Ford, IBM win dismissal of 12-year lawsuit over apartheid abuses

Thu Aug 28, 2014 6:17pm EDT
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By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Manhattan federal judge has dismissed a 12-year-old lawsuit accusing Ford Motor Co (F.N: Quote) and IBM Corp (IBM.N: Quote) of encouraging human rights abuses in apartheid-era South Africa, reluctantly concluding that the case does not belong in U.S. courts.

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin on Thursday said the black South Africans who brought the case did not show "relevant conduct" by Ford and IBM within the United States to justify holding the companies liable.

The plaintiffs had accused Ford, IBM and other companies of having between the 1970s and early 1990s aided South Africa's former apartheid government in abuses such as killings and torture, by having made military vehicles and computers for government security forces.

"That these plaintiffs are left without relief in an American court is regrettable," Scheindlin wrote. "But I am bound to follow [legal precedent], no matter what my personal view of the law may be."

The case had been brought under the Alien Tort Statute, a 1789 law that lets non-U.S. citizens pursue some cases in U.S. courts over alleged violations of international law.

In April 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court said that law was presumed to cover only violations in the United States, or violations elsewhere that "touch and concern" U.S. territory "with sufficient force."

Four months later, the federal appeals court in Manhattan applied that holding, and said the Ford and IBM cases should be dismissed altogether.

In April, Scheindlin nonetheless gave the plaintiffs one more chance, to meet the new standards imposed by those higher courts.   Continued...

The company logo is seen on the bonnet of a Ford car during the media day ahead of the 84th Geneva Motor Show at the Palexpo Arena in Geneva March 5, 2014. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann