Over the past 15 years, there has been a sharp rise in lawsuits brought against American companies, as well as foreign companies with a substantial U.S. presence, that are premised on alleged personal or environmental injuries occurring abroad. These cases raise the question of whether U.S. courts should be the venue for cases concerning conduct occurring outside the territory of the United States. They have also been characterized by controversial and abusive tactics by plaintiffs and their lawyers.

Many of those transnational lawsuits have been filed in the U.S. by plaintiffs’ class action firms, public interest attorneys and non-governmental organizations.  Some have been filed in federal courts under the 200-year old Alien Tort Statute (ATS), while many more have been brought in state courts under common law theories of liability. 

These cases raise several concerns. One is the use of U.S. courts for adjudicating disputes that occurred outside of the country. It is a generally established principle that U.S. courts should not hear cases involving foreign conduct unless there is a significant nexus to the United States. By undermining this principle, these cases set a precedent that could be used to expose Americans to litigation in foreign courts over conduct occurring in the United States.

Equally troubling are the tactics used in these cases. According to ILR’s study Think Globally, Sue Locally, transnational cases are characterized by a number of features, including aggressive media tactics, organized protests and boycotts of corporate defendants, political pressure and, in some cases, outright fraud and abuse by plaintiffs’ lawyers. In the major transnational case against Chevron in Ecuador, four federal courts have found the proceedings tainted by fraud.

In April 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum that claims of wrongful conduct on foreign soil cannot be brought in U.S. courts under the ATS.  This ruling has substantially limited the use of the ATS in transnational cases, but does not deter cases brought under state common law. A complete list of lawsuits against corporations under the Alien Tort Statute can be found here


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All Results for Transnational

  1. U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donohue's Remarks at the 13th Annual Legal Reform Summit

    October 24, 2012 | Video | Watch

  2. Monetizing Litigation Claims: What will they think of next?

    October 24, 2012 | Video | Watch

  3. John H. Beisner on Third-Party Investments in Litigation

    October 24, 2012 | Video | Watch

  4. Stopping the Sale on Lawsuits: A Proposal to Regulate Third-Party Investments in Litigation

    October 24, 2012 | Research

    Third-party investments in litigation represent a clear and present danger to the impartial and efficient administration of civil justice in the United States. Such third-party litigation financing ("TPLF") occurs when a specialized investment company provides money to a plaintiff (or counsel) to finance the prosecution of a complex tort or business dispute. In exchange for this financial assistance, the plaintiff (or counsel) agrees to pay the investor a portion of any proceeds obtained through the litigation.... Read More

  5. Litigation Funding in Australia: Identifying and Addressing Conflicts of Interest for Lawyers

    February 08, 2012 | Research

    Litigation funding in Australia is a contractual arrangement whereby a third party (usually a corporate entity and not a legal practitioner) provides financing and some level of management of the dispute, and in return, if the case succeeds, receives a percentage of the proceeds. Litigation funding has been argued to be an important and legitimate development that provides access to justice, allows for the spreading of the risk of complex litigation and can improve the efficiency of litigation by bringing commercial considerations to bear. Equally there have been concerns that litigation funding results in the Court's processes being misused for commercial gain.... Read More

  6. U.S. Chamber Applauds Introduction of FOCUS Act in U.S. Senate

    February 03, 2012 | Press Release

    WASHINGTON, D.C.-Lisa A. Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR), made the following statement about the introduction of the Freedom from Over-Criminalization and Unjust Seizures (FOCUS) Act of 2012 in the U.S. Senate. The bill would, among other things, amend the Lacey Act to remove foreign law violations as a basis for prosecution in the United States and limit punishment for violations under the Act to civil penalties. ... Read More

  7. Trends We Don't Want To Continue: A Look at the Latest Lawsuits and Theories from The Trial Bar

    October 26, 2011 | Video | Watch

  8. Confronting the New Breed of Transnational Litigation: Abusive Foreign Judgments

    October 26, 2011 | Research

    This article demonstrates why comity - when properly understood - requires that U.S. courts deny recognition and enforcement to foreign judgments that violate the U.S. Constitution and other deeply rooted domestic principles.... Read More

  9. Think Globally, Sue Locally: Out-of-Court Tactics Employed by Plaintiffs, Their Lawyers, and Their Advocates in Transnational Tort Cases

    June 21, 2010 | Research

    There has been a sharp rise in lawsuits brought against United States companies, as well as foreign companies with a substantial U.S. presence, that are premised on alleged personal or environmental injuries that occur overseas. Most of those transnational tort lawsuits have been filed in the United States by plaintiffs' class action firms, public interest attorneys, and Non-Governmental Organizations ("NGOs"); some have been brought in federal courts, while many more have been filed in state courts under traditional bases of jurisdiction. A growing number of notable actions also have been filed in foreign courts, with the plaintiffs seeking to obtain judgments they can enforce in the United States.... Read More

  10. Third Party Financing: Ethical and Legal Ramifications in Collective Actions

    November 19, 2009 | Research

    This paper begins with an overview of third party litigation financing. It next examines the current third party financing practices of a number of European jurisdictions. Then, it sets forth ILR's critique of the practice, particularly the incentives it creates to engage in frivolous and abusive litigation. ILR also presents a case study of the Commonwealth of Australia, the first jurisdiction to permit third party litigation funding, where such funding has dramatically increased litigation and given investors pervasive - even total - control over a claimant's case. Finally, the paper concludes that such funding should be prohibited altogether in collective litigation.... Read More