Jesner v. Arab Bank, PLC

Justia Summary

Petitioners sought compensation under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), part of the Judiciary Act of 1789, 28 U.S.C. 1350, based on terrorist acts committed abroad. They alleged that those acts were in part facilitated by Arab Bank, a Jordanian institution with a New York branch. They claimed that the bank used that branch to clear dollar-denominated transactions that benefited terrorists through the Clearing House Interbank Payments System (CHIPS) and to launder money for a Texas-based charity allegedly affiliated with Hamas. The Second Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of the case. Foreign corporations may not be defendants in suits brought under the ATS, which is "strictly jurisdictional” and does not provide or define a cause of action for international law violations. The Court noted that after the Second Circuit permitted plaintiffs to bring ATS actions based on human-rights laws, Congress enacted the 1991 Torture Victim Protection Act, creating an express cause of action for victims of torture and extrajudicial killing. ATS suits then became more frequent but “the presumption against extraterritoriality applies to [ATS] claims.” Separation-of-powers concerns that counsel against courts creating private rights of action apply with particular force to the ATS, which implicates foreign-policy concerns. Courts must exercise “great caution” before recognizing new forms of liability under the ATS. In this case. the only alleged connections to the United States, the CHIPS transaction and a brief allegation about a Texas charity, are “relatively minor” and the litigation has caused diplomatic tensions with Jordan, a critical ally.