WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Tuesday that a foreign corporation cannot be sued by foreign plaintiffs in a U.S. state court for human rights violations committed in a foreign country.
The decision is a victory for Daimler AG, formerly DaimlerChrysler, which had appealed a lower court decision that found the company could be sued in California over human rights violations committed during Argentina's "dirty war" more than 30 years ago.
The 9-0 opinion was written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who noted "the absence of any California connection to the atrocities, perpetrators or victims described in the complaint." Justice Sonia Sotomayor concurred only in the judgment, not the underlying reasoning.
"Exercises of personal jurisdiction of such breadth ... are barred by due process constraints," Ginsburg said. Under the plaintiffs' argument, she said, "if a Mercedes-Benz vehicle overturned in Saudi Arabia injuring a driver and passengers from Norway, the injured persons could maintain a design defect suit in California."
Her opinion was reminiscent of the incredulity Ginsburg voiced during oral arguments in October. "So if a Mercedes-Benz vehicle overturned in Poland and injured the Polish driver and passenger, suit for the design defect could be brought in California?" she asked. The justices appeared dubious.
Their decision continues a pattern developed in at least four other cases over the past two years in which the court has ruled against extending the territorial reach of U.S. courts.
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