July 7, 2015
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – In a significant victory for families of Indonesian citizens who were killed or abused by security personnel hired by Exxon Mobil Corporation, a Federal court has ruled the Alien Tort Statute claims against Exxon Mobil for human rights violations can proceed.
In an opinion issued on July 6, Judge Royce C. Lamberth, of the U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, held that the plaintiffs’ claims sufficiently “touch and concern” the United States to satisfy the test recently set out by the U.S. Supreme Court in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum for when suits arising out of injuries inflicted overseas can be heard in U.S. courts.
The Plaintiffs allege that Indonesian soldiers hired by ExxonMobil to provide security at the corporation’s natural gas facility physically abused and killed family members who lived or worked in villages within the sprawling operations in rural Aceh, Indonesia.
“This is a huge victory for the Plaintiffs and for the rule of law,” said Plaintiffs’ co-lead counsel Agnieszka Fryszman, a partner at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll. “We are especially pleased that the Court agreed that human rights claims like the Exxon case can continue to be heard in U.S. courts. We look forward to seeing justice done and to putting our case before a jury.”
In 2008, another U.S. District Court judge had denied Exxon Mobil’s attempt to avoid trial by rejecting the company’s motion for summary judgment, citing “evidence that these security forces committed the alleged atrocities” and found that Plaintiffs had sufficiently tied Exxon’s conduct to the injuries inflicted upon the villagers. In the interim, in 2010, the Supreme Court restricted the types of claims that could be heard under the Alien Tort Statute in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, a case involving allegations of human rights abuses by Royal Dutch Shell in Nigeria.
Co-counsel Paul Hoffman of Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman LLP, who argued Kiobel at the Supreme Court, said, “The well-reasoned and thoughtful opinion is an important one for the enforcement of human rights law.”
Co-counsel Terry Collingsworth of Conrad & Scherer added “Since I first met our clients in 2001, they have endured not only the agony of human rights crimes, but over thirteen years of justice delayed. We are looking forward to getting this case to trial so that our long-suffering clients can obtain justice.”