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DOE v. EXXON MOBIL CORPORATION

October 14, 2005.

JOHN DOE I, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
EXXON MOBIL CORPORATION, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LOUIS OBERDORFER, Senior District Judge

MEMORANDUM

Pending is defendants' Motion to Dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint. Defendants seek dismissal on several grounds: (1) lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim on plaintiffs' Alien Tort Statute and Torture Victim Protection Act claims; (2) nonjusticiability; (3) forum non conveniens; (4) lack of personal jurisdiction over Exxon Mobil Oil Indonesia; and (5) statute of limitations on John Doe V's claims [docket no. 13].*fn1 For reasons explained below, defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and lack of subject matter jurisdiction is granted with respect to plaintiffs' Alien Tort Statute and Torture Victim Protection Act claims. PT Arun LNG Company, an entity 55% owned by the Indonesian government, is also dismissed as a party to this suit on justiciability grounds. The only remaining claims are plaintiffs' state law claims. None of the defendants' arguments for dismissal of these claims has merit.

Consequently, after entry of the Order accompanying this Memorandum, the unresolved issues are how to proceed with discovery and litigation on the state tort claims without interfering with U.S. foreign policy and Indonesia's sovereignty, and what basis exists for subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiffs' remaining state tort claims.

I. Background and Procedural History

This suit was filed in June 2001 by eleven Indonesian citizens*fn2 against defendants Exxon Mobil Corporation, Mobil Corporation, Mobil Oil Corporation, and Exxon Mobil Oil Indonesia Inc. (collectively, "Exxon"), and PT Arun LNG Company ("PT Arun"). Plaintiffs allege that defendants violated the Alien Tort Statute, the Torture Victim Protection Act ("Torture Act"), and committed various common-law torts in the course of protecting and securing defendants' liquid natural gas extraction pipeline and liquification facility in Arun, Indonesia.

The Alien Tort Statute in its entirety states "[t]he 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." 28 U.S.C. § 1350. The Torture Act establishes federal jurisdiction and liability for "[a]n individual who, under actual or apparent authority, or color of law, of any foreign nation . . . subjects an individual to torture . . ." 28 U.S.C. § 1350 note § 2(a)(1)-(2).

Plaintiffs allege that, during an on-going conflict with the Indonesian government and Achenese rebels, defendants contracted with a unit of the Indonesian national army to provide security for the pipeline. Defendants allegedly conditioned payment on providing security, made decisions about where to build bases, hired mercenaries to train the security troops, and provided logistical support. Plaintiffs claim that Exxon and PT Arun are liable for the alleged actions of the Indonesian soldiers, as an aider and abettor, a joint action/joint venturer, or as a proximate cause of the alleged misconduct.

In October 2001 Defendants responded to the Complaint with a Motion to Dismiss. While that motion was under advisement, in response to my request on July 29, 2002 the U.S. State Department filed a Statement of Interest, and reiterated its position in a July 15, 2005 letter. In its Statement, the State Department maintained that it "believes that adjudication of this lawsuit at this time would in fact risk a potentially serious adverse impact on significant interests of the United States, including interests related directly to the on-going struggle against international terrorism." The State Department observed, however, that its assessment was "necessarily predictive and contingent" on how the case proceeded, including the intrusiveness of discovery and the extent to which the case required "judicial pronouncements on the official actions of the [Government of Indonesia] with respect to its military activities in Aceh." (Emphasis added). The State Department included in its submission a letter from the Indonesian Ambassador to the United States. It stated that Indonesia "cannot accept the extra territorial jurisdiction of a United States court over an allegation against an Indonesian government institution, eq [sic] the Indonesia military, for operations taking place in Indonesia." The parties filed additional briefing on the implications of the State Department's submission.

Soon thereafter, a September 2002 order directed the parties to exchange interrogatories and requests for the preservation of documents. In 2003 the parties submitted extensive briefing regarding supplemental authority on Alien Tort Statute cases (particularly Doe v. Unocal Corp., Civ. Nos. 00-55603, 00-56628). In June 2004 the Supreme Court reached its decision in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, 542 U.S. 692, 124 S. Ct. 2739 (2004), which was highly relevant to this case. In Sosa Enrique Camarena-Salazar, an agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, was captured, tortured, interrogated, and eventually killed by suspected drug dealers while on assignment in Mexico in 1985. Dr. Humberto Alvarez-Machain, a Mexican physician, allegedly assisted in prolonging the agent's life during the torture and interrogation. In 1990 a federal grand jury in California indicted Alvarez for Camarena's murder. The United States unsuccessfully sought Mexican assistance in seizing Alvarez. Thereafter the DEA hired Mexican nationals, including petitioner Jose Francisco Sosa, to abduct Alvarez and bring him to El Paso, Texas. Sosa and the other Mexican nationals detained Alvarez overnight, then turned him over to U.S. authorities.

Alvarez was eventually acquitted, and subsequently sued Sosa, other Mexican citizens, the United States, and four DEA agents under inter alia the Alien Tort Statute. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Alvarez and awarded him $25,000. A three-judge Ninth Circuit panel affirmed. In a subsequent en banc proceeding upholding the panel's decision, the Ninth Circuit cited an alleged "clear and universally recognized norm prohibiting arbitrary arrest and detention." Alvarez-Machain v. United States, 331 F.3d 604, 620 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc).

The Supreme Court reversed, ruling on factual grounds that a day-long detention was not a clear violation of international law. The Court also held that the field of international law violations cognizable under the Alien Tort Statute are limited to those cognizable when the statute was passed in 1789, and those that are "specific, universal, and obligatory," with the caveat that the door to additional claims "is still ajar subject to vigilant doorkeeping" by the courts. Sosa, 124 S. Ct. at 2766, 2773-74 (citation and internal quotations omitted).

The Court limited the reach of the statute in part due to the "collateral consequences" of interfering with U.S. foreign relations. It warned inferior courts to be "particularly wary of impinging on the discretion of the Legislative and Executive branches in managing foreign affairs" (id. at 2763), particularly when the Executive has expressed its views about the litigation. In such a case, the views of the Executive should be accorded "serious weight." Id. at 2766; see also Joo v. Japan, 314 F.3d 45, 52 (D.C. Cir. 2005) ("The Executive's judgment that adjudication by a domestic court would be inimical to the foreign policy interests of the United States is compelling and renders this case nonjusticiable under the political question doctrine.").

Thus, the proper degree of deference to the views of the Executive turns on the actual intrusiveness of the litigation; courts do not abdicate their Article III responsibilities on executive command. See Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (Cranch) 137, 177 (1803). Accordingly, it is necessary to identify the specific intra-Indonesian actions, if any, necessary to support discovery and adjudication.

II. Federal Statutory Claims

A. Alien Tort Statute

Defendants allege that plaintiffs have failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under the Alien Tort Statute. That statute confers subject matter jurisdiction over "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." 28 U.S.C. § 1350. Plaintiffs are plainly aliens, who bring tort claims; ...


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