* 22 Mercedes workers said to be victims of abuse
* Case arises from Argentina "Dirty War" 30 years ago
* Daimler plans to appeal ruling
By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK, May 18 Daimler AG was ordered on
Wednesday to face a U.S. lawsuit alleging it participated in
the kidnapping, torture and death of Mercedes-Benz workers in
Argentina's "Dirty War" three decades ago.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals in San Francisco revived a seven-year-old case brought
by 22 residents of Argentina, including victims of violence and
relatives of former workers presumed to have been killed.
The panel said a federal judge erred in 2007 when he
decided he lacked jurisdiction, and that the case should be
brought in Argentina or Germany, home of Stuttgart-based
Daimler (DAIGn.DE). The panel sent the case back to the federal
district court in San Jose, California.
"Daimler AG intends to appeal this jurisdictional
decision," spokesman Han Tjan said in an email. "However, no
ruling or judgment has been made as to the underlying
allegations, which Daimler AG steadfastly denies."
Human rights groups in Argentina have said as many as
30,000 people were killed from 1976 to 1983 in a
state-sponsored crackdown on leftist dissent while the country
was under a military dictatorship, following the ouster of
President Isabel Peron.
In the Daimler case, plaintiffs said Mercedes-Benz
collaborated with state security forces in causing the
detention, kidnapping, torture or death of workers at the
Gonzalez-Catan plant near Buenos Aires.
"Our clients were trade union leaders and members in
Argentina who were 'disappeared' by national police after the
company identified them as troublemakers," Terry Collingsworth,
a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in an interview. "Now that we
have jurisdiction, we have a straight shot at the merits."
Collingsworth said his clients seek "substantial" damages.
In the 9th Circuit ruling, Judge Stephen Reinhardt said
Daimler, through its Mercedes-Benz unit, had "pervasive"
contacts with California.
He also said Argentine courts would conclude the plaintiffs
waited too long to sue, and that it was unclear whether German
courts would consider the plaintiffs' claims.
Daimler "has not met its burden of presenting a compelling
case that the exercise of jurisdiction would not comport with
fair play and substantial justice," he said.
The U.S. case was brought under the Alien Tort Claims Act,
a 1789 law sometimes used to sue companies in U.S. courts for
acts committed abroad.
The case is Bauman et al v. DaimlerChrysler Corp et al, 9th
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 07-15386.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional
reporting by Helen Popper in Buenos Aires; Editing by Bernard