$400 Billion Apartheid Damage Claims Against 50 Firms to Proceed

May 12, 2008

The U.S. Supreme Court Monday affirmed a ruling that apartheid victims who seek damages exceeding $400 billion from more than 50 major corporations can go forward with their lawsuits.

With four justices recused from the case and therefore lacking a quorum, the high court issued a brief order simply affirming a ruling by a U.S. appeals court in New York. The appeals court had reinstated the lawsuits by the plaintiffs, who claim the companies violated international law by assisting the apartheid system in South Africa.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito did not take part in the case, apparently because they own stock in some of the companies.

Because they did not participate, the Supreme Court said it lacked a quorum, which requires at least six of its nine members. The affirming of the lower-court ruling allows the lawsuits to proceed, but does not represent a decision by the justices on the merits of the dispute.

A majority of the justices who considered the case said it could not be heard and determined in the court’s next term because of the lack of a quorum.

The corporations named in the lawsuits included oil companies such as BP Plc and Exxon Mobil Corp., banks such as Citigroup, Deutsche Bank AG and UBS AG, as well as other multinationals like IBM , General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co.

The U.S. and foreign corporations appealed to the Supreme Court. The Bush administration and business groups supported the appeal.

The lawsuits, filed in 2002 by three separate groups of plaintiffs, were brought on behalf of all persons living in South Africa between 1948 and 1994 who were apartheid victims.

One set of plaintiffs, a South African human rights organization called the Khulumani Support Group, said it had 32,700 members who are survivors of apartheid violence.

Apartheid ended in 1994 when South Africa held its first all-race elections, bringing Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress to power.

A federal judge initially dismissed the lawsuits on the grounds that the court did not have jurisdiction over the cases. But the appeals court ruled the lawsuits brought under the Alien Tort Claims Act could go forward.

(Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.