On July 8, 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decided an important case under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) that is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.
In Doe v. Exxon Mobil Corp., the D.C. Circuit held, 2 to 1, that corporations may be held liable for aiding and abetting human rights violations under the ATS. The plaintiffs were Indonesian villagers who accused Exxon Mobil of aiding and abetting murder, torture and rape by Indonesian soldiers acting under the corporation’s direction to protect its natural-gas operations in that country.
Late last year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City reached the opposite conclusion, 2 to 1, in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., another ATS case, this one by Nigerians against Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. for alleged complicity in crimes against humanity.
In Kiobel, the plaintiffs already have asked the U.S. Supreme Court for review of that case, and it is likely that Exxon Mobil will do as well in the other case. Since an important factor in the Supreme Court’s decision to grant such review (granting the writ of certiorari) is a split in decisions by the courts of appeal on important issues of federal law, the Court, in my opinion, is highly likely to grant such review in both cases and to consider them on the merits next Term (October 2011-September 2012).
The ATS provides that the U.S. district courts have “original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien [non-U.S. citizen] for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.”
In future posts, I will review (a) the adoption of the ATS in 1789 and its use through 1979; (b) the interpretation of the ATS by the Supreme Court in 2004; (c) the use of the ATS by the lower federal courts since 1980; (d) the issue of aiding and abetting in ATS cases; and (e) the issue of corporate liability in ATS cases.
 Doe v. Exxon Mobil Corp., No. 09-7125 (D.C. Cir. July 8, 2011), http://www.cadc.uscourts.gov/internet/opinions.nsf; Reuters, Exxon to Face Lawsuit Over Rights Violations in Indonesia, N.Y. Times (July 8, 2011); Kendall, Exxon Hit by Reversal in Human-Rights Case, W.S.J. (July 9, 2011).
 Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Pet. Co., 621 F.3d 111 (2d Cir. 2010), pet. for reh’g denied, 642 F.3d 268 (2d Cir. 2011), pet. for reh’g en banc denied, 642 F.3d 379 (2d Cir. 2011), pet. for cert. filed (No. 10-1491 June 6, 2011).
 U.S. Sup. Ct. Rule 10 (a): “A petition for a writ of certiorari will be granted only for compelling reasons. The following, although neither controlling nor fully measuring the Court’s discretion, indicate the character of the reasons the Court considers: (a) a United States court of appeals has entered a decision in conﬂict with the decision of another United States court of appeals on the same important matter. . . .”
 28 U.S.C. § 1350.