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Exxon Mobil Must Face Indonesians’ Claims of Murder and Torture

June 4, 2019, 5:43 PM

Exxon Mobil Corp. must face a number of tort claims in Washington alleging it supported killings and tortures in Indonesia nearly two decades ago.

But the company is entitled to dismissal of claims under the federal Alien Tort Statute, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said June 3.

The federal claims fail under a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling because the allegations have caused “significant diplomatic strife,” the court said. The statute gives the federal courts jurisdiction to hear suits filed by non-U.S. citizens for torts committed in violation of international law.

The court, in a separate opinion, rejected Exxon’s motion to dismiss the non-federal tort claims for lack of personal jurisdiction. The claims range from wrongful death and false imprisonment, to negligent hiring and supervision.

The case stems from alleged human rights abuses committed at or near natural gas facilities operated by Exxon in the Aceh Province of Indonesia in 2000 and 2001.

The plaintiffs allege that they, or their relatives, were detained, tortured, sexually assaulted, killed, or otherwise abused by Exxon’s paid military security personnel, who were under Exxon’s direction and control.

The complaint asserts that Exxon executives in the U.S. were informed that the company’s security personnel were committing the acts.

Jurisdiction Found

The court reaffirmed that it has jurisdiction over the claims because Exxon’s contacts with Washington were related to plaintiffs’ claims and concern the security policies and practices in Indonesia at issue in the case.

The court previously denied Exxon’s motion for summary judgment on the non-federal tort claims. It found the plaintiffs presented enough evidence of corporate control within the U.S. to go to trial.

The tort claims will be governed by Indonesian law, the court said. The court will next hold a status conference with the parties in the case.

Judge Royce C. Lamberth issued the opinion.

Counsel for the plaintiffs include Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll.

Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP represents Exxon Mobil.

The case is. Doe v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 2019 BL 203619, D.D.C., No. 01-cv-1357, 6/3/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter Hayes in Washington at PHayes@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com; Steven Patrick at spatrick@bloomberglaw.com

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