On April 18, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously decided that legal entities, including corporations, are not liable under the Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA).
The TVPA provides a civil cause of action for money damages by an “individual” who is a victim of torture or by his or her representative for extrajudicial killing against an “individual” who committed the wrong under authority or color of law of any foreign nation. The opinion for the Supreme Court by Justice Sotomayor held that the word “individual” in the statute encompasses only natural persons and thus does not impose liability against organizations. This conclusion was supported, the opinion stated, by the ordinary meaning of the word “individual” and the absence of any indication in the statute itself that Congress intended the word to have a different meaning. In addition, the counterarguments, including the legislative history of the TVPA, were not persuasive.
Justice Scalia joined the Sotomayor opinion, except for the portion that found support for its conclusion in the legislative history of the TVPA. Justice Breyer also joined the Sotomayor opinion, but filed a concurring opinion that said he did not believe the ordinary meaning of the word “individual” alone was sufficient to justify the Court’s conclusion, but that the legislative history supported the Court’s conclusion.
The unanimity of the Court and the issuance of the opinion only 49 days after the argument confirm my earlier opinion that this was an easy case for non-liability of organizations.
Congress, of course, at any time could amend the TVPA to expand or restrict the applicability of the statute.