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Federal judge denies motion to dismiss apartheid lawsuits against US companies

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) [official website] on Wednesday denied [opinion, PDF] in part a motion to dismiss lawsuits against some companies accused of assisting South Africa's apartheid-era [JURIST news archive] government can go forward. The lawsuit, brought by a class of thousands of South African plaintiffs against several companies under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) [text], alleges the companies were complicit in the oppression of the black majority by doing business with the country during apartheid. In denying defendants' motion to dismiss, Judge Shira Scheindlin rejected [AP report] arguments by the US and South African governments that the lawsuits could harm relations between the two countries. All claims against IBM, Ford Motor Co., Daimler, General Motors Corp., and Rheinmetall Group [corporate websites] were not dismissed [BBC news report] based on arguments that the companies knew their products would be used to support apartheid. Scheindlin also dismissed claims against certain companies for "merely doing business with the apartheid government of South Africa."

The case was returned to the SDNY after the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] affirmed [text, PDF] a Second Circuit judgment [opinion, PDF] in May on the rare grounds that it lacked a quorum [JURIST report] due to four recusals. The Second Circuit's decision allowed the ATCA action to go forward to trial [JURIST report], but had dismissed additional claims filed under the Torture Victims Protection Act [text]. The Supreme Court's recusals were statutorily required [text] because several justices had financial conflicts, but raised fairness concerns and brought about discussion as to possible effects on future cases.

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