Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. (Amicus) Historic Case

At a Glance

Current Status 

On April 17, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that the Alien Tort Statute does not provide an avenue for justice for the relatives of 12 Nigerian activists who were tortured and executed in Nigeria by the Nigerian government in collaboration with Royal Dutch Petroleum (Shell).

Date Filed: 

September 1, 2002

Client 

Relatives of the late Dr. Barinem Kiobel and eleven other Nigerian activists from the Ogoni area of the Niger Delta.

Case Description 

Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. is a lawsuit brought against Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, the Shell Transport & Trading Company, and their joint subsidiary Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd (SPDC), on behalf of the late Dr. Barinem Kiobel and eleven other Nigerian activists from the Ogoni area of the Niger Delta who were tortured and executed by a military dictatorship in Nigeria in 1995. The activists were part of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and had campaigned against the environmental damage caused by Shell’s extractive activities in the Niger Delta. Relatives of the victims alleged Shell was complicit in the torture and killing of the activists.

This lawsuit was brought under the Alien Tort Statute and is a companion case to three lawsuits brought by CCR in 1996 against Royal Dutch Petroleum Company (Shell) for its complicity in human rights abuses against the Ogoni people in Nigeria. See Wiwa et al v. Royal Dutch Petroleum et al. for more information. After the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decided in 2000 that the court had personal jurisdiction over the Shell parent companies in CCR’s case Wiwa et al v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, the Wiwa and Kiobel cases were consolidated for discovery, but because the cases had different procedural postures, Kiobel was appealed to the Second Circuit while Wiwa was set for trial.  The Wiwa cases were settled on the eve of trial in 2009, providing a total of $15.5 million to compensate our clients, establish a trust for the benefit of the Ogoni people, and cover some of the legal costs and fees associated with the case. The Kiobel case, on the other hand, ended up heading to the Supreme Court on the question of whether corporations can be held accountable for human rights abuses and whether U.S. federal courts can hear claims arising from human rights violations committed abroad under the ATS.

For decades, CCR has pioneered the Alien Tort Statute as a tool to pursue international human rights violations in U.S. courts. Thus, we actively supported the plaintiffs in Kiobel as their case headed to the Supreme Court on questions regarding the ATS. CCR and allies filed numerous amicus briefs insupport of the Kiobel case against Shell, three of which were filed in the Supreme Court. In a 2007 amicus brief, filed on behalf of the Wiwa plaintiffs, CCR argued that extra-judicial killing is an actionable norm under the ATS.

On April 17, 2013, the Supreme Court issued its decision in the case, ruling that the Alien Tort Statute could not be applied to Shell’s actions in Nigeria. The Court’s decision undercut 30 years of jurisprudence to limit U.S. courts’ ability to hear cases on human rights violations committed outside the U.S, limiting the ATS to those cases that "touch and concern" the U.S. with "sufficient force."  CCR has continued to develop ATS jurisprudence in other cases post-Kiobel. We remain fully committed to continue challenging corporate human rights abuses and abuses by individual torturers and war criminals, no matter where they are committed.

Case Timeline

April 17, 2013
Supreme Court issues its decision, ruling that the ATS does not provide an avenue for justice for families.
April 17, 2013
Supreme Court issues its decision, ruling that the ATS does not provide an avenue for justice for families.

The Court holds that the presumption against extraterroriality applies to claims under the ATS, and that defendants can only be held liable for human rights abuses under the ATS in cases that "touch and concern" the U.S. with "sufficient force."

October 1, 2012

Case reargued before Supreme Court.

October 1, 2012

Case reargued before Supreme Court.

August 31, 2012

Families file their supplemental reply brief.

August 31, 2012

Families file their supplemental reply brief.

August 8, 2012

Amicus briefs filed in support of Shell.

August 8, 2012

Amicus briefs filed in support of Shell.

August 1, 2012

Shell files supplemental brief.

August 1, 2012

Shell files supplemental brief.

June 13, 2012

Amicus briefs filed in support of families.

June 13, 2012

Amicus briefs filed in support of families.

CCR files an amicus brief arguing that there are no categorical territorial limitations on ATS jurisdiction.

June 6, 2012

Families file their supplemental opening brief.

June 6, 2012

Families file their supplemental opening brief.

March 5, 2012

Supreme Court orders that case be reargued.

March 5, 2012

Supreme Court orders that case be reargued.

The Court directs both parties to file supplemental briefs addressing "[w]hether and under what circumstances the Alien Tort Statute . . . allows courts to recognize a cause of action for violations of the law of nations occurring within the territory of a sovereign other than the United States."

February 21, 2012

Families file reply brief.

February 21, 2012

Families file reply brief.

January 27, 2012

Shell files opposition brief.

January 27, 2012

Shell files opposition brief.

December 21, 2011

CCR and ten other international human rights organizations and two international law experts file an amicus brief in support of the families’ Supreme Court cert petition.

December 21, 2011

CCR and ten other international human rights organizations and two international law experts file an amicus brief in support of the families’ Supreme Court cert petition.

CCR and other amici argue that a general principle of law exists supporting corporate liability and that this principle supports a finding that corporations can be held liable under the ATS. Eighteen other amicus briefs, including from the United States, are filed in support of the families.

October 17, 2011

Supreme Court announces that it will hear families’ petition.

October 17, 2011

Supreme Court announces that it will hear families’ petition.

August 12, 2011

Shell files opposition to petition for certiorari.

August 12, 2011

Shell files opposition to petition for certiorari.

July 13, 2011

CCR, along with four other international human rights organizations and two international law experts, files amicus brief in support of families' Supreme Court cert petition.

July 13, 2011

CCR, along with four other international human rights organizations and two international law experts, files amicus brief in support of families' Supreme Court cert petition.

CCR and amici argue that a general principle of law exists supporting corporate legal liability, and that this principle supports a finding that corporations can be held liable under the ATS.

June 6, 2011

Families file a petition of certiorari with the Supreme Court.

June 6, 2011

Families file a petition of certiorari with the Supreme Court.

February 4, 2011

Court denies petition for rehearing en banc in a 5-5 vote.

February 4, 2011

Court denies petition for rehearing en banc in a 5-5 vote.

October 14, 2010

CCR, EarthRights International, and other organizations file an amicus brief in support of rehearing.

October 14, 2010

CCR, EarthRights International, and other organizations file an amicus brief in support of rehearing.

The brief argues that corporations can be liable under ATS because international law is primarily enforced through domestic remedies, and domestic federal law permits suits against corporations.

October 14, 2010

Families file petition for rehearing and rehearing en banc.

October 14, 2010

Families file petition for rehearing and rehearing en banc.

September 18, 2010

Judge Pierre Leval writes separate opinion, concurring with majority in judgment only.

September 18, 2010

Judge Pierre Leval writes separate opinion, concurring with majority in judgment only.

Judge Leval vigorously disagrees with the majority’s reasoning and conclusion that the ATS cannot be applied to corporations. He finds that “the majority opinion deals a substantial blow to international law and its undertaking to protect fundamental human rights.”

September 17, 2010

Majority of appeals panel (Judges Dennis Jacobs and José Cabranes) issues a sweeping opinion addressing whether cases can be brought under ATS against corporations.

September 17, 2010

Majority of appeals panel (Judges Dennis Jacobs and José Cabranes) issues a sweeping opinion addressing whether cases can be brought under ATS against corporations.

This issue was neither briefed nor argued. The majority opinion affirms the lower court’s dismissal of the lawsuit, and finds that ATS cannot be used to sue corporations for violations of international law.

January 12, 2009

Second Circuit Court of Appeals panel hears oral argument.

January 12, 2009

Second Circuit Court of Appeals panel hears oral argument.

July 17, 2007

CCR, with international law scholars, files brief in relation to Shell’s cross-appeal on secondary liability.

July 17, 2007

CCR, with international law scholars, files brief in relation to Shell’s cross-appeal on secondary liability.

The brief argues for affirmance of the district court’s ruling recognizing numerous claims under the ATS.

May 1, 2007

CCR and co-counsel in the Wiwa case file amicus brief in support of families, arguing that extrajudicial killing is actionable under ATS.

May 1, 2007

CCR and co-counsel in the Wiwa case file amicus brief in support of families, arguing that extrajudicial killing is actionable under ATS.

September 30, 2006

Second Circuit grants petitions to appeal district court’s decision.

September 30, 2006

Second Circuit grants petitions to appeal district court’s decision.

September 29, 2006

Judge Kimba Wood grants in part and denies in part Shell’s motion to dismiss, and certifies the order for interlocutory appeal.

September 29, 2006

Judge Kimba Wood grants in part and denies in part Shell’s motion to dismiss, and certifies the order for interlocutory appeal.

The district court finds that corporate defendants can be held liable for violations of international law including torture, arbitrary detention, and crimes against humanity. The district court also holds that Shell cannot be held liable for destruction of real property, forced exile, extrajudicial killing and violation of the rights to life, liberty, security and association, as the facts pled in the complaint did not implicate a corresponding norm of international law.

May 17, 2004

The Kiobel families file an amended complaint adding Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd (SPDC) as a defendant, which Shell seeks to strike or to dismiss.

May 17, 2004

The Kiobel families file an amended complaint adding Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd (SPDC) as a defendant, which Shell seeks to strike or to dismiss.

March 1, 2003

Shell files a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

March 1, 2003

Shell files a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

September 1, 2002

Twelve Nigerian plaintiffs, representing a putative class, file the original complaint against Royal Dutch Shell and Shell Transport and Trading Company in the Southern District of New York.

September 1, 2002

Twelve Nigerian plaintiffs, representing a putative class, file the original complaint against Royal Dutch Shell and Shell Transport and Trading Company in the Southern District of New York.

Complaint alleges that the oil companies aided and abetted, and were otherwise complicit in, violations of international law.