The ATS, the FCPA, and Being Thankful for Criminal & Civil Liability

In a recent post, Matthew teased out a counterintuitive worry that has bothered FCPA supporters in recent years — the fear that increased enforcement against individuals might actually be bad for the FCPA on the whole. Matthew’s argument is straightforward and intuitive: DOJ has long been able to press expansive interpretations of some of the statute’s more ambiguous provisions because corporations have been unwilling to litigate FCPA liability. But as the Esquenazi, Shot Show, and Aquilar cases show, individual defendants are far more likely to go to trial to combat FCPA charges. So, as DOJ prosecutes more individuals, we’re likely to see more extended legal challenges to the FCPA and, perhaps, more sympathetic defendants. Maybe the decisions will continue, like Esquenazi, to go DOJ’s way. The fear, though, is that they may not, and that narrowing constructions of the statute could undercut its deterrent force.

Matthew’s post drew my thoughts to another statute — specifically, the Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”) — which has graced our pages a couple times courtesy of Maryum (here and here). Over the past few decades, the ATS — a two-centuries-old statute that permits aliens to sue in U.S. courts for torts committed in violation of the law of nations — has followed a path that is, in a way, the inverse of the FCPA: at first it was used primarily to sue individual foreign officials who often fled U.S. jurisdiction rather than litigate; only after a few decades was the ATS commonly used to target corporations, and these targets began to push back in court. Unfortunately for ATS plaintiffs, that inverse story arc hit its climax in the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Kiobel, a case that did to the ATS what Matthew fears might happen to the FCPA.

Fret not, though, supporters of the FCPA! Yes, the rise and fall of the ATS might teach us something about the fate of the FCPA — but I think the lesson is to be thankful, not fearful. Here’s why: Continue reading