Joel and Dolly Filartiga (plaintiffs), Paraguayan nationals, filed a wrongful-death action in federal district court against Americo Peña-Irala (defendant). The action alleged that in retaliation for Joel Filartiga’s opposition to the Paraguayan government, Peña-Irala, the Inspector General of the Police in Asunción, Paraguay, kidnapped Filartiga’s son and tortured him to death. Although the underlying events occurred in Paraguay, Peña-Irala was served with process while in the United States. Peña-Irala alleged that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction and moved to dismiss the Filartigas’ action. The district court granted the dismissal and the Filartigas appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.