United States District Court, D. Maryland
ESTATE OF ARTURO GIRON ALVAREZ, THE 773 INDIVIDUALS IDENTIFIED ON EXHIBIT 1 TO THE COMPLAINT and UNKNOWN USE PLAINTIFFS, Plaintiffs,
THE JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY, THE JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE, THE JOHNS HOPKINS HOSPITAL, THE JOHNS HOPKINS BLOOMBERG SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH, THE JOHNS HOPKINS HEALTH SYSTEMS CORPORATION, THE ROCKEFELLER FOUNDATION and BRISTOL-MYERS SQUIBB COMPANY, Defendants.
THEODORE D. CHUANG JUDGE
Estate of Arturo Giron Alvarez and 773 other Guatemalan
nationals have filed a civil action against the Johns Hopkins
University and four affiliated entities, the Rockefeller
Foundation, and Bristol-Myers Squibb Company. Plaintiffs
allege that Defendants subjected them or their family members
to medical experiments in Guatemala without their knowledge
or consent during the 1940s and 1950s, in violation of the
law of nations. Presently pending before the Court is
Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings on the
grounds that the Alien Tort Statute, 28U.S.C. S 1350 (2012),
upon which Plaintiffs' claims are based, does not allow
for claims against a corporation. On December 18, 2018, the
Court heard oral argument on the Motion. For the reasons set
forth below, Defendants' Motion will be DENIED.
factual and procedural background is set forth in the
Court's September 7, 2016 Decision re: Second Amended
Complaint, Estate of Alvarez v. Johns Hopkins Univ.
(“Alvarez I”), 205 F.Supp.3d 681, 683-85
(D. Md. 2016), and the August 30, 2017 Decision re: Third
Amended Complaint, Estate of Alvarez v. Johns Hopkins
Univ. (“Alvarez II”), 275 F.Supp.3d
670, 677-78 (D. Md. 2017). Additional facts and procedural
history specific to this motion are provided here.
invoke the Court's jurisdiction under the Alien Tort
Statute (“ATS”), 28 U.S.C. § 1350, which
provides: “The district courts shall have original
jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only,
committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of
the United States.” Id. The seven Defendants
are all U.S. corporations. Specifically, as alleged in the
Third Amended Complaint, Defendants the Johns Hopkins
University, the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine,
the Johns Hopkins Hospital, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg
School of Public Health, and the Johns Hopkins Health System
Corporation (collectively “the Johns Hopkins
Defendants”) are corporations formed under the laws of
Maryland with their principal places of business in Maryland,
Defendant the Rockefeller Foundation is a corporation formed
under the laws of New York, and Defendant Bristol-Myers
Squibb Company is a corporation formed under the laws of
Delaware with its principal place of business in New York.
previous decisions, the Court (Garbis, J.), in finding
jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' ATS claims, stated that it
“will follow the majority consensus that corporations
can be liable under the ATS.” Alvarez II, 275
F.Supp.3d at 687 & n.21; Alvarez I, 205
F.Supp.3d at 694. When granting in part and denying in part
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Third Amended Complaint
in August 2017, the Court acknowledged that the United States
Supreme Court had recently "granted certiorari to
address whether the ATS categorically forecloses corporate
liability." Alvarez II, 275
F.Supp.3d at 687 n.21 (citing Jesner v. Arab Bank,
PLC, 137 S.Ct. 1432 (2017)). Since the parties did not
seek entry of a stay, the Court stated that it would
re-address the issue of corporate liability under the ATS
after the Supreme Court's decision in Jesner if
it proved "necessary"" Alvarez II,
275 F.Supp.3d at 687 n.21. On April 24, 2018, the Supreme
Court issued a decision in Jesner v. Arab Bank, PLC,
138 S.Ct. 1386 (2018), holding that "foreign
corporations may not be defendants in suits brought under the
ATS." Id. at 1407. Defendants then filed their
Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, which is now ripe for
Count I of the Third Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs assert an
ATS claim based on the allegation that Defendants, all of
which are U.S. corporations, conducted medical experiments on
them or their family members without the victims'
knowledge or consent, and thus committed crimes against
humanity, in violation of well-established and customary
norms of international law. In their Motion, Defendants seek
dismissal of Plaintiffs' ATS claim, the only remaining
claim in the case, on the basis of the Supreme Court's
decision in Jesner. Defendants argue that although
the Supreme Court's holding in Jesner explicitly
applied to only foreign corporation,, its reasoning also
establishes that courts may not permit causes of action under
the ATS against domestic corporations.
Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is filed under Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure l2(c). "The standard of review
for Rule l2(c) motions is the same as that under Rule
12(b)(6)." Drager v. PLIVA USA, Inc., 741 F.3d
470, 474 (4th Cir. 2014); see PETA v. USDA, 861 F.3d
502, 506 (4th Cir. 2017). To defeat a motion to dismiss under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the complaint must
allege enough facts to state a plausible claim for relief.
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A claim
is plausible when the facts pleaded allow "the court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged." Id. Legal
conclusions or conclusory statements do not suffice.
Id. The Court must examine the complaint as a whole,
consider the factual allegations in the complaint as true,
and construe the factual allegations in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff. Albright v. Oliver, 510
U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Lambeth v. Bd. of Comm 'rs of
Davidson Cty., 407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th Cir. 2005).
The Jesner Opinion
Supreme Court granted certiorari in Jesner to
resolve the question whether "the Alien Tort Statute, 28
U.S.C. S 1350, categorically forecloses corporate
liability." Pet. for Writ of Certiorari at i,
Jesner, 138 S.Ct. 1386 (No. 16-499), 2066 WL
6069100; see Jesner v. Arab Bank, PLC, 137S.Q. 1432
(2017) (granting the petition for a writ of certiorari).
Ultimately, the Jesner Court held "that foreign
corporations may not be defendants in suits brought under the
ATS." Jesner, 138 S.Ct. at 1407.
acknowledge that the holding is limited to foreign
corporations but argue that "nearly all of the reasons
offered in support of that holding ... apply
equally to foreign and domestic corporation"" and
contend that "it is clear that a majority of the Supreme
Court would not extend ATS liability to U.S.
corporations"" Defs.' Mot. 7, ECF No. 174-1.
They assert that the Court chose to limit its holding
"[b]ecause the only defendant in Jesner was
Arab Bank, a Jordanian corporation." Id. at 6.
Jesner, a majority of the Supreme Court joined only
three parts of the principal opinion authored by Justice
Kennedy: Part I, Part II-B-1, and Part II-C. The remaining
sections of Justice Kennedy's opinion were joined by only
a plurality, consisting of Justice Kennedy, Chief Justice
Roberts, and Justice Thomas, and are thus only persuasive
authority. See CTS Corp. v. Dynamics Corp. of Am.,481 U.S. 69, 81 (1987). Justices Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch
each wrote ...