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Sarei v. Rio Tinto, PLC

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
456 F.3d 1069 (2006)


Facts

Rio Tinto, PLC (Rio Tino) (defendant), an international mining company headquartered in London, England, opened a mine in the village of Panguna on Bougainville, an island province of Papua New Guinea (PNG), with the assistance of the PNG government in 1972. As a result of the mining activities, waste byproducts polluted the island’s waterways and atmosphere and threatened the health of its residents. In 1988, residents attempted to force the mine’s closure by engaging in acts of sabotage. Rio Tinto asked the PNG government to curb the uprising and reopen the mine. In the process of doing so, the PNG army attacked and killed numerous residents which led to 10 years of civil war. During the 10 years, PNG committed many human rights abuses at the behest of Rio Tinto. Thousands of Bougainville’s residents died and those who survived suffered serious health problems. Sarei (plaintiff) and many other Bougainville citizens filed suit in federal district court against Rio Tinto for violations of the Alien Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1350 (ATCA), and sought compensatory, punitive, and exemplary damages as well as injunctive relief. The court sought guidance from the U.S. State Department which subsequently issued a statement of interest (SOI) which noted that “continued adjudication of the claims…would risk a potentially serious adverse impact on the peace process, and…on the conduct of our foreign relations.” The district court then dismissed Sarei’s complaint as presenting nonjusticiable questions and Sarei and the other plaintiffs appealed.

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Holding and Reasoning (Fisher, J.)

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Dissent (Bybee, J.)

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