Cases & Deals

Firestone Natural Rubber prevails in Seventh Circuit appeal of summary judgment in widely publicized case under Alien Tort Statute

Clients Firestone Natural Rubber Company

On July 11, 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed an order granting summary judgment to Jones Day client Firestone Natural Rubber Company in a widely publicized case under the Alien Tort Statute. Plaintiffs were twenty-three Liberian minors. Their guardians are employed by Firestone's Liberian subsidiary to tap rubber trees on its farm in Liberia. Plaintiffs alleged that their fathers' job duties were too onerous to do alone and their wages too low to hire paid assistants, and that they therefore forced their children to help them. Based on these allegations, plaintiffs claimed that Firestone was responsible for unsafe child labor in violation of international law.

In an unanimous decision, the Court of Appeals parted ways with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, rejecting that court's holding in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 621 F.3d 111 (2d Cir. 2010), corporations cannot be sued under the Alien Tort Statute. But the court nonetheless ruled for Firestone, holding that plaintiffs' claims in this case failed for two reasons. First, plaintiffs failed to establish the existence of an international law against unsafe child labor. "The plaintiffs have furnished no 'concrete evidence of the customs and practices of States' to show that states feel themselves under a legal obligation to impose liability on employers of [unsafe] child labor." Second, the Court further held that the record evidence showed that Firestone could not be liable even if any customary international norm existed. "Firestone doesn't employ children." "The plaintiffs' basic objection seems [] to be to [their guardians'] quotas. This implies that courts must in a case such as this determine on an employer-by-employer basis what level of production quotas violates customary international law." The Court found that such an attenuated theory is not cognizable under the Alien Tort Statute.

Flomo v. Firestone Natural Rubber Co., -- F.3d ---, 2011 WL 2675924, Case No. 10-3675 (7th Cir. 2011)