Alien Tort Statute Update: Ninth Circuit Revives Bauman v. DaimlerChrysler Corp.

Last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded a lower court’s decision to dismiss Bauman v. DaimlerChrysler Corp. The case involves allegations by residents of Argentina stating that one of DaimlerChrysler’s subsidiaries, Mercedes-Benz Argentina, collaborated with state security forces to kidnap, detain, torture and/or kill plaintiffs or their relatives during Argentina’s "Dirty War."  Plaintiffs have asserted claims under both the Alien Tort Statute ("ATS") and the Torture Victims Protection Act.

The District Court for the Northern District of California had held that plaintiffs could not properly assert personal jurisdiction over defendant DaimlerChrysler AG (now known as Daimler AG). Bauman v. DaimlerChrysler AG, 2005 WL 3157472 (N.D. Cal. 2005), Bauman II, 2007 WL 486389 (N.D. Cal. 2007). Plaintiffs sought to assert jurisdiction over DaimlerChrysler AG through its wholly-owned U.S.-based subsidiary Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision that personal jurisdiction is proper in this case (assuming all plaintiffs’ allegations are true) relied upon a traditional minimum contacts analysis. The decision does not address questions of subject matter jurisdiction and the validity of specific claims under the ATS.  Nor does it address the question of whether corporations are proper defendants under the ATS.

That said, in addressing whether California has an interest in adjudicating the suit, the Court observed that "California partakes in ‘the shared interest of the several States in furthering fundamental substantive social policies.’" (citing World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 292 (1980). Continuing on, the Court stated that

as the [plaintiffs'] claims are predicated upon the ATS and TVPA, that policy is providing a forum to redress violations of international law by defendants who have enough connections with the United States to be brought to trial on our shores, even though the injury is to aliens and occurs outside our borders…American federal courts, be they in California or any other state, have a strong interest in adjudicating and redressing international human rights abuses.

As American courts continue to evaluate the ultimate impact of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, 621 F.3d 111 (2d Cir. 2010) (in which the Second Circuit found that corporations are not proper defendants under the ATS), the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Bauman is a reminder of the divisions between the appellate courts on the nature and import of the policy considerations at issue in these cases.

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