|Subject: US High Court Seeks Govt Comment
In ExxonMobil's Aceh Human Rights Abuse Lawsuit [2 Reports]
also: Justices ask gov't to weigh in on Exxon human rights case that may affect other multinationals
US High Court Seeks Govt Comment In ExxonMobil Suit
By Mark H. Anderson Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES
WASHINGTON, Nov 13 (Dow Jones)--The U.S. Supreme Court sought input from the federal government Tuesday on whether Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) can be sued in the U.S. over allegations of violence by Indonesian soldiers it hired to guard a natural gas plant in the Aceh province.
The justices asked the U.S. Solicitor General to file a brief in the appeal. Earlier in the litigation, the State Department said it was concerned the lawsuit might harm U.S. national security interests, but the government hasn't commented on the case since a federal trial court limited the case's scope.
The case was brought in 2001 by public interest groups and seeks to hold Exxon Mobil accountable in the U.S. for alleged human rights abuses by the soldiers under the company's control during a time of separatist unrest in Indonesia. The allegations charge the Indonesian soldiers, under contract to guard the natural gas plant, kidnapped, abused and killed people on Exxon Mobil property during the unrest.
The company has fought the lawsuit, arguing that it can't be held responsible for the conduct of the Indonesian military and that the lawsuit does not belong in a U.S. court.
"The number of cases brought in the U.S. courts alleging wrongdoing of foreign governments is rising rapidly," Exxon Mobil said in the appeal. "This court's guidance therefore is urgently needed to address the availability of immediate appellate review."
In 2005, a U.S. District Court dismissed the parts of the lawsuit that cited federal law claims. But the court allowed the case to proceed under state laws. Exxon Mobil appealed that holding, but the Washington-based U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court.
Attorneys representing the plaintiffs urged the high court to let the lawsuit proceed.
"Although Exxon argued on appeal that immediate appellate review was necessary because continued litigation of the case would conflict with U.S. foreign policy interests, the U.s. did not appear in the court of appeals," the attorneys said.
The case is Exxon Mobil v. Doe, 07-81. The high court will take up the case again after the U.S. Solicitor General's Office file a brief, probably in early 2008. Justice Samuel Alito, who has reported holdings in Exxon Mobil stock, was recused from the matter.
Justices ask gov't to weigh in on Exxon human rights case that may affect other multinationals
By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER AP Business Writer
WASHINGTON, Nov 13 (AP) - The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Bush administration for its view on a lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corp. that alleges human rights abuses were committed at its natural gas facility in Indonesia.
The justices have not yet decided whether to take the case, but instead asked the U.S. Solicitor General -- the government's lawyer -- to offer its opinion on whether the court should rule in the dispute.
The case has implications for other multinational corporations because Exxon Mobil is seeking to make it easier for companies to fight suits involving alleged abuses overseas.
The lawsuit was initiated in 2001 by a human rights group, International Rights Advocates, on behalf of 11 Indonesian villagers in the Aceh province, alleging that members of the Indonesian military committed rampant human rights abuses while under Exxon's employ to guard a natural gas facility.
The Indonesian troops allegedly committed "murder, torture, sexual assault, battery, false imprisonment" and other abuses and used Exxon's facilities to do so, the human rights group said in court papers.
Lawyers for Exxon argued in a lower federal court that the case should be dismissed because it involves issues of international relations that should be left to the executive branch.
But the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia allowed parts of the suit to proceed, and an appeals court refused to consider Exxon's appeal.
The Justice Department's solicitor general, the administration's lawyer, can recommend that the court accept or reject the company's appeal. The Solicitor General's opinion usually includes input from agencies with expertise relevant to the case.
The State Department expressed concern in 2002 that the litigation could harm U.S. foreign policy and security interests by making it harder to work with the Indonesian government on issues such as terrorism.
But Agnieszka M. Fryszman, lead attorney for the Indonesian villagers, said that the department hasn't expressed such concerns since the district court judge limited the scope of the lawsuit in 2005.
Exxon urged the justices to take the case due to a "recent surge of litigation" alleging wrongdoing by foreign governments and multinational corporations.
The company cited lawsuits against Chevron Corp. for abuses committed by Nigeria's military and against Yahoo Inc. for its alleged complicity in human rights abuses by China's government.
Due to fears for their safety, the Acehnese plaintiffs in the suit against Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil are all named as John or Jane Does.
In a separate case involving Exxon Mobil, the court agreed last month to decide whether the company should pay $2.5 billion in punitive damages in connection with the huge 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
The human rights case is Exxon Mobil Corp. v. John Doe, 07-81.
Justice Samuel Alito recused himself from the decision. While he did not specify a reason, Alito's 2006 financial disclsoure form shows that he owned Exxon Mobil stock.
------------------------------------------ Joyo Indonesia News Service