MANHATTAN (CN) - Calling her decision "regrettable," a federal judge ruled that recent legal precedent left her with no choice but to dismiss a 12-year-old lawsuit that South Africans filed against IBM and Ford for aiding apartheid.
In 2002, South Africans who reported being imprisoned and tortured under apartheid first sued the U.S.-based companies in the New York federal court, alleging the corporations were "integral creation, maintenance, and enforcement of the apartheid regime - and its attendant international law violations."
Apartheid's oppressive rule had been made possible by "expertise, management, technology, and equipment" from the United States, the South Africans alleged.
the IBM, Ford and other companies under the Alien Tort Statute, which had recently started to be used against corporate defendants to redress overseas wrongs.
One such case, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum
, was filed the same year and involved allegations that the oil giant conspired with the Nigerian government to brutally suppress dissent against oil exploration in the country's Ogoni region.
That case never got to trial, however, because the Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit, finding that U.S. courts lacked jurisdiction to try foreign corporations for conduct outside its borders.
The decision came to be known as Kiobel II, as it followed a different holding by the 2nd Circuit.
In an unrelated case late last year, the 2nd Circuit made it harder to sue U.S. companies for overseas conduct.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin, who has presided over the case, wrote that these two decisions has made the South Africans' case impossible to pursue, in a 22-page opinion on Thursday.
"That these plaintiffs are left without relief in an American court is regrettable," Scheindlin wrote. "But I am bound to follow Kiobel II and Balintulo, no matter what my personal view of the law may be."
In April, Scheindlin had kept the case alive in a 30-page decision
that passionately argued that U.S. law can and should hold corporations accountable for overseas human rights violations.
But she has now concluded that the bar raised by legal precedent has become "too high to overcome."
None of the parties immediately responded to a request for comment.