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No torture cases against corporations

Denying review of a new test case, the Supreme Court on Monday silently put up a legal barrier to lawsuits seeking damages from corporations for allegedly engaging overseas in torture or “extrajudicial killing.”  The Court declined to hear a sequel to last Wednesday’s ruling that the Torture Victim Protection Act may only be used against human beings.  The new case was  Bowoto et al., v. Chevron Corporation et al. (10-1536).

The denial of the Bowoto case was expected, since the Court’s decision last week in Mohamad, et al., v. Palestinian Authority (11-88) reached a result that paralleled a decision by the Ninth Circuit rejecting the Bowoto lawsuit.   That case was filed by 19 Nigerians, including the families of two men shot dead during a protest on an offshore oil rig in the waters off Nigeria’s costs in 1998, and individuals who were wounded in those shootings.  The Nigerians had sought Supreme Court review, saying there was a direct conflict in the federal appeals courts on the TVPA’s coverage of corporations.

The denial of that case came on a day when the Justices granted no new cases, and did not seek the U.S. Solicitor General’s views on any pending cases.

Here in summary are the issues in other cases turned aside Monday:

* Whether a city’s authority to limit landlords’ rights over how they rent their apartment units is limited to genuine emergency situations, and ceases when an emergency has ended.  The issue was raised in a challenge to New York City’s tightly restrictive regulation for apartments in the city — originating in 1969, and still in effect.  The case was Harmon, et al., v. Kimmel, et al. (11-496).

* Whether the Court would clarify when the federal government, in seeking to take over private property, may get a court order to stop a state court case involving ownership of the same property.  The case of Sid-Mar’s Restaurant & Lounge v. U.S. (11-652) grew out of a federal plan to take over a restaurant site in order to build new structures in an area heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina seven years ago.  Sid-Mar’s was a highly popular seafood restaurant adjacent to a canal and near Lake Pontchartrain.

* Whether a government employee has a right not to be fired, if the individual hires a lawyer to deal with a job-related problem, if the problem did not involve an issue of public policy.  Lower courts have split widely on how far a public employee’s right of association under the First Amendment is protected from retaliation by a local government employer.  The new case was Merrifield v. Santa Fe County Commissioners (11-881).

* Whether every member of a class seeking to sue must individually have standing — that is, a legal right to sue — before a lawsuit may proceed as a class action in federal court.  The appeal was an attempt by Ticketmaster, the major vendor of tickets for performances and public events, to head off a class action lawsuit over the way it promoted future ticket sales after a consumer had already purchased tickets.  The Ninth Circuit Court approved a class, for at least the purpose of seeking restitution of $60 million in membership fees that had been paid by consumers who contended they had been duped into joining the member service.  The case was Ticketmaster, et al., v. Stearns, et al. (11-983).



Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, No torture cases against corporations, SCOTUSblog (Apr. 23, 2012, 10:37 AM),