top of page

Jesner v Arab Bank

Supreme Court of the United States - Decision

JUSTICE KENNEDY announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II–B–1, and II–C, and an opinion with respect to Parts II–A, II–B–2, II–B–3, and III, in which THE CHIEF JUSTICE and JUSTICE THOMAS join.

Petitioners in this case, or the persons on whose behalf petitioners now assert claims, allegedly were injured or killed by terrorist acts committed abroad. Those terrorist acts, it is contended, were in part caused or facilitated by a foreign corporation. Petitioners now seek to impose liability on the foreign corporation for the conduct of its human agents, including its then-chairman and other highranking management officials. The suits were filed in a United States District Court under the Alien Tort Statute, commonly referred to as the ATS. See 28 U. S. C. §1350.

The foreign corporation charged with liability in these ATS suits is Arab Bank, PLC; and it is respondent here. Some of Arab Bank’s officials, it is alleged, allowed the Bank to be used to transfer funds to terrorist groups in the Middle East, which in turn enabled or facilitated criminal acts of terrorism, causing the deaths or injuries for which petitioners now seek compensation. Petitioners seek to prove Arab Bank helped the terrorists receive the moneys in part by means of currency clearances and bank transactions passing through its New York City offices, all by means of electronic transfers.

It is assumed here that those individuals who inflicted death or injury by terrorism committed crimes in violation of well-settled, fundamental precepts of international law, precepts essential for basic human-rights protections. It is assumed as well that individuals who knowingly and purposefully facilitated banking transactions to aid, enable, or facilitate the terrorist acts would themselves be committing crimes under the same international-law prohibitions.

Petitioners contend that international and domestic laws impose responsibility and liability on a corporation if its human agents use the corporation to commit crimes in violation of international laws that protect human rights. The question here is whether the Judiciary has the authority, in an ATS action, to make that determination and then to enforce that liability in ATS suits, all without any explicit authorization from Congress to do so.

The answer turns upon the proper interpretation and implementation of the ATS. The statute provides: “The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” §1350. The Court must first ask whether the law of nations imposes liability on corporations for human-rights violations committed by its employees. The Court must also ask whether it has authority and discretion in an ATS suit to impose liability on a corporation without a specific direction from Congress to do so.

bottom of page