| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Aug 28 A Manhattan federal judge has
dismissed a 12-year-old lawsuit accusing Ford Motor Co and
IBM Corp of encouraging human rights abuses in
apartheid-era South Africa, reluctantly concluding that the case
does not belong in U.S. courts.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin on Thursday said the
black South Africans who brought the case did not show "relevant
conduct" by Ford and IBM within the United States to justify
holding the companies liable.
The plaintiffs had accused Ford, IBM and other companies of
having between the 1970s and early 1990s aided South Africa's
former apartheid government in abuses such as killings and
torture, by having made military vehicles and computers for
government security forces.
"That these plaintiffs are left without relief in an
American court is regrettable," Scheindlin wrote. "But I am
bound to follow [legal precedent], no matter what my personal
view of the law may be."
The case had been brought under the Alien Tort Statute, a
1789 law that lets non-U.S. citizens pursue some cases in U.S.
courts over alleged violations of international law.
In April 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court said that law was
presumed to cover only violations in the United States, or
violations elsewhere that "touch and concern" U.S. territory
"with sufficient force."
Four months later, the federal appeals court in Manhattan
applied that holding, and said the Ford and IBM cases should be
In April, Scheindlin nonetheless gave the plaintiffs one
more chance, to meet the new standards imposed by those higher
But in Thursday's decision, she said the bar proved too
high, and that any alleged international law violations were by
Ford's and IBM's South African units, and occurred abroad.
"It has been 12 years. We're really disappointed, devastated
by the decision," said Diane Sammons, a partner at Nagel Rice in
Roseland, New Jersey, who represents some plaintiffs.
"The end result of the ruling is that corporations can act
abroad with impunity, even if they're totally controlling the
activities of their foreign subsidiaries," she added. "I don't
think the Supreme Court's decision was that narrowly defined."
She said the plaintiffs had not decided whether to appeal.
Jonathan Hacker, an O'Melveny & Myers partner who represents
Ford, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Keith
Hummel, a Cravath, Swaine & Moore partner who represents IBM,
did not immediately respond to similar requests.
Germany's Daimler AG and Rheinmetall AG
were dismissed as defendants in December.
Apartheid ended in 1994 when South Africa held its first
all-race elections, bringing Nelson Mandela and the African
National Congress to power.
IBM's full name is International Business Machines Corp.
The case is In re: South African Apartheid Litigation, U.S.
District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 02-md-01499.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Tom