Ninth Defies State Department, Allows New Guinea Tort Suit to ProceedPublished by MAC on 2006-08-07
Ninth Defies State Department, Allows New Guinea Tort Suit to Proceed
7th August 2006
The Alien Tort Claims Act gives the federal courts jurisdiction over certain torts committed in other countries. Here, the plaintiffs are current and former residents of Papua New Guinea, who allege that the British-based Rio Tinto Mining Company polluted their land, discriminated against their people, and then pressured their government to engage in a violent repression that led to ten years of civil war.
After the plaintiffs filed suit, the U.S. State Department urged the district court to dismiss the action, claiming that it could have a "very grave" effect on international relations. The district court obliged, but a divided Ninth Circuit panel reverses. In a lengthy opinion, the majority addresses and rejects several arguments against justiciability. The majority also rejects the defendants' argument that the plaintiffs must first attempt to exhaust their claims in New Guinea. The ATCA does not contain an exhaustion requirement, so it is up to Congress or the Supreme Court to create one. Judge Bybee dissents, arguing that the ATCA requires exhaustion.