Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Supreme Court to hear California case about Argentina's 'Dirty War'

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How did alleged human rights abuses by a German luxury car maker in Argentina end up as a California case before the U.S. Supreme Court?

Employees and relatives of former workers at a Mercedes Benz plant in Argentina are suing the car maker's parent company, Daimler-Chrysler, for human rights abuses during Argentina's "Dirty War" more than three decades ago. They accuse the company of targeting union organizers, allowing the military and police to raid the factory.

The case was brought in California, where there are a number of Mercedes Benz dealers, using the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows civil lawsuits in the U.S. for alleged human rights abuses abroad.

Burt Neuborne, who heads the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU, says a Supreme Court ruling last year slammed the door on most of these cases.

He says a ruling against the Daimler workers could have wider implications for anyone trying to sue a corporation. "Corporations are going to be able to slice themselves into small, watertight compartments." He says parent companies would be able to separate themselves from their manufacturing or sales arms overseas, protecting them from liability.

Howard Erichson, law professor at Fordham, disagrees. He says the case is about jurisdiction. He says the Argentinian plaintiffs' "problem" is that they are trying to sue in California for an issue that didn't arise in California. He says the High Court took the case because the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals "got it wrong,"  ruling on the Daimler case contrary to an earlier Supreme Court decision. Erichson says the Supreme Court "may just want to set the record straight." He says there's always the "fear that the conservative  majority" on the court will grab the opportunity to make it harder to sue corporations, but he says this is "not this sort of case."

The High Court takes up Daimler v Bauman on Tuesday. 


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