Flor Saldana v. Occidental Petroleum Corp.

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Tort Law
  • Date Filed: 12-15-2014
  • Case #: 12-55484
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Per Curium: Circuit Judges Kozinsky and Callahan; Concurrence by Circuit Judge Trott
  • Full Text Opinion

A complaint under the Alien Tort Statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1350, is nonjusticiable if it is inextricably bound to a political question, and in order to sever a political question from a negligence or liability claim, a factual basis of operational control must be established.

In 2003, the United States began formally providing support to the Columbian government to combat guerilla groups, and in 2004, the Columbian National Army (“CNA”) 18th Brigade began receiving aid to protect and secure an oil pipeline (“Pipeline”) operated by Occidental Petroleum (“Occidental”). At the same time, Occidental entered into an agreement with the Columbian government to provide funding for increased protection of the Pipeline. In 2011, three union leaders were murdered by the 18th Brigade. Family members (“Plaintiffs”) of the deceased brought suit in California pursuant to the Alien Tort Statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1350, and California state law. Plaintiffs claim that Occidental provided “purposeful and substantial” funding to the 18th Brigade, knowing that human rights abuses and war crimes would ensue. The district court granted Occidental’s motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that the plaintiffs’ complaint was nonjusticiable because it was “inextricably tied” to matters of foreign relations and decisions by the political branches, which are not subject to judicial inquiry. The panel determined that the funding by the United States and Occidental could not be severed in order to determine control over the 18th Brigade, whereby Occidental’s indirect and much less significant funding was contemporaneous with and for the same purpose as the funding by the United States. Further, the panel determined that the plaintiffs failed to establish a factual basis that would allow a “reasonable inference” that Occidental had day-to-day operational control over the 18th Brigade that is discernable from the control of the United States in the interest of foreign policy. AFFIRMED.

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