Ford, IBM to face renewed U.S. lawsuit over apartheid-era abuses

Thu Apr 17, 2014 5:48pm EDT
 
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By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co (F.N: Quote) and IBM Corp (IBM.N: Quote) will again have to face a U.S. lawsuit claiming they encouraged race-based human rights abuses in apartheid-era South Africa, despite a series of recent court decisions limiting the right to pursue such cases.

Reviving a 12-year-old lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in Manhattan accepted an argument from a group of plaintiffs that corporations may be held liable under a 1789 law, the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), that lets non-U.S. citizens pursue some cases in U.S. courts over alleged violations of international law.

"No principle of domestic or international law supports the conclusion that the norms enforceable through the ATS ... apply only to natural persons and not to corporations," Scheindlin wrote.

Her decision came in a case that the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, also in Manhattan, in August had said should be dismissed.

"Obviously we're thrilled," said Diane Sammons, a partner at Nagel Rice law firm in Roseland, New Jersey, representing some plaintiffs. "Judge Scheindlin is not taking the word of the defendants that corporations are not liable for human rights abuses under the ATS."

Sammons said she plans to file an amended complaint.

Jonathan Hacker, an O'Melveny & Myers partner who represents Ford, did not respond immediately to requests for comment. Keith Hummel, a partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore who represents IBM, did not respond immediately to similar requests.

The plaintiffs contended that by having made military vehicles and computers for South African security forces, several companies during the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s had aided and abetted South Africa's former apartheid government in perpetrating abuses, such as killings and torture.   Continued...

 
A Ford logo is seen on the grill of a 2015 F-150 truck outside the New York Stock Exchange in the Manhattan borough of New York, January 13, 2014. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson