University of Pittsburgh
April 19, 2013

Pitt Law Expert Available to Comment on U.S. Supreme Court Ruling in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Company

“The Supreme Court’s decision will result in a much-truncated Alien Tort Statute going forward.” —Pitt Prof. Vivian Grosswald Curran
Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH—The United States Supreme Court has released its decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., a case that involved a challenge to a 1789 law known as the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). For generations, foreign nationals have been permitted to file lawsuits in American courts for international law violations of the gravest sort, even when the violations occurred abroad.

Vivian Grosswald Curran, a professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and the lead author of a friend-of-the-court brief filed in Kiobel on behalf of a group of U.S., French, and German comparative law scholars, is available to comment on the decision, which was delivered in an opinion by U.S. Supreme Court Justice C. John Roberts and joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito. The decision, in essence, narrowed the scope of the ATS by declaring that the law does not permit foreigners to seek redress in American courts for atrocities—such as genocide and torture—occurring outside the United States. The opinion of the remaining four Supreme Court justices, although concurring in the result reached for the parties to the case, disagreed with this restriction.

“The Supreme Court’s decision expressly continues a line of cases that has been rejecting extraterritoriality, the application of American law abroad,” Curran commented. “Kiobel presented a different issue from the ones in those cases, however, since the Alien Tort Statute involves only acts that are grave violations of human rights and against the laws of all nations under international law standards. The Court’s majority nevertheless extended the reach of the recent line of cases to encompass the ATS, but yet appears to leave a crucial door open to the possibility of some extraterritorial applications of the ATS. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court’s decision will result in a much-truncated ATS going forward.”

A member of the American Law Institute, the International Academy of Comparative Law, and the Société de Législation Comparée, Curran studies, writes, and teaches about comparative law, law and globalization, and law and language, among other areas. In 2007, she was awarded the Grand Decoration of Merit in Gold for Services Rendered to the Republic of Austria for her work as the U.S. appointee to the Austrian General Settlement Fund Committee for Nazi-era property compensation. More recently and in recognition of her efforts to promote the language and culture of France within the United States, Curran was named a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques by a decree issued by France’s prime minister. She also chairs the American Society of Comparative Law’s Scholarly Prizes Committee and serves as a member of its executive committee.