No jurisdiction under Alien Tort Statute

“In 2004, an Iraqi insurgent group kidnapped and murdered twelve Nepali men as they traveled through Iraq to a United States military base to work for . . . a Jordanian corporation that had a subcontract with . . . Kellogg Brown Root.” Adhikari v. Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc., No. 15-20225 (Jan. 3, 2017). The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of tort claims against KBR brought by the representatives of the deceased, including a claim based on the Alien Tort Statute.

The ATS is a cryptic part of the Judiciary Act of 1798, stating: “The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” In 2013, the Supreme Court clarified and limited the extraterritorial scope of the statute in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 133 S. Ct. 1658. Applying Kiobel, the panel majority found no ATS claim stated, despite the strong policy against the human trafficking that was alleged to be involved in this case. A dissent read Kiobel to establish a “touch and concern” test as to contact with the United States, and would have found a cognizable ATS claim pleaded on these facts.

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