SCOTUS Opinion: Court Rejects Child Slavery Claims Under Alien Tort Statute

Six individuals from Mali alleged that they were trafficked as child slaves to the Ivory Coast to work on cocoa farms, and sued Nestle USA and other U.S.-based companies who bought cocoa from those farms, accusing those companies of aiding and abetting their enslavement. The individuals brought their claims under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows courts to exercise common-law authority over noncitizen claims brought in American courts. The district court dismissed the case, ruling that the Statute did not apply to wrongs occurring outside the United States, but the Ninth Circuit held that the claims could proceed because the “financing decisions . . . originated” in this country.

The Court, in an 8-1 decision by Justice Thomas, reversed, holding that the Statute, by its terms, did not extend to claims regarding extraterritorial conduct, and the “mere corporate presence” of the defendant companies was not sufficient either. A plaintiff “must allege more domestic conduct than general corporate activity” to maintain a claim under the Statute, which did not occur here. Justice Gorsuch, joined by Justice Alito in part and Justice Kavanaugh in part, concurred, arguing that the majority’s holding did not mean that corporations were immune from suit under the Statute, and that courts should not be allowed to create new causes of action under the Statute. Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justices Breyer and Kagan, filed a concurrence specifically disagreeing with an alternative argument in the majority opinion that only three justices signed on to. Justice Alito dissented, arguing that, as argued by Justice Gorsuch, corporations do not enjoy immunity from suit under the Statute, and the petitioners should have been allowed to amend their complaint to address the extraterritoriality issue.

A link to the opinion in Nestle USA, Inc. v. Doe is here: