddenly, they can’t insulate themselves from the lawsuits in California. I think it unlikely that California would have such a corporate law, whether it goes by the name of jurisdiction or some other name. But that’s a State law question. So what am I supposed to do?
As I remarked in my Kiobel essay, Daimler AG is an attempt by plaintiffs to
sidestep the formal doctrine of legal separation of corporate entities; it asserts a view that multinational corporate enterprises are to be treated as essentially one economic entity. This is, indeed, a plausible view of their globally unitary economic substance, but by arguing for economic substance over legal form, it renders impossible any real legal principle for why any particular national court should or should not hear a case.
Not to mention (as I forgot to do in that essay) that this agency theory would seem to be equally fatal to any legal form over economic substance basis for respecting corporate forms in US domestic settings as well – and that does not seem likely to be a result embraced by US courts any time soon. Justice Sotomayor asks why this case shouldn’t be settled on the economic substance over legal form argument of tax cases dealing with attribution of income; the response – correct, in my view – is that tax cases have consistently been viewed very differently from personal jurisdiction cases. But the oral argument in this case leaves me wondering whether the next rounds of cases in the ATS and cross-border jurisdiction areas might be less about jurisdiction as such, and more about the strength of the walls that separate corporate entities across borders – at least as an essential underlying predicate to the jurisdictional issues as such. How much will the corporate form be respected in establishing jurisdiction in cross border cases?
The broad agency theory embraced by the Ninth Circuit in Daimler will be swept away – I can’t imagine that it won’t – but there can much more nuanced approaches to it. The federalism issues of Daimler are complicated, certainly, and might mix up easy predictions about how justices will view the issues, certainly; they touch not just federal jurisdiction issues but also questions about state corporation law (including state-to-state issues, given that the US subsidiary is incorporated in Delaware).
Though I happen to think that there might be circumstances in which corporate form should not necessarily be treated the same in domestic situations as cross-border ones, I’m think the Court should not shift the understanding of the corporate form or increase – in the context of global investment and business activities – uncertainties surrounding its legal protections. Certainly, judging by the amicus briefs, the United States’ trading partners abroad do not want to see increases in uncertainty over the separation of entities, whether in jurisdiction or liability. On whatever ground the Court rules, however, broad or narrow, I’m pretty sure John Bellinger is right to say that the Court would not have accepted the case unless …
it plans to reverse the Ninth Circuit. Conservative justices are loathe to miss an opportunity to try to curb the Ninth Circuit’s consistent efforts to be a world court, and the more liberal justices may have wanted to demonstrate (as Justice Breyer argued in his concurrence in Kiobel) that the extraterritorial reach of the Alien Tort Statute can be limited by other jurisdictional restrictions.
Reading Roger’s post last week about how lower courts are interpreting the Supreme Court’s ATS ruling in Kiobel made me recall that I’ve fallen down in posting papers to SSRN – including a new one in the Cato Supreme Court Review 2012-2013, “The Alien Tort Statute’s Jurisidictional Universalism in Retreat.” The article (chatty and speculative, be warned, an essay aimed at a broader audience than ATS specialists or international law scholars) tries to set Kiobel and, for that matter, the ATS itself, in a wider frame of what jurisdiction is supposed to mean beyond its technicalities. It contrasts the sweeping universalist language of 1980s-era ATS suits, and the belief of people like Judge Irving Kaufman (who wrote the celebrated Filartiga opinion) that they were pronouncing on “international law ” through the exercise of universal jurisdiction, even though it happened to be in a US district court and applying distinctly US concepts through and through, with Kiobel’s return to traditional jurisdictional categories.
Whether the Chief Justice’s application of the presumption against extraterritoriality or Justice Breyer’s more capacious, yet still traditionally grounded, tests for jurisdiction, Kiobel signaled that the traditional grounds found, for example, in the Restatement of Foreign Relations are the ones that matter. One could say, of course, that this has been true for a while. After all, arguing that the ATS might require some conduct by someone that constitutes a violation of the law of nations, but doesn’t take into account whether the law of nations recognizes that someone as having the legal capacity to violate the law of nations, and so merely a domestic statute providing a domestic civil remedy for something that need not be international law as such, but merely conduct that would, if done by some actor with legal capacity, violate international law – well, that isn’t making any sweeping assertions about being international law or universal jurisdiction for the application of international law. It’s just a peculiar American statute that gate-keeps liability with a weirdly counterfactual reference to international law as it might be.
International law in the subjunctive mood, maybe we could say. But in that case, treating the statute as merely a domestic one with a weirdly constructed trigger, invoking a “law of nations” that we don’t mean the way other people mean it, argues strongly for a traditional approach to jurisdiction – it’s not universal jurisdiction anymore, because we’re not pretending that our reference point is actually universal, but instead merely a claim of extraterritoriality. So it doesn’t seem quite so strange that the Chief Justice would invoke the presumption against extraterritoriality, because the thing, the statute, that plaintiffs propose to apply extraterritorially isn’t truly a claim of universality, either. (more…)
Probably many of you are reading, as I am now, the just-released language of a draft UN Security Council resolution (reported by the press as P-5 approved) on Syria’s chemical weapons. I’m particularly interested in this, as I’m talking tomorrow at ASIL’s monthly brown bag lunch for Congressional staff on Syria and the use of force – it’s a descriptive talk for a non-expert audience, not me making a pitch, based around an ASIL Insight I did a few weeks ago but which, of course, needs updating in the talk tomorrow to respond to the current situation. I’m not going to put the draft text up in full – Reuter’s has it here.
The draft resolution says, to note a few bits, that use of chemical weapons “anywhere” constitutes a threat to international peace and security; use of chemical weapons in Syria (without saying who) is a threat to international peace security; use of chemical weapons in Syria is also a serious violation of international law for which there must be accountability for those responsible; and, finally, under the title “Compliance,” the Security Council
21. Decides, in the event of non-compliance with this resolution, including unauthorized transfer of chemical weapons, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in the Syrian Arab Republic, to impose measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter;
22. Decides to remain actively seized of the matter.
Unsurprisingly, nothing in the language of the draft resolution appears to budge the views of the US and Russia. I’ve talked about this as a process versus substance view of the UN and international law. That is, if you view international law as being international institutions and their processes, establishing the substantive reach and meaning of international law through those institutions and processes, then there’s little in here that would give the US grounds to act on its own. The “Compliance” language of the draft resolution (in the event of noncompliance, the Security Council “decides” to “impose measures under Chapter VII”) is a process statement that, under the Charter, makes it the Security Council’s call what measures and under what terms.
If, by contrast, you view international law as having a substance and content that is not simply identical with the results of international institution’s processes, but instead has independent content and meaning, then if you are “a” government that decides to act unilaterally, you at least open up the possibility to claim that the (deadlocked) processes of the Security Council have got it so badly wrong that it is not illegal to act – because the question of legality is in the first place the content of the law, and only secondarily its processes. It’s not taking the “illegal but legitimate” position, because it doesn’t regard it as “illegal.” Nor does this adopt the position of “extralegal and legitimate.” It says, rather, that legality is not 100% defined by processes of international institutions, which might be flawed in many ways, and the content of international law is at least partly distinct from it.
And then, looking at the draft resolution – just as the ‘proceduralists” would point to the Security Council deciding in the case of noncompliance to “impose” measures and that the Security Council “remains seized” – the ‘substantivists’ (while denying they need to do this) point to the draft resolution as declaring, not only that any use of chemical weapons is a threat to international peace and security, but also a “serious violation of international law.” Which, having a life independent of international institutions and their processes, might be the subject of unilateral action. I think that’s probably a fairly accurate restatement of what Ambassador Power has said many times, in one rubric or another, over the last few weeks.
So, on my quick read of the draft resolution … it probably advances the ball on getting CW teams and all that into Syria, on the ground in a practical way. It doesn’t appear to move things one way or the other, unless I have missed something in my haste, as far as the basic disagreement over the US’s threat to use unilateral force and the respective views of international law as such that underlie the respective positions.
(And while I’m thinking of it, some readers might be interested in a long review essay I wrote over at Lawfare, reviewing Joost Hiltermann’s 2007 book, A Poisonous Affair, and George Black’s 1993 report for Human Rights Watch, Genocide in Iraq. The review discusses those books as well my own experience with a forensic anthropology team in Kurdistan in 1992, exhuming mass graves from massacres and a chemical weapons attack during the 1988 Anfal campaign.)
Last Friday, ASIL Insights published an article that I authored, “Legality of Intervention in Syria in Response to Chemical Weapon Attacks.” I followed it up yesterday was an expanded commentary at Lawfare, “Five Fundamental International Law Approaches to the Legality of a Syria Intervention.” A number of readers of the expanded Lawfare post queried me about remarks made near the end of that (lengthy) post concerning the role of the Security Council.
Insofar as the disagreements about Syria are serious ones among the great powers, and among permanent five members of the Security Council (I said in that post), the architecture of the Charter is deliberately designed to impose a standstill on action insofar as permanent, P-5 great powers see their interests as being seriously threatened. American officials have said, in effect, that it’s a flaw of the international order that the Security Council can become deadlocked on a vital issue such as Syria’s chemical weapons use. From the standpoint of the institutional and historical design of the Security Council, that’s a feature, however, not a bug. It’s a deliberate design feature because it aims at bringing matters to a deadlocked standstill where the risk is great power conflict that might conceivably lead to war among them. No doubt that is not an issue here and now, but if the preservation of the norm against chemical weapon use is a pragmatic concern, it is also a pragmatic concern that the role of the Security Council not be undermined. The Security Council “bypassed,” as the Russian foreign ministry spokesman said, in ways that might, over time, lead to serious conflicts among the great powers – including those great powers that are not today permanent members of the Security Council. (more…)
About the same time (April 2013) that the US Supreme Court released its opinion in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, the Court also granted review of a Ninth Circuit case, Bauman v. DaimlerChrysler. Just ahead of the July 4th weekend, the Obama administration submitted what John Bellinger, in a lucid post over at Lawfare, describes as a “remarkably strong” amicus brief urging the Court to
reverse the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Bauman v. DaimlerChrysler. The Justice Department argued that the Ninth Circuit’s 2011 decision finding personal jurisdiction in California over Daimler AG, a German company, for the actions of a subsidiary in Argentina, was “seriously flawed” and contrary to the Supreme Court’s subsequent 2011 decision in Goodyear. The brief faults the Ninth Circuit for trying to hold a foreign corporation with few contacts to California to “answer in that State for any claim against it, arising anytime, anywhere in the world.”
The background to Bauman v. DaimlerChrysler, Bellinger explains, is that in May 2011 a Ninth Circuit panel
held that that Daimler AG, a German parent company with no operations or employees in the United States, could be sued under the Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victim Protection Act (as well as common law and state law) by a group of Argentine nationals for human rights abuses allegedly committed by an Argentine subsidiary in collaborating with the Argentine government during the “Dirty War” in the 1970s, solely on the basis that a different U.S. subsidiary now distributes Mercedes Benz vehicles in the United States. Applying an agency theory, the panel concluded that Daimler AG had sufficient contacts with the state of California by virtue of the actions of its subsidiary Mercedes Benz USA to give California personal jurisdiction over the German parent , even though Mercedes Benz USA had no involvement with the alleged facts in Argentina.
I agree with Bellinger that the likelihood, following Kiobel, is that the Court is moving to restrain jurisdictional assertions by Federal courts, and is pushing back toward stricter grounding in the traditional bases of jurisdiction by national courts. My own larger, political view is that this is connected to a perception that although broad assertions of US jurisdiction through such vehicles as the Alien Tort Statute over foreign parties for acts on foreign territory can certainly be framed as enforcing universal international law through national courts, it is better understood as assertions of something quite different – what I’ve sometimes called the “law of the hegemon.” That is an increasingly contested position as a matter of international politics spilling over into international law, and between the rise of new great powers and the Obama administration’s political embrace of decline, it seems to me unsurprising that the Obama administration would embrace a more traditional, much more restrictive understanding of jurisdiction.
But it also seems the Court is also generally on board with this pull-back. As Bellinger says, many observers (me included) believe that
the Court would not have accepted the case unless it plans to reverse the Ninth Circuit. Conservative justices are loathe to miss an opportunity to try to curb the Ninth Circuit’s consistent efforts to be a world court, and the more liberal justices may have wanted to demonstrate (as Justice Breyer argued in his concurrence in Kiobel) that the extraterritorial reach of the Alien Tort Statute can be limited by other jurisdictional restrictions.
I agree. Despite the obvious clash of approaches between the Roberts majority and the Breyer minority in Kiobel, they do have an important common ground – an intention to limit extraterritorial jurisdiction through a stricter application of the traditional bases of jurisdiction. (more…)
In the tooting my own horn department, the estimable David Bosco, who authors the outstanding “The Multilateralist” blog at Foreign Policy (and who is also my American University colleague in the School of International Service), conducted an interview a few weeks ago with the Heritage Foundation’s Brett Schaefer and me on the United Nations. The idea was to ask how American conservatives – Brett and me – view UN-US relations these days. Brett is the editor of a fine book, ConUNdrum: The Limits of the United Nations and the Search for Alternatives; I am the author of a 2012 book, Living With the UN: American Responsibilities and International Order. The Multilateralist piece is a transcript – outstandingly edited by David Bosco, which is to say, Anderson sounds so smart! – titled, “Can Conservatives Reconcile with the United Nations?” (The link is at the Foreign Policy.com website; free registration to access.)
Congratulations to Julian and his co-author, George Conway, on their op ed this morning in the Wall Street Journal, “When Corporate Defendants Go On Offense.” I commented a few days ago here at OJ on a long profile in the Washington Post on the involvement of the DC lobbying-law firm Patton Boggs on the side of the plaintiffs in the dispute. I’ll let Julian explain the take-aways, but I think this link is free and not behind the subscriber wall.
We haven’t blogged recently here about the Chevron Ecuador case, but over the weekend the Washington Post carried a long analysis and profile by Business section reporter Steven Mufson on the state of play – focused particularly on a Washington insider part of the saga, the involvement of DC lobbying-law firm powerhouse, Patton Boggs. Patton Boggs has been an adviser to the Ecuadorian plaintiffs since 2010; it is now being sued by Chevron, the defendant, on fraud charges. Mufson’s story is about the colorful characters, including the lawyers involved – but it is also about the business of financing lawsuits:
When Patton Boggs signed onto the Ecuador case in early 2010 at the suggestion of a hedge fund looking into financing the litigation, it wrote a memorandum titled “Invictus” — borrowing the title of a 19th-century poem that culminates with the famous lines “I am the master of my fate/I am the captain of my soul.” In it, Patton Boggs outlined a strategy to pursue international Chevron assets to enforce the $18.2 billion judgment, “with the ultimate goal of effecting a swift and favorable settlement.” But this case wasn’t like other sticky problems that Patton Boggs had solved by striking deals. “Tommy thought he and Chevron’s counsel could sit down and work this out,” a prominent Washington lawyer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect his business relationships, said about firm titan Thomas Boggs.
It has not worked out that way – Chevron, as OJ readers know, has dug in and will not cut some kind of deal. (Regular readers also know, full disclosure, that I think Chevron is right on the merits, but that’s not my interest here.) Mufson is an outstanding business reporter, and this account is utterly fascinating – Chevron, Ecuador, rainforests, oil, all that aside – for its account of the business of financing lawsuits in US courts in return for a contingency fee – a share of the outcome of any gains. That’s the reason for the reference to the hedge fund at the beginning; some hedge funds are deeply involved in this (rapidly evolving) business model:
How Patton Boggs ended up here is a tale of how the old boy network works in the elite legal world. And it involves an unusual niche — hedge funds that invest in complex litigation in the hope of sharing a big payday. In November 2009, a New York firm seeking financing for the Ecuadoran plaintiffs contacted Burford Capital, run by Christopher Bogart, a former general counsel of Time Warner and litigator at the white shoe firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore. Burford is the world’s biggest institutional source of litigation financing, with a $300 million fund. Burford’s partners met Donziger, the plaintiffs’ dogged U.S. lawyer who needed fresh backing. Before investing, however, Burford wanted a “highly regarded U.S. litigation counsel” involved, according to a Bogart court filing. James E. Tyrrell Jr., a partner at the Newark office of Patton Boggs and a member of the firm’s executive committee, was the obvious choice ….
By early 2010, Patton Boggs was in. And that fall, Burford invested $4 million in the case, with plans for two further tranches of $5.5 million each. In return, it would get 5.545 percent of the settlement amount. Even if the settlement fell short of the billions expected, Burford would receive a minimum of $55.5 million, a handsome return on its investment. Bogart in his affidavit cited “our substantial confidence in Jim Tyrrell” and “our special relationship with and respect for Jim and Patton Boggs.”
A little more than a year later, the relationship had gone sour – in essence, Burford believed that it had been materially misled in representations made to it in exchange for funding. However, the letter making that accusation was addressed to the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Steven Donziger and the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, not Patton Boggs, which had originally drafted the perhaps imprudently titled “Invictus” internal memo that analyzed the business opportunity presented by the litigation.
On Sept. 29, 2011, Burford sent Donziger and the Ecuadoran lawyers a letter complaining about omissions in the Invictus memo, though it did not address the letter to Patton Boggs. “We believe that you and particularly your U.S. representatives engaged in a multi-month scheme to deceive and defraud in order to secure desperately needed funding,” the letter said, “all the while concealing material information and misrepresenting critical facts in the fear that we would have walked away had we known the true state of affairs.”
The heart of Burford’s complaint was the Cabrera expert witness report on damages allegedly caused by Chevron (i.e., then-Texaco’s) operations in Ecuador; again, regular readers will recall (and those new to this can read an excellent summary in Mufson’s article) the controversies that have swirled around Cabrera’s report, the claims of improper influence and communications, etc.:
The gravity of the doubts surrounding the Cabrera report had not found its way into the 2010 Patton Boggs Invictus memo. There, Patton Boggs had dismissed Chevron’s “bluster” and “singular fixation” on the report. It said that Chevron had declined opportunities to provide Cabrera with information of its own. “The damage is plain to see,” the memo said, adding that Chevron “cannot undermine the soundness of plaintiffs’ science.” But as new details [casting doubt on the Cabrera memo] emerged, Burford’s partners grew upset and believed Tyrrell had deceived them. In his recent affidavit, Bogart attached notes of a January 2011 telephone conversation with Tyrrell, who said that Donziger “was a fool” and that Patton Boggs was “evaluating what to do.” But Tyrrell added, according to the notes, that it was “difficult to believe that no award of significant damages” would come about. Meanwhile Burford has sold its stake to still another private investor group, recouping its $4 million investment.
I’m not doing justice to Mufson’s account of the new twists and turns in the case. But what I find most fascinating here is the intertwining of the rapidly growing business of speculative litigation financing, through essentially sale and resale of bits of the contingency fee, with a case with extraordinary political facts combined with an extraordinary amount of money at issue.
Question to readers: Are there other places in the world that allow this kind of third party financing of lawsuits? I think of it as a peculiarly American practice, though I’m not expert in this area and might be quite wrong. Added: See my post (several) above re Julian op ed on this in the WSJ; also, a couple of informative comments to this post on the apparently burgeoning business of litigation finance in several places in the world. Some good written materials, too – see comments and thanks to commenters.
Though I’m as much caught up in the drones debate du jour as anyone here at OJ, there are other pressing matters internationally, and one of them is olive oil. I’ve blogged about EVOO adulteration in the past year, but the current contretemps is different. EU regulators want to require that restaurants serve olive oil at the table in sealed individual servings (I guess a little bit like the little sealed catsup bottles one sometimes sees in restaurants in the USA) rather than the common practice of serving olive oil, for dipping bread or what-have-you, in little decanters. The concern is partly health and food safety, but it also appears to be a press by agricultural interests to force the use of labeled olive oil, which will presumably have the effect of pushing up consumer awareness (yes, if – big if – what’s on the label is true), price (definitely), and quality (maybe, maybe not). So, as reported in the New York Times a few days ago (it appears the rule has been shelved for now):
The measure, which would have required that restaurants serve olive oil in sealed, clearly labeled and nonreusable containers, was meant to guarantee hygiene, according to the European Commission, the union’s executive body, which originally drafted the rules. It said the labeling would ensure the quality and authenticity of olive oils and also offer suppliers an opportunity to promote brand awareness, backers said. And the measure stood to benefit European olive growers, mostly clustered around the Mediterranean, in some of the countries hardest hit by the crisis in the euro zone. Fifteen of the union’s 27 governments supported the rule, including the major producers, Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal. Portugal has had similar measures in place since 2005. But governments in the non-olive-producing north, including Germany, were opposed. Britain abstained.
The pushback was on classic EU terms, I guess we could say: Complaints that this sort of thing should never reach the level of the EU, and that individual states could deal with this kind of thing on their own:
The reaction was severe. Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands condemned the measure, calling it “too bizarre for words” and not at all green. Criticism was particularly harsh in Britain, often the first among critics of the European Union’s reach. The olive oil rule was “exactly the sort of area that the European Union needs to get right out of, in my view,” Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain said Wednesday after a meeting of the bloc’s leaders in Brussels. “It shouldn’t even be on the table,” he said, immediately begging forgiveness for the wordplay.
Food safety is only partly the issue; from the standpoint of Europe’s olive oil producers, the much bigger issue is brand recognition and quality assurance – assuring quality and authenticity of olive oils served, which is also to say, raising the price. But here the EU runs into a quite different problem; restaurants refilling olive oil bottles with oils of lesser quality is the least of the concerns about EVOO authenticity and quality. I’ve blogged in the past about the surprising (at least to me as an international business transactions professor) fact of massive adulteration of “extra virgin olive oil” both inside the EU and in the global export market. It’s adulterated with either lower grade olive oil, or else the oil itself is mostly low grade olive oil heated to take out the bad flavors (heated oil is essentially flavorless), or else different plant oils altogether (such as cottonseed oil. It overwhelmingly happens at the producer, wholesaler, or distributor level, before it leaves the EU; it’s pretty clear that the supermarkets, even specialty store chains such as Whole Foods, whether in the US or Europe, have no idea that the product is not what it says. (more…)
Noticing President Obama’s big speech tomorrow at the National Defense University on US counterterrorism policy, Commentary Magazine has decided to release today my new essay, “The Case for Drones.” It will appear in the print journal in June, but has been posted with a free, open link on the website now.
A couple of caveats for OJ readers, if you’re inclined to read it (close relatives of mine have declined on grounds they’ve heard me on this too much already). Commentary is a conservative magazine, and this is an argument for drones written with a particular audience in mind – conservative readers and Republican members of Congress in particular. It’s an argument about effectiveness and ethics, not law as such; it’s an overtly politically conservative version of the much more centrist, principled, and neutral argument that, for example, Ben Wittes and I sought to make in the Oxford Union debate. I hope that some folks still might find it useful as a thumbnail sketch in non-technical form of some of the leading arguments, objections, and replies in this debate. (more…)