| NEW YORK, April 17
NEW YORK, April 17 Ford Motor Co and IBM
Corp will again have to face a U.S. lawsuit claiming
they encouraged race-based human rights abuses in apartheid-era
South Africa, despite a series of recent court decisions
limiting the right to pursue such cases.
Reviving a 12-year-old lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Shira
Scheindlin in Manhattan accepted an argument from a group of
plaintiffs that corporations may be held liable under a 1789
law, the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), that lets non-U.S. citizens
pursue some cases in U.S. courts over alleged violations of
"No principle of domestic or international law supports the
conclusion that the norms enforceable through the ATS ... apply
only to natural persons and not to corporations," Scheindlin
Her decision came in a case that the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals, also in Manhattan, in August had said should be
"Obviously we're thrilled," said Diane Sammons, a partner at
Nagel Rice law firm in Roseland, New Jersey, representing some
plaintiffs. "Judge Scheindlin is not taking the word of the
defendants that corporations are not liable for human rights
abuses under the ATS."
Sammons said she plans to file an amended complaint.
Jonathan Hacker, an O'Melveny & Myers partner who represents
Ford, did not respond immediately to requests for comment. Keith
Hummel, a partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore who represents IBM,
did not respond immediately to similar requests.
The plaintiffs contended that by having made military
vehicles and computers for South African security forces,
several companies during the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s had
aided and abetted South Africa's former apartheid government in
perpetrating abuses, such as killings and torture.
The litigation seeks class action status, with potential
damages in the billions of dollars.
TOUCHING AND CONCERNING U.S. TERRITORY
Last April, the U.S. Supreme Court limited the sweep of the
Alien Tort Statute, in the case Kiobel et al v. Royal Dutch
Petroleum Co et al.
In a decision by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court held
that the 1789 law was presumed to cover only violations of
international law occurring in the United States, and that
violations elsewhere must "touch and concern" U.S. territory
"with sufficient force to displace the presumption."
Four months later, Circuit Judge Jose Cabranes wrote for the
2nd Circuit that these findings meant the case against Ford and
IBM should be dismissed, having "plainly bar common-law
suits, like this one, alleging violations of customary
international law based solely on conduct occurring abroad."
The plaintiffs, however, said Cabranes' ruling was based on
arguments made before the Supreme Court's decision in the Kiobel
case, and sought a chance to meet the new, tighter standard set
by that court.
Thursday's decision provides that chance, and Scheindlin set
a May 15 deadline to file a new complaint against Ford and IBM,
whose full name is International Business Machines Corp.
Germany's Daimler AG and Rheinmetall AG
had also been defendants, but Scheindlin agreed in December
that the Kiobel decision barred claims against them.
General Motors Corp had also been among the defendants, but
Sammons said claims against it were discharged during that
automaker's 2009 bankruptcy.
Apartheid ended in 1994 when South Africa held its first
all-race elections, bringing Nelson Mandela and the African
National Congress to power.
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 Peter