On April 3, 2017. the United States Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari, agreeing to hear the case of Jesner et. al v. Arab Bank, PLC. At issue in this case is whether or not foreign corporations can be held liable for a tortious action they are alleged to have committed abroad.
The statute in question in this case is the 1789 Alien Torts Act, which states that 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.’
Arab Bank, PLC, a multinational financial institution based in Amman, Jordan, is one of the largest providers of banking services and capital in the Middle East. It has been accused by the plaintiffs of providing financial support for terrorist organizations. Within the petition for certiorari, the plaintiffs allege that “during the period surrounding the ‘Second Intifada’, the Bank itself provided a range of financial services to terrorists and terrorist front groups posing as “charities,”… hosted bank accounts for such individuals and organizations, fully aware of their terrorist goals, … maintained accounts for numerous well-known leaders of Hamas – including several of the group’s founders, a military leader, and the head of its Gaza operations,… [and] processed 282 funds transfers – a total amount of $2,563,275 – for individuals the United States designated at the time as terrorists.”
Apart from the substance of these allegations, the court must decide whether or not it has the jurisdiction under the Alien Torts Act to rule on the case. There are two major issues: first, whether or not corporations are included in the definition of “alien” under the Alien Torts Act, therefore liable for tortious action in U.S. courts. The court granted certiorari to a case involving a similar question of corporate liability under the Alien Torts Act in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 133 S. Ct. 1659 (2013), but ended up ruling on other grounds. The other major issue here is whether or not the acts of terrorism have a sufficient connection to the U.S.; in Kiobel, the Court decided that they could not rule on the issue of corporate liability under the Alien Torts Act because the case did not have a sufficient U.S. connection. However, in the petition for certiorari, the plaintiffs attempt to distinguish this case from that of Kiobel, arguing that “the contact with the United States is no fleeting detail” due to the Arab Bank’s use of the U.S. dollar as the “preferred currency for transferring money among terrorist groups.”
Joseph Jesner, the lead plaintiff in the case, is a British citizen whose son, Yoni, was killed in a bus bombing in Tel Aviv in 2002.
The full petition for certiorari can be found here: http://www.scotusblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/16-499-cert-petition.pdf