Monday, March 07, 2005

Imposing a Time-Limit on Alien Tort Statute Claims

El Salvador watchdog (or is it "watchblog"?) Tim Muth notes that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed a $54 million judgment against 2 Salvadoran generals for human rights violations during the 1980s. Those generals now live in the U.S. and were sued by their victims under that ubiquitous Alien Tort Statute.

Courts have generally held that Alien Tort Statute claims are subject to a 10-year statute of limitations. The same issue will likely defeat the plaintiffs in the Agent Orange litigation because many of the alleged injuries were discovered or should have been discovered more than 10 years ago. There are obvious reasons for imposing such a time limitation on ATS claims just like statutes of limitations are imposed on other claims. Such limitations may be "equitably tolled", meaning the court will stop the Statute of Limitations ("SOL") clock from running due to special circumstances that prevent the plaintiff from bringing the claim.

Although imposing the SOL in any particular Alien Tort Statute case may seem harsh, it is particularly important to enforce the SOL in such cases because ATS claims in theory could be brought by any foreign plaintiff for any international law violation that has ever occurred in history. At some point, the even the U.S. court system must shut is door to even the worthiest claims.


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