On October 5, 2012, Engility Corporation (formerly known as L-3 Services, Inc. and as Titan Corporation and hereafter “Titan” or “Engility”) paid $5.28 million to settle claims brought by 71 Iraqi citizens for the corporation’s alleged participation in their torture and inhuman treatment at the now notorious Abu Ghraib and other prisons in that country.
Proceedings in the Case Against Engility
The case started in June 2008 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. The complaint, which was twice amended by October 2008, asserted that during 2003 through 2007 the plaintiffs were tortured at these prisons, which were then under the control of the U.S. Armed Forces. At that time L-3 Services, Inc. was a private contractor that provided translators at the prisons who allegedly participated in, or approved of, the torture and inhuman treatment. The alleged acts of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment included sexual assault, sleep deprivation, electric shocks, threats (including use of unleashed dogs) and denial of medical treatment.
The complaints sought unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys’ fees under the Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”) and state tort law (assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent hiring and supervision of employees).
On July 29, 2010, U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte denied L-3’s motion to dismiss the complaint. The court’s careful and detailed opinion ruled that (a) aliens who had been detained abroad by the U.S. were not barred from bringing suit in U.S. courts over their detention; (b) private government contractors were not immune from such suits; (c) the political question doctrine did not apply and, therefore, the case was justiciable; (d) private parties, including corporations, were subject to ATS claims for war crimes, torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; and (e) Iraqi law, not Maryland law, applied to the state-law claims possibly subject to Maryland public policy forbidding such application of foreign law.
Immediately after that decision, Titan filed a notice of appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. A three-judge panel of that court, 2 to 1, in September 2011, reversed the district court while deciding that the plaintiffs’ state law claims were preempted by federal law and that the case should be dismissed. This decision, however, was overturned by the entire Fourth Circuit in May 2012, when it decided, 11 to 3, that it did not have interlocutory jurisdiction to consider the appeal on the merits.
Thereafter the case was remanded to the district court after the Fourth Circuit had denied Engility’s motion to stay the remand pending the filing and resolution of the corporation’s forthcoming petition for review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
After the remand and Engility’s failure to file a petition with the Supreme Court, the parties on October 5, 2012, agreed to the previously mentioned settlement, and on October 10th the plaintiffs dismissed their case and thereby terminated the litigation.
This case was sponsored by New York City’s Center for Constitutional Rights, which is “dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
The Center’s extensive experience and expertise in litigating cases against corporations under the ATS and other laws are exceedingly important for successful prosecution of these cases. Their backing also provides the resources, persistence and stamina necessary to conduct such cases over a long time period (here, over four years) in various courts.
A similar case is pending in the federal court in Virginia in preparation for trial against another U.S. corporation, CACI International, Inc., which also was involved in interrogation and translation of detainees at Abu Ghraib and other Iraqi prisons. It is in pretrial discovery awaiting trial and is also sponsored by the Center for Constitutional Rights. It was reviewed in a prior post.
Another similar case sponsored by the Center, Saleh v. Titan, was brought by more than 250 Iraqi plaintiffs against CACI International, Inc. and Titan. In September 2009 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, 2 to 1, affirmed the dismissal of all claims against Titan and, reversing to the district court, also dismissed all claims against CACI. On June 27, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the plaintiffs petition for certiorari, thereby ending this case.
Overhanging all of these cases is another case awaiting decision in the U.S. Supreme Court–Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum (Shell)–that raises the issue whether corporations may be sued under the ATS. This case has been discussed in prior posts.
 The settlement is described in an SEC filing by Engility’s parent company (Engility Holdings, Inc.’s Quarterly 10-Q Report at 11 (Nov. 13, 2012)); Cushman, Contractor Settles Case in Iraq Prison Abuse, N.Y. Times (Jan. 8, 2013); Yost, Abu Ghraib Settlement: Defense Contractor Engility Holdings Pays $5M To Iraqi Torture Detainees, Huffington Post (Jan. 8, 2013); Assoc. Press, Iraqis Held at Abu Ghraib, Other Sites Receive $5 Million, W.S. J. (Jan. 9, 2013).