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ExxonMobil Wins Dismissal of ATS Claims in Nationally Significant Decision

In a decisive victory for client Exxon Mobil Corporation, Paul, Weiss secured the dismissal of all Alien Tort Statute claims alleging that the oil company—while operating its natural gas extraction facility in Aceh, Indonesia—was complicit in human rights violations committed by Indonesian soldiers against Acehnese citizens during an Indonesian civil war. 

In its opinion in the lawsuit, filed in 2001 on behalf of the victims or their relatives, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia broadly adopted the reasoning in ExxonMobil’s motion to dismiss. Analyzing the narrow holding and the fractured opinions in the recent Supreme Court case Jesner v. Arab Bank, the court held that it lacked the power to recognize ATS claims against ExxonMobil because such claims had caused diplomatic strife with Indonesia. The court went further and held that the rule of Jesner—that foreign corporations cannot be sued under the ATS—should not be limited to foreign corporations, but should be extended to domestic corporations such as ExxonMobil, because corporate liability is not recognized in customary international law, and because Congress has not created such liability by statute. This decision is thus significant because lower courts after Jesner have been uncertain as to how far to extend Jesner when defendants in ATS cases are domestic corporations.

Following this decision, only garden-variety Indonesian tort law claims against ExxonMobil remain at issue, making this a major milestone in the nearly 18-year litigation.

The Paul, Weiss team included litigation partners Ted Wells, Alex Oh and Jaren Janghorbani.

June 5, 2019

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