| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Dec 26 A U.S. judge on Thursday said
Daimler AG and Rheinmetall AG cannot be
held liable for aiding and abetting South Africa's former
apartheid government in race-based attacks and injustices.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in New York said the
German companies could not be sued under a 1789 law, the Alien
Tort Statute, allowing non-U.S. citizens to bring cases in U.S.
courts over violations of international law.
Scheindlin said the plaintiffs failed to show that the facts
of the case "touch and concern the United States with sufficient
force" to justify the law's use.
She declined, however, to immediately dismiss related claims
against two U.S. companies, Ford Motor Co and IBM Corp
Those companies had pushed for dismissal after a federal
appeals court in August sent the case back to Scheindlin for a
decision, while opining that the claims appeared "plainly
barred" by a recent Supreme Court ruling.
"I think this came as a shocker to Ford and IBM," said
Michael Hausfeld, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs included South Africans and family members
who said they were victims of decades of race-based crimes,
including torture and extrajudicial killings, perpetrated by the
country's security forces during apartheid.
They accused Daimler, Ford, IBM and Rheinmetall of
facilitating this activity by selling products such as cars and
computers to the government. The defendants denied wrongdoing.
Apartheid ended in 1994 when South Africa held its first
all-race elections, bringing Nelson Mandela and the African
National Congress to power. Mandela died Dec. 5.
Robert Zimet, a lawyer for Rheinmettal, called the ruling
"welcome news." Representatives for the other defendants did not
immediately respond to requests for comment.
Scheindlin's order is the latest fallout from a U.S. Supreme
Court decision that limited the ability of human rights
plaintiffs to use the Alien Tort Statute to sue companies
accused of improper collusion with foreign governments.
That decision, in April, in a case against Royal Dutch Shell
Plc by Nigerians accusing it of complicity in violent
crack downs on protesters in the 1990s, was a victory for
multi-national corporations that do business in the developing
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority that there
is a presumption against the extraterritorial application of the
Alien Tort Statute. He said the law could apply if there is
enough of a U.S. connection, but that it would "reach too far to
say that mere corporate presence suffices."
The ruling had immediate ripple effects, causing some other
Alien Tort Statute cases to be narrowed or dismissed.
Scheindlin said it is "appropriate" to allow the plaintiffs
to address the question of whether a corporation may be liable
for a violation of the Alien Tort Statute.
Scheindlin said if she determines that corporations may be
liable under Alien Tort Statute, the plaintiffs can seek to file
an amended complaint against the remaining defendants.
The case is In re South African Apartheid Litigation, U.S.
District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 02-md-1499.