MOHAMAD v. PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY
In September of 1995, Azzam Rahim, an American citizen, was tortured and murdered while in the custody of Palestinian Authority intelligence officers in Jericho. The respondents, Jibril Rajoub, Amin Al-Hindi, Twfik Tirawi, the Palestinian Authority, and the Palestine Liberation Organization, never disputed liability for the torture and murder. The petitioners, Azzam Rahim's widow and children, filed suit against the respondents under the Torture Victim Protection Act.
The district court dismissed the petitioners’ action against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization on the grounds that the Torture Victim Protection Act permits actions against natural persons only. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision.
Does the Torture Victim Protection Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1350, permit actions against defendants who are not natural persons?
Legal provision: Torture Victim Protection Act
No. Justice Sonia Sotomayor delivered the opinion of the Court affirming the decision of the United States Court of Appeals. The Court held that the word “individual” in the Torture Victim Protection Act means a natural person and does not impose any liability against organizations. The Court ruled that a word in a statute will be given its everyday meaning unless Congress gives some indication that it intends the word to have a broader meaning. The Court further determined that legislative history supported its interpretation. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote no opinion but did not join the Court regarding its analysis of the legislative history.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer filed a concurring opinion. He noted that the word "individual" is open to multiple interpretations and can mean natural persons, corporations, or other entities, making the word alone is insufficient to decide the case. Only the legislative history could make up for the interpretive inadequacies of considering language alone.
NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
ASID MOHAMAD, individually and for the ESTATE OF AZZAM RAHIM, deceased, et al., PETITIONERS v. PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY et al.
on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the district of columbia circuit
[April 18, 2012]
Justice Sotomayor delivered the opinion of the Court.*
The Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 (TVPA or Act), 106Stat. 73, note following 28 U. S. C. §1350, authorizes a cause of action against “[a]n individual” for acts of torture and extrajudicial killing committed under authority or color of law of any foreign nation. We hold that the term “individual” as used in the Act encompasses only natural persons. Consequently, the Act does not impose liability against organizations.I
Because this case arises from a motion to dismiss, we ac-cept as true the allegations of the complaint. Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U. S. ___, ___ (2011) (slip op., at 1). Petitioners are the relatives of Azzam Rahim, who immigrated to the United States in the 1970’s and became a naturalized citizen. In 1995, while on a visit to the West Bank, Rahim was arrested by Palestinian Authority intelligence officers. He was taken to a prison in Jericho, where he was imprisoned, tortured, and ultimately killed. The following year, the U. S. Department of State issued a report concluding that Rahim “died in the custody of [Palestinian Authority] intelligence officers in Jericho.” Dept. of State, Occupied Territories Human Rights Practices, 1995 (Mar. 1996).
In 2005, petitioners filed this action against respondents, the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, asserting, inter alia, claims of torture and extrajudicial killing under the TVPA. The District Court granted respondents’ motion to dismiss, concluding, as relevant, that the Act’s authorization of suit against “[a]n individual” extended liability only to natural persons. Mohamad v. Rajoub, 664 F. Supp. 2d 20, 22 (DC 2009). The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed on the same ground. See Mohamad v. Rajoub, 634 F. 3d 604, 608 (2011) (“Congress used the word ‘individual’ to denote only natural persons”). 2 We granted certiorari, 565 U. S. ___ (2011), to resolve a split among the Circuits with respect to whether the TVPA authorizes actions against defendants that are not natural persons, 3 and now affirm.II
The TVPA imposes liability on individuals for certain acts of torture and extrajudicial killing. The Act provides:
“An individual who, under actual or apparent author-ity, or color of law, of any foreign nation—
“(1) subjects an individual to torture shall, in a civil action, be liable for damages to that individual; or
“(2) subjects an individual to extrajudicial killing shall, in a civil action, be liable for damages to the individual’s legal representative, or to any person who may be a claimant in an action for wrongful death.” §2(a).
The Act defines “torture” and “extrajudicial killing,” §3, and imposes a statute of limitations and an exhaustion requirement, §§2(b), (c). It does not define “individual.”
Petitioners concede that foreign states may not be sued under the Act—namely, that the Act does not create an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976, 28 U. S. C. §1602 et seq., which renders foreign sovereigns largely immune from suits in U. S. courts. They argue, however, that the TVPA does not similarly restrict liability against other juridical entities. In petitioners’ view, by permitting suit against “[a]n individual,” the TVPA contemplates liability against natural persons and nonsovereign organizations (a category that, petitioners assert, includes respondents). We decline to read “individual” so unnaturally. The ordinary meaning of the word, fortified by its statutory context, persuades us that the Act authorizes suit against natural persons alone.A
Because the TVPA does not define the term “individual,” we look first to the word’s ordinary meaning. See FCC v. AT&T Inc., 562 U. S. ___, ___ (2011) (slip op., at 5) (“When a statute does not define a term, we typically give the phrase its ordinary meaning” (internal quotation marks omitted)). As a noun, “individual” ordinarily means “[a] human being, a person.” 7 Oxford English Dictionary 880 (2d ed. 1989); see also, e.g., Random House Dictionary of the English Language 974 (2d ed. 1987) (“a person”); Webster’s Third New International Dictionary 1152 (1986) (“a particular person”) (hereinafter Webster’s). After all, that is how we use the word in everyday parlance. We say “the individual went to the store,” “the individual left the room,” and “the individual took the car,” each time re-ferring unmistakably to a natural person. And no one, we hazard to guess, refers in normal parlance to an organization as an “individual.” Evidencing that common usage, this Court routinely uses “individual” to denote a natural person, and in particular to distinguish between a natural person and a corporation. See, e.g., Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S. A. v. Brown, 564 U. S. __, __ (2011) (slip op., at 7) (“For an individual, the paradigm forum for the exercise of general jurisdiction is the individual’s domicile; for a corporation, it is an equivalent place, one in which the corporation is fairly regarded as at home”).
Congress does not, in the ordinary course, employ the word any differently. The Dictionary Act instructs that “[i]n determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, unless the context indicates otherwise . . . the wor[d] ‘person’ . . . include[s] corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals.” 1 U. S. C. §1 (emphasis added). With the phrase “as well as,” the definition marks “individual” as distinct from the list of artificial entities that precedes it.
In a like manner, federal statutes routinely distinguish between an “individual” and an organizational entity of some kind. See, e.g., 7 U. S. C. §92(k) (“ ‘Person’ includes partnerships, associations, and corporations, as well as individuals”); §511 (same); 15 U. S. C. §717a (“ ‘Person’ includes an individual or a corporation”); 16 U. S. C. §796 (“ ‘[P]erson’ means an individual or a corporation”); 8 U. S. C. §1101(b)(3) (“ ‘[P]erson’ means an individual or an organization”). Indeed, the very same Congress that enacted the TVPA also established a cause of action for U. S. nationals injured “by reason of an act of interna-tional terrorism” and defined “person” as it appears in the statute to include “any individual or entity capable of holding a legal or beneficial interest in property.” Federal Courts Administration Act of 1992, 18 U. S. C. §§2333(a), 2331(3) (emphasis added)).B
This is not to say that the word “individual” invariably means “natural person” when used in a statute. Congress remains free, as always, to give the word a broader or different meaning. But before we will assume it has done so, there must be some indication Congress intended such a result. Perhaps it is the rare statute (petitioners point to only one such example, located in the Internal Revenue Code) in which Congress expressly defines “individual” to include corporate entities. See 26 U. S. C. §542(a)(2). Or perhaps, as was the case in Clinton v. City of New York, 524 U. S. 417, 429 (1998) , the statutory context makes that intention clear, because any other reading of “individual” would lead to an “ ‘absurd’ ” result Congress could not plausibly have intended.
There are no such indications in the TVPA. As noted, the Act does not define “individual,” much less do so in a manner that extends the term beyond its ordinary usage. And the statutory context strengthens—not undermines—the conclusion that Congress intended to create a cause of action against natural persons alone. The Act’s liability provision uses the word “individual” five times in the same sentence: once to refer to the perpetrator (i.e., the defendant) and four times to refer to the victim. See §2(a). Only a natural person can be a victim of torture or extrajudicial killing. “Since there is a presumption that a given term is used to mean the same thing throughout a statute, a presumption surely at its most vigorous when a term is repeated within a given sentence,” Brown v. Gardner, 513 U. S. 115, 118 (1994) (citation omitted), it is difficult indeed to conclude that Congress employed the term “in-dividual” four times in one sentence to refer to a natural person and once to refer to a natural person and any nonsovereign organization. See also §3(b)(1) (using term “individual” six times in referring to victims of torture).
It is also revealing that the Act holds perpetrators lia-ble for extrajudicial killing to “any person who may be a claimant in an action for wrongful death.” §2(a)(2) (emphasis added). “Person,” we have recognized, often has a broader meaning in the law than “individual,” see Clinton, 524 U. S., at 428, n. 13, and frequently includes nonnatural persons, see, e.g., 1 U. S. C. §1. We generally seek to respect Congress’ decision to use different terms to de-scribe different categories of people or things. See Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, 542 U. S. 692 , n. 9 (2004). Our construction of “individual” to encompass solely natural persons credits Congress’ use of the disparate terms; petitioners’ construction does not. 4
In sum, the text of the statute persuades us that the Act authorizes liability solely against natural persons.III
Petitioners’ counterarguments are unpersuasive.A
Petitioners first dispute that the plain text of the TVPA requires today’s result. Although they concede that an ordinary meaning of “individual” is “human being,” petitioners point to definitions of “individual” that “frame the term . . . in distinctly non-human terms, instead placing their emphases on the oneness of something.” Brief for Petitioners 18 (citing, e.g., Webster’s 1152 (defining “individual” as “a single or particular being or thing or group of being or things”)). Those definitions, however, do not account even for petitioners’ preferred interpretation of “in-dividual” in the Act, for foreign states—which petitioners concede are not liable under the Act—do not differ from nonsovereign organizations in their degree of “oneness.” Moreover, “[w]ords that can have more than one meaning are given content . . . by their surroundings,” Whitman v. American Trucking Assns., Inc., 531 U. S. 457, 466 (2001) , and for the reasons explained supra, petitioners’ definition makes for an awkward fit in the context of the TVPA.
Petitioners next claim that federal tort statutes uniformly provide for liability against organizations, a convention they maintain is common to the legal systems of other nations. We are not convinced, however, that any such “domestic and international presumption of organi-zational liability” in tort actions overcomes the ordinary meaning of “individual.” Brief for Petitioners 16. It is true that “Congress is understood to legislate against a background of common-law adjudicatory principles.” Astoria Fed. Sav. & Loan Assn. v. Solimino, 501 U. S. 104, 108 (1991) . But Congress plainly can override those principles, see, e.g., id., at 108–109, and, as explained supra, the TVPA’s text evinces a clear intent not to subject nonsovereign organizations to liability. 5
We also decline petitioners’ suggestion to construe the TVPA’s scope of liability to conform with other federal statutes that petitioners contend provide civil remedies to victims of torture or extrajudicial killing. None of the three statutes petitioners identify employs the term “in-dividual” to describe the covered defendant, and so none assists in the interpretive task we face today. See 42 U. S. C. §1983; 28 U. S. C. §§1603(a), 1605A(c) (2006 ed., Supp. IV); 18 U. S. C. §§2333, 2334(a)–(b), 2337. The same is true of the Alien Tort Statute, 28 U. S. C. §1350, so it offers no comparative value here regardless of whether corporate entities can be held liable in a federal common-law action brought under that statute. Compare Doe v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 654 F. 3d 11 (CADC 2011), with Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 621 F. 3d 111 (CA2 2010), cert. granted, 565 U. S. ___ (2011). Finally, al-though petitioners rightly note that the TVPA contemplates liability against officers who do not personally execute the torture or extrajudicial killing, see, e.g., Chavez v. Carranza, 559 F. 3d 486 (CA6 2009), it does not follow (as petitioners argue) that the Act embraces liability against nonsovereign organizations. An officer who gives an order to torture or kill is an “individual” in that word’s ordinary usage; an organization is not.B
Petitioners also contend that legislative history supports their broad reading of “individual.” But “reliance on legislative history is unnecessary in light of the statute’s unambiguous language.” Milavetz, Gallop & Milavetz, P. A. v. United States, 559 U. S. ___, ___, n. 3 (2010) (slip op., at 6, n. 3). In any event, the excerpts petitioners cite do not help their cause. Petitioners note that the Senate Report states that “[t]he legislation uses the term ‘individual’ to make crystal clear that foreign states or their entities cannot be sued under this bill under any circumstances.” S. Rep. No. 102–249, p. 7 (1991) (S. Rep.); see also H. R. Rep. No. 102–367, pt. 1, p. 4 (1991) (H. R. Rep.) (“Only ‘individuals,’ not foreign states, can be sued”). Yet that statement, while clarifying that the Act does not encompass liability against foreign states, says nothing about liability against nonsovereign organizations. The other excerpts petitioners cite likewise are not probative of the meaning of “individual,” for they signal only that the Act does not impose liability on perpetrators who act without authority or color of law of a foreign state. See, e.g., H. R. Rep., at 5 (“The bill does not attempt to deal with torture or killing by purely private groups”); S. Rep., at 8 (The bill “does not cover purely private criminal acts by individuals or nongovernmental organizations”).
Indeed, although we need not rely on legislative history given the text’s clarity, we note that the history only supports our interpretation of “individual.” The version of the TVPA that was introduced in the 100th Congress established liability against a “person.” Hearing and Markup on H. R. 1417 before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and Its Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Organizations, 100th Cong., 2d Sess., 82 (1988). During the markup session of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, one of the bill’s sponsors proposed an amendment “to make it clear we are applying it to individuals and not to corporations.” Id., at 81, 87. Counsel explained that it was a “fairly simple” matter “of changing the word ‘person’ to ‘individuals’ in several places in the bill.” Id., at 87–88. The amendment was unanimously adopted, and the version of the bill reported out of Committee reflected the change. Id., at 88; H. R. Rep. No. 693, pt. 1, p. 1 (1988). A materially identical version of the bill was enacted as the TVPA by the 102d Congress. Although we are cognizant of the limitations of this drafting history, cf. Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Services, Inc., 545 U. S. 546, 568 (2005) , we nevertheless find it telling that the sole explanation for substituting “individual” for “person” confirms what we have concluded from the text alone.C
Petitioners’ final argument is that the Act would be rendered toothless by a construction of “individual” that limits liability to natural persons. They contend that pre-cluding organizational liability may foreclose effective remedies for victims and their relatives for any number of reasons. Victims may be unable to identify the men and women who subjected them to torture, all the while knowing the organization for whom they work. Personal jurisdiction may be more easily established over corporate than human beings. And natural persons may be more likely than organizations to be judgment proof. Indeed, we are told that only two TVPA plaintiffs have been able to re-cover successfully against a natural person—one only after the defendant won the state lottery. See Jean v. Dorelien, 431 F. 3d 776, 778 (CA11 2005).
We acknowledge petitioners’ concerns about the limitations on recovery. But they are ones that Congress imposed and that we must respect. “[N]o legislation pursues its purposes at all costs,” Rodriguez v. United States, 480 U. S. 522 –526 (1987) (per curiam), and petitioners’ purposive argument simply cannot overcome the force of the plain text. We add only that Congress appeared well aware of the limited nature of the cause of action it established in the Act. See, e.g., 138 Cong. Rec. 4177 (1992) (remarks of Sen. Simpson) (noting that “as a practical matter, this legislation will result in a very small number of cases”); 137 Cong. Rec. 2671 (1991) (remarks of Sen. Specter) (“Let me emphasize that the bill is a limited measure. It is estimated that only a few of these lawsuits will ever be brought”).* * *
The text of the TVPA convinces us that Congress did not extend liability to organizations, sovereign or not. There are no doubt valid arguments for such an extension. But Congress has seen fit to proceed in more modest steps in the Act, and it is not the province of this Branch to do otherwise. The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is affirmed.
It is so ordered.
1 * Justice Scalia joins this opinion except as to Part III–B.
2 Respondents also argued before the District Court that the TVPA’s requirement that acts be committed under authority or color of law ofa foreign nation was not met. Neither the District Court nor Court of Appeals addressed the argument, and we offer no opinion on its merits.
3 Compare Aziz v. Alcolac, Inc., 658 F. 3d 388 (CA4 2011) (TVPA excludes corporate defendants from liability); Mohamad v. Rajoub, 634 F. 3d 604 (CADC 2011) (TVPA liability limited to natural persons); Bowoto v. Chevron Corp., 621 F. 3d 1116 (CA9 2010) (same as Aziz), with Sinaltrainal v. Coca Cola Co., 578 F. 3d 1252, 1264, n. 13 (CA11 2009) (TVPA liability extends to corporate defendants).
4 The parties debate whether estates, or other nonnatural persons, in fact may be claimants in a wrongful-death action. We think the debate largely immaterial. Regardless of whether jurisdictions today allow for such actions, Congress’ use of the broader term evidences an intent to accommodate that possibility.
5 Petitioners’ separate contention that the TVPA must be construedin light of international agreements prohibiting torture and extrajudicial killing fails for similar reasons. Whatever the scope of those agree-ments, the TVPA does not define “individual” by reference to them,and principles they elucidate cannot overcome the statute’s text. The same is true of petitioners’ suggestion that Congress in the TVPA imported a “specialized usage” of the word “individual” in international law. Brief for Petitioners 6. There is no indication in the text of the statute or legislative history that Congress knew of any such specialized usage of the term, much less intended to import it into the Act.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
ASID MOHAMAD, individually and for the ESTATE OF AZZAM RAHIM, deceased, et al., PETITIONERS v. PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY et al.
on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the district of columbia circuit
[April 18, 2012]
Justice Breyer, concurring.
I join the Court’s opinion with one qualification. The word “individual” is open to multiple interpretations, permitting it, linguistically speaking, to include natural persons, corporations, and other entities. Thus, I do not believe that word alone is sufficient to decide this case.
The legislative history of the statute, however, makes up for whatever interpretive inadequacies remain after considering language alone. See, e.g., ante, at 9 (describing markup session in which one of the bill’s sponsors proposed an amendment containing the word “individual” to “make it clear” that the statute applied to “individuals and not to corporations”); Hearing on S. 1629 et al. before the Subcommittee on Immigration and Refugee Affairs of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 101st Cong., 2d Sess., 65 (1990) (witness explaining to committee that there would be a “problem” with suing an “independent entity or a series of entities that are not governments,” such as the Palestinian Liberation Organization); id., at 75 (allaying concerns that there will be a flood of lawsuits “because of the requirement [in the statute] that an individual has to identify his or her precise torture[r] and they have to be both in the United States”); see also ante, at 8–9 (making clear that petitioners’ citations to the legislative history “do not help their cause”). After examining the history in detail, and considering it along with the reasons that the Court provides, I join the Court’s judgment and opinion.
ORAL ARGUMENT OF JEFFREY FISHER ON BEHALF OF THE PETITIONERS
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: We will hear argument next in case 11-88 Mohamad v. The Palestinian Authority.
Jeffrey Fisher: Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:
Unlike the previous case, this case does not involve the need to formulate federal common law or to survey customary international law.
Here Congress has expressly created the cause of action at issue in a statute.
And we know that in every single other Federal court statute that Congress has ever enacted, it has provided for organizational liability.
As Justice Kennedy I think you put it earlier, it's a simple concept in our country.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: We usually like -- we usually like to begin with the language of the statute.
Jeffrey Fisher: That was my next sentence, Your Honor.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Well then go ahead.
Jeffrey Fisher: Thank you.
The question arises in this case why did Congress use the word D.C. circuit that gave rise to the TVPA.
And in that case, Judge Edwards wrote a lengthy concurrence where he again and again used the word individual liability, and individual to describe the PLO which was the very defendant in that case against the backdrop of international law which uses the term individual to differentiate anyone from the state.
After Nuremberg, starting with the discussions recited most prominently in our reply brief at pages 6 to 8, Professor Jessup and many others discussed whether international law applies simply against states or whether it applies to quote individuals.
The word individual was used again and again to mean anyone but the state.
And as Professor Jessup and many others said it, includes organizations and juridical persons.
And this is the usage that Judge Edwards used in his opinion in Tel-Oren.
He uses the word 43 times in that opinion.
And if you look at nothing else--
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: I thought you said that Judge Edwards opinion was about politically motivated terrorists, not coming within the Alien Tort Statute.
Jeffrey Fisher: --No.
What Judge Edwards concluded, Justice Ginsburg, was that as he understood the Alien Tort Statute at the time against the backdrop of international law, that any private actor acting under color of law could be held liable.
And what Judge Edwards decided in that particular case was that the PLO as it then existed was not a state actor.
But the rule that Judge Edwards proscribed and this is at page 793 I believe in his concurrence was that individuals acting under color of law should be held liable.
That is the precise language that the TVPA uses.
So if you want to know where Congress got the word individual, and what it probably thought it meant, the best place to look is Judge Edwards' opinion.
Justice Antonin Scalia: Wait.
Congress got it from Judge Edwards.
Gee, my goodness.
Jeffrey Fisher: I think, Justice Scalia, I think--
Justice Antonin Scalia: I will bet you none of them -- none of them even read that opinion.
Jeffrey Fisher: --Well, I think Judge Edwards' opinion was quite prominently read by the Congress then.
It is cited throughout the legislative history in the Senate Report, in the House Report, again and again in the hearings.
And this Court I think in Skilling, a couple terms ago, this Court said we have a statute before us dealing with honest services.
And what did Congress mean when it used particular language.
Well, it probably meant what lower court judges had used that language to mean.
Justice Antonin Scalia: That is a strange phrase, honest services, as, you know, as a crime, deprivation -- deprivation of honest services.
But the word "individual" is not a strange word at all.
It's used all the time.
Jeffrey Fisher: Well, no, Justice Scalia--
Justice Antonin Scalia: It means an individual.
Jeffrey Fisher: --I think it's a strange -- it's a very strange phrase in the context of a tort statute, because we know that Congress always provides for organizational liability, and it's never used to our knowledge, the word "individual" in a tort statute.
So it is odd that it appears here.
Justice Antonin Scalia: Is that better for you or worse for you?
Jeffrey Fisher: Well, I think it's better for us in that it shows that Congress -- something is amiss.
And I think Judge Edwards' opinion explains what is going on.
Now what my opponents want this Court to do is to look at other places in the U.S. code where the word individual is used outside of international law, outside of tort regimes and we concede often the word individual--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: The problem is I don't even look there.
I look to the TVPA, section 2 (a)(2) which uses the word person.
So, it wasn't as if in writing the statute Congress forgot the word person.
Jeffrey Fisher: --No, it didn't.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: And they appear to be using "person" in the organizational way that person is defined in the dictionary act and elsewhere.
So isn't that a textual clue that they were using the word "individual" in a different sense.
Jeffrey Fisher: No, Justice Sotomayor, for two reasons: One is because for reasons I will explain, the word person as it appears in the TVPA actually only applies to natural persons.
Let me start with that.
The argument the other side has is the word--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Individuals legal representative or to any person who may be a claimant in an action for wrongful death.
I'm not quite sure.
Legal representative is often, can be a person but can often also be a corporation.
Jeffrey Fisher: --I think the argument -- I think the argument is that the word person somehow contrasts with individual.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Yes.
Jeffrey Fisher: And as we have shown in our brief only natural people can bring wrongful death actions.
They claim, and the D.C. circuit argues that in a state, as we have shown in our brief and this Court has squarely held, only natural people acting as administrator or executor of an estate can bring an action.
So the word person refers to natural person.
Justice Elena Kagan: You know, it's obvious that individual doesn't usually mean what you want it to mean.
Now you have a theory that they all just read Judge Edwards and they came in and used "individual" but it seems actually that we know where individual came from in this statute.
The statute started out by saying person and then there was this moment where one Congressman said, I don't want this to apply to corporations, and the staff member said, I have a great idea to make sure it doesn't apply to corporations, let's change the word person to individual.
So that's the way individual got into the statute.
And it got in specifically to address this question.
Jeffrey Fisher: We don't disagree with that's how the word gets into the statute.
But the question, as this Court has always looked to legislative history is, what does that -- what light does that shed on Congress's understanding of the law to ultimately pass.
So two Congresses later, four years later Congress passed the statute with the word individual.
And the problem with that--
Justice Elena Kagan: And it means what it means.
Jeffrey Fisher: --And the problem with that theory, Justice Kagan, is it squarely is contradicted by the committee reports contemporaneous with the statutes that say we're using the word individual to make crystal clear that foreign states and their entities cannot be sued.
And that's the reason that--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Well, then I looked at -- I have looked at -- I know I have to go through legislative history.
I've said it is meaningful and so I do it.
And so far -- so far, I think I have to say that you are on a weak wicket.
The word persons when it was there, I found lots and lots of instances and by people in the civil international civil rights community who are testifying.
Or I look at what they say and over and over they say, a limited statute -- the person won't often be in the United States or the PLO had a presence in the United States.
The person won't be in the United States very often.
I know, but sometimes he may come over here, it's important to take a -- make a symbolic step and not a word could I find when they are talking even about the word could I find when they're talking even about the word person, that suggested they meant even the PLO at that time.
In fact they thought it would be a nice thing but -- but -- I mean that's the tenor of what I seem to have found so far.
So I mention that, because you will point out to me the things that I accidentally skipped.
Jeffrey Fisher: --Yes, pages 46 through 49 of our blue brief, Justice Breyer.
There are numerous references to organization, the word organization, group, it is a word used.
And, I think Justice Kagan this is also responsive to your question.
Two years after the change you describe was made, there was a hearing held before the Senate Judiciary Committee where both bills were being considered.
The one bill from the House that used the word individual and the word -- and the Senate bill which used the word person.
And one would expect that if people thought the word individual meant something different and limited the class of defendants, that that would have come up or somebody would have expressed awareness of it.
But to the contrary--
Justice Antonin Scalia: Suppose I am a member of the House or of the Senate.
And I am not a member of the committee that engages in all of this legislative history.
And I -- I see the word individual in this statute.
And that's the basis on which I vote for or against the statute.
Why should I be saddled with whatever sayings by members of the committee or by experts testifying before the committee occurred?
It was out of my hearing.
I voted for individual.
And individual -- well -- if Congress wanted individual to mean what you say it doesn't mean, what word would they have used instead?
I mean, if individual is a code word for person, what's the code person for individual?
Jeffrey Fisher: --Natural person, Justice Scalia.
And we have cited many statutes in our blue brief that use the word U.S. code.
And this goes to the question, I think is also responsive to Justice Sotomayor: Why did they use the word "individual", instead of person?
Why did they say in the committee reports, that the word "individual" made it crystal clear that states or their entities could not be sued.
And the reason why is because person would have left some residual ambiguity as to whether something like a foreign city or a foreign county, think of a foreign county jail that tortured somebody.
Under section 1983 law, which uses the word "person", counties and cities are liable.
However, under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, under established international law sovereign immunities principle, they are not.
So the word individual--
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: So they did this to -- they chose that word to avoid any residual ambiguity.
But they thought there was no ambiguity at all as to whether the term "individual" meant natural persons or organizational entities?
Jeffrey Fisher: --Well, I respectfully submit they didn't think about that question, which is why I am standing here today.
What they were really concerned with was avoiding sweeping in foreign states and their entities.
And they just didn't think.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: There were witnesses who testified, were there not, Mr. Fisher, that the TVPA would take care of a type case that when the torturer shows up physically -- those were the words that used -- the torturer comes into the state, into the United States, is physically present in the United States.
That was the model that at least those witnesses had in mind, that some of them were quite distinguished witnesses.
Jeffrey Fisher: Those are statements to that affect.
And of course, the TVPA does cover natural persons if they happen to be in the United States.
But the comment that Justice Kagan pointed out is the only comment that the other side can find anywhere in the legislative history.
Justice Elena Kagan: But let's suppose that is true, Mr. Fisher.
Let's suppose that aside from Congressman Leach, nobody thought about this question.
But we know what the normal meaning of "individual" is, and you are suggesting -- let's suppose that they just -- the question of individual versus corporate liability was not on their mind, but they chose a word that means something, and you are suggesting that we should resort to background norms that, you know, what Congress generally does, what it imposes liability, rather than the words in the statute that they passed.
And why should we do that?
Jeffrey Fisher: Well, if the word "individual" could only mean natural person, I agree.
The case would be over.
But we have cited many dictionary definitions, many usages in the U.S. code, and many holdings from this Court and others that have actually found that a secondary of the term is singularity.
A single unit or entity.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: If you found no tort statute, you use the "individual" to include organizations.
Jeffrey Fisher: Right.
No tort statute uses it one way or the other, Justice Ginsburg, which we think, if anything, gets you back to the background norms and the secondary meaning.
And let me say two things about--
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: We have the additional problem, though, that your reading gives a different meaning to "individual" in two sentences that are right -- actually it's in the same sentence: an "individual" who does the torturing, subjects an "individual" to torture.
Now, I under your argument that you can have an organization doing the subject thing, but how do you subject an organization to torture?
Jeffrey Fisher: --You don't.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: You don't.
Jeffrey Fisher: And I--
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: So "individual" in the one clause, you say means "organization"; "individual" in the other necessarily does not.
Jeffrey Fisher: --I don't think it's that they have different meanings, but you are certainly correct that they refer to different things.
But that is no different than numerous other statute that is we cite at page 28 and 29 of our brief that use the word "person" to mean a Plaintiff when it can just be a natural person and a defendant when it can be an entity.
And, indeed, I think, if I don't get ahead of my--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: In the same sentence?
In the same sentence?
Jeffrey Fisher: --Yes.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: In those statutes you sp--
Jeffrey Fisher: Yes.
Go to page 28 and 29 of the blue brief.
And, indeed, their whole argument -- and, Justice Kagan, this goes back to your point, their whole argument is: when the word "person" was used throughout the statute, then it -- then it changed meanings in the same way, that it covered organizational entities.
But -- so if the word "person" can do the same work, the word "individual" can do the same work.
So the question is why -- I think the question that you end up with is, given that "individual" has this secondary meaning, does have this customary usage that Congress may well have been aware of, that at least that this Court often says, if there is a customary usage of a term, we will assume Congress was aware of it.
Why would Congress have done what it did and limit this act, unlike any other tort statute in the U.S. Code, an actual person.
We submit there is no good reason.
Justice Ginsburg, you talked about statements legislative history to the effect that individual people who are torturers may be found in the United States, and that's true.
But the TVPA is a tort statute.
Congress already had on the books immigration laws and criminal laws that refuse safe haven to such people.
The only person of the TVPA is to provide compensation.
And in every court regime of which we are aware in Federal law -- and they haven't even pointed to anything to the contrary in State law or in international law, the way that you get compensation in tort regimes is you hold agents liable and you hold corporations liable for the acts of their agents.
It's absolutely understood.
And there is no good reason -- if you think of the three things that a tort statute is supposed to accomplish -- compensation, deterrence and accountability -- on all three of those stands, the TVPA utterly falls flat if it cannot reach organizations, and this is the perfect case that shows you how that is.
Just to start with remedies--
Justice Antonin Scalia: Maybe the organizations opposed it.
Jeffrey Fisher: --Not--
Justice Antonin Scalia: Maybe organizations opposed the extension of the legislation to themselves.
Is that conceivable?
And is Congress ever influenced by such lobbying?
Jeffrey Fisher: --That may -- in other cases, perhaps, but you don't find anything in this legislative history suggesting that organizations were--
Justice Antonin Scalia: Yes, but you don't find lobbying in the legislative history.
Jeffrey Fisher: --Well, I can't prove something that I don't have a piece of paper for.
Justice Antonin Scalia: It's an explanation.
You say there is no possible explanation.
I can imagine that corporations would have been quite upset by this notion.
Jeffrey Fisher: Justice Scalia, one would expect to have found over the four years this was debated and the hundreds of pages of legislative history some clue that that is what Congress was reacting to and thinking about.
This would be an extraordinarily unusual statute, and you'd think that one person in the Congress that voted for it or in the committee reports that are contemporaneous would mention that.
The House -- the Senate Report has a section called "who can be sued".
And it says -- I quoted it to you earlier -- one would expect to find in that section that, unlike every other tort statute, we are restricting the people that can be sued, but they said instead--
Justice Antonin Scalia: This is the dog that did not bark, right?
Legislation cannot mean what it says unless the legislative history says that it means what it says.
Jeffrey Fisher: --No, Justice Scalia, I agree that if the word "individual" can have no other meaning than that which my opponent suggests, then I lose.
But I'm suggesting to you, and we have cited plenty of authorities that there is a secondary meaning both accepted in the U.S. code and in cases and in international law at this point.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: But Congress, as you have indicated, Congress focused on the very question of whether organizations would be covered or not in the context of whether a State would be covered.
It seems to me that the legislative history cuts strongly against you, putting even aside Congressman Leach.
The issue was there.
And if they meant to say, well, let's find a term that leaves some types of organizations out, States, but not others, we will just say "individual", and people will understand that we don't mean a State, but they will also know that we do mean another type of organization or corporation.
Jeffrey Fisher: I think, Chief Justice, that that is exactly the thought process that Congress went through.
And I can't do any better than to point--
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: But it's at least ambiguous.
When you are saying, well, we want a term that is going to include individual persons and organizations but not State organizations.
And the only term that fits perfectly is "individual".
Jeffrey Fisher: --Exactly.
That's our argument.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Really?
Jeffrey Fisher: And page 6 to 8 of our reply brief explains why that is so.
I know -- I know it might be surprising, but if you read--
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Hah, hah.
Jeffrey Fisher: --If you read--
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: But you have been saying all along "individual" has a secondary meaning.
Jeffrey Fisher: --It does.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: So why would they have picked the secondary meaning of a word rather than try--
Jeffrey Fisher: Because it's more precise word in international law discourse than the word "person" for the reason I described before.
If you look Judge Edward's opinion--
Justice Elena Kagan: How about non-state actors?
Jeffrey Fisher: --Pardon me?
Justice Elena Kagan: Non-state actors.
Jeffrey Fisher: Well, except for -- Remember, there is a State action requirement in the statute that--
Justice Elena Kagan: Individuals and organizations.
Jeffrey Fisher: --I mean, maybe there's other ways that Congress could have done it, but the way Judge Edwards did it and the way that international law scholars and people having this conversation about whether people other than States ought to be liable under international law, was the term that they always used, and it's not just -- you don't just -- you know, we are not running a west law search looking for wherever we can find it.
They are in the titles of the articles, is whether individuals are subject to liability.
Justice Antonin Scalia: Mr. Fisher, it seems to me you misrepresent our jurisprudence when you insist that "individual" has to have only that meaning.
That's not what our jurisprudence says.
We say that we give words their usual meaning, their common meaning.
Even though they may sometimes be used in a different fashion, it's the usual or common meaning that we apply.
Jeffrey Fisher: There is obviously cases to that effect, but I'm--
Justice Antonin Scalia: Many cases to that effect.
Jeffrey Fisher: --I'm aware of other cases--
Justice Antonin Scalia: We say it all the time.
Jeffrey Fisher: --Well, I think, for example, Justice Scalia, of the jurisprudence where I had an argument in this Court about the second or successive petitioner rule under habeas law.
And this Court has said second -- even though where "second" has an obvious ordinary meaning, it doesn't actually mean that.
It has a specialized usage that accumulated in the law; and when Congress used that term, we incorporate that usage.
And so there is case after case where this Court has said -- the Morissette principle as back drop against common law where this Court has said that you do look to usage in prior opinions, prior case law, prior discourse as a way of infusing statutes with meaning.
And if I could just go back to the question that I posed, which is, why would Congress have done this when it -- it just doesn't have an answer for why Congress would do this in this particular statute.
Now the other side has given a few reasons why Congress might--
Justice Elena Kagan: It doesn't really need an answer.
Suppose we think there is no answer to that question because Congress didn't think about it other than Congressman Leach who appears to have thought about it and reached the opposite result.
Most of them didn't think about it.
But there you are.
The statute says what it says.
Jeffrey Fisher: --Well, if you find the statute at least somewhat ambiguous for the reasons I've described, then what Meyer and cases say is you assume if Congress didn't think about it, but they want an ordinary tort and agency principle, and the -- the -- in Title VII and many other cases, this Court has said, of course Congress doesn't think about all these things; and when they don't, and absent--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Maybe they did.
You see, I might as well be honest with you, page 26 of the government's brief did have an impact on my thinking.
It's Father Drinan, and Father Drinan says in the hearing,
"I think it would be best to stay with that and just avoid all of the problems about the PLO and related groups. "
And then Michael Posner testifies, it says, to the government to the same effect.
So there, the great advocates of this thing are sitting there saying we don't think it should cover the PLO; let's not take that step at this time.
Jeffrey Fisher: --The--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: The -- I mean -- and you have Congressman Leach, and then you have the word "individual".
Jeffrey Fisher: --The question Father Drinan was responding to was whether or not the TVPA ought to be extended to private entities that do not act under color of law.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: But he's--
Jeffrey Fisher: And at the time--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: --He's taking that -- he's taking that -- go ahead.
Jeffrey Fisher: --Yes, if you look at that quote, remember, that hearing was held before the Oslo Accords, before the PLO became in our view a state actor.
So what he's saying, if you look at the quote in context, Justice Breyer, is that the TVPA shouldn't be drawn to sweep in groups that don't act under color of law.
And that issue is not before this Court today.
We've argued that the PLO now does act as a color of law, and that's a question for remand.
Justice Antonin Scalia: I -- I find it hard enough to parse the statute without having to parse Father Drinan's testimony.
Jeffrey Fisher: Well, of course, I was just responding to Justice Breyer's question as to that context.
But -- but if you go even beyond compensation, for compensation you have to identify somebody, you have to bring them into a court and you have to enforce a judgment.
That is virtually impossible against only natural people.
Of course Congress would have expected the ordinary rule of organizational liability.
For deterrence, the Respondents' argument is that even if Pirates, Inc. -- and for this case we'll make it Torturers, Inc. -- were created for a policy of torturing people abroad, torturing American citizens who travel abroad, their argument is you could not hold that corporation liable, even under its express policy and purpose.
There is no good reason under deterrence grounds why you would let corporations or other organizations cycle individual actors in and out with impunity.
And finally in terms of accountability, just think about the backdrop again with which this statute was created.
There are some pretty horrible groups in the world that actually claim credit and responsibility in the world stage for torturing or killing American citizens; and the idea that Congress would have passed a statute that these organizations can stand proud in their view and say we've done this, and that our statute in the U.S. Code would -- would somehow only get their agent, and not the organization or entity itself, we submit it just doesn't make any sense.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: --Well, the TVPA is an extraordinary step in terms of exposing liability, and it doesn't seem to me to be an odd idea that Congress would want to proceed carefully before establishing a situation where the -- the use of the American tribunal is as broad as it is under this situation.
Jeffrey Fisher: Well, I don't -- I don't disagree that it's unusual statute.
It's not unheard of; we have cited in our briefs many other statutes that apply extraterritorially, but remember that all the arguments for and against foreign policy friction that you heard in the first case don't apply here.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Oh, the obvious thing that they said is look, just -- this is going to bring in suits against the Palestinian Authority.
That's a very touchy issue in foreign affairs, and we don't want to have to go that far.
And -- and some of the things that are said seem to bear that out.
That's -- that's what is pulling--
Jeffrey Fisher: --With respect, Justice Breyer, I would just say if you look back at the legislative history, the only conversation that was had is should we reach non-state actors.
That was the only conversation that was had, and that's the conversation you referred to earlier.
Nobody suggested that if you apply this extraterritorially, if you enacted this statute, that you somehow ought to shirk from the ordinary rules of -- of organizational liability.
Nobody suggested that.
Justice Elena Kagan: Mr. Fisher, one case that you seem to have on your side; you don't have very many but you have this one, is -- is Clinton, which -- which does read "individual" in the way that you say, and does it in order to avoid an absurd result -- what the Court thought of as an absurd result.
Do you think that this statute is absurd if not read your way?
Jeffrey Fisher: I don't think -- if I could beg your indulgence for one moment -- I don't think I need to argue that, because I think that for all the reasons I have given there is enough ambiguity and there is good enough reasons why we would assume Congress meant the ordinary rule.
But if I had to make that argument, I think I could, because the only arguments that have been advanced in the papers are reasons for not having this extraterritorial statute in the first place.
There is no good reason once you have it not to apply to organizational actors.
And Justice Breyer, this goes back to your comment.
It's still a mystery to me how it's more problematic in international relations to hold an organization accountable -- to not -- to hold organization accountable than to hold its -- its board of directors on a personal basis, or to hold indeed a high official of a foreign government.
Nobody's made that argument, and if I could say one thing and I will reserve my time.
Take a good look at the United States' two briefs.
Their -- the only argument they provide in of the Kiobel case is that there is no good reason -- that's -- that's the United States' terms -- why Congress would want to have a statute that applies only to judgment proof individual actors and not to agents on whom they're acting on behalf of.
And we think that that is exactly right, and that's why Congress wouldn't have wanted that here.
If I could reserve the remainder.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Thank you, counsel.
ORAL ARGUMENT OF LAURA G. FERGUSON ON BEHALF OF THE RESPONDENTS
Ms Ferguson: Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:
Congress enacted the Torture Victim Protection Act to create a cause of action against individuals who commit acts of torture or extrajudicial killing under color of law against other individuals.
Petitioners attempt to inject ambiguity into what is it a very unambiguous term in U.S. legal usage by referring in their reply brief to a supposed subtle definition of "individual" in international law.
But individual is not a term of art that has a specialized meaning in international law different from its ordinary meaning in -- in U.S. legal usage.
Petitioners' reply brief cites two secondary sources spanning a 60-year period, while other international law sources including the restatement, international conventions and other scholars, emphasize the distinction between individuals and private organizations.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Mr. -- Mr. Fisher ended by saying there's no reason Congress would draw this line.
Why would they want to hold the individual controlling officers of an organization liable for torture, but not the organization itself?
Ms Ferguson: Congress was proceeding very cautiously and incrementally in enacting a statute with extraordinary territorial reach over executive branch opposition.
It decided to focus on the personally responsible wrongdoers who subject victims to torture or extrajudicial killing, and did not go beyond that to reach another class of organizations that could be held secondarily liable.
Justice Anthony Kennedy: But the Chief Justice's question was why did Congress do that?
What were the reasons for that?
Ms Ferguson: Congress was focused very much on the Filartiga case, where the Second Circuit had found that there was a norm prohibiting public officials from engaging in torture or extrajudicial killing; and Congress wanted to avoid the scenario where you have a torturer who comes to our shores; and Congress agreed with the Second Circuit in Filartiga that if the torturer comes here, he should not be able to escape accountability from his victim.
If his victim finds him in our -- in our country, there should be a cause of action.
But Congress had every reason to proceed very cautiously and incrementally.
It put its toe in the -- in the extraterritorial waters when it extended universal civil jurisdiction to violations of certain international law norms.
It did not dive in.
As we heard this morning in the Kiobel argument, this is a very complex area as to what norms are actionable under international law.
Justice Samuel Alito: I don't understand that.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: How many judgments under -- I don't know whether it's Filartiga or Fabrigas -- that that pattern, where the individual torturer is found in a U.S. jurisdiction?
Ms Ferguson: There have--
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: There have been many judgments; how many have collected?
Ms Ferguson: --Petitioners have identified--
one case, the Jean V. -- case, excuse me, where there was a collection.
There may be other cases where there ultimately is a satisfaction of the judgment.
But it's inherent in the statute that reaches foreign defendants that often they do not have access in the United States.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: If Congress really wanted to have this, why wouldn't it include entity liability?
The corporation is likely to have more money than an individual torturer.
Ms Ferguson: The -- the situation Congress had in mind in enacting the TVPA was adjusting the norm against State-sponsored torture and extrajudicial killing, where the agent is -- is almost invariably acting on behalf of the State, and yet it didn't create an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act to State sponsors of torture and extrajudicial killing.
It was concerned with this Filartiga scenario, where the U.S. wanted to take a position -- we will not give torturers a safe haven in our country.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Wouldn't that be the point that the immigration law takes care of it?
They wouldn't be able to get into the country.
Ms Ferguson: The immigration laws were not as robust in 1991 as they perhaps are now.
We -- we know that the TVPA is premised on the fact that the torturer is in fact found in the United States, because otherwise, the United States couldn't assert personal jurisdiction over--
Justice Antonin Scalia: But I'm not sure that the immigration officials conduct a thorough investigation.
I mean, is there a box on the immigration form, you know,
"have you tortured people? "
"Yes, no. "
I really don't think they investigate that.
Ms Ferguson: --It's not a -- it's not a perfect screen, because of course, torturers don't announce themselves at the border as torturers.
So in fact, that's why we have situations where we've had these gross human rights violators that end up in the United States.
Even -- in one of the cases we heard, won the Florida lottery.
So -- so they do find their way to our country.
Justice Samuel Alito: I still don't understand your explanation of the reason why Congress would draw a distinction between an individual and an organization.
You keep saying that the -- in the case of the individual, the individual was here.
But the organization can be here, too.
Ms Ferguson: The organization that Congress had foremost in mind was the State.
This is State-sponsored torture, State-sponsored extrajudicial killing.
The -- the problem it describes regarding torturers and extrajudicial killing is one of States.
The legislative history talks about how one-third of the States are -- have been engaged in sponsoring torture and extrajudicial killing.
But those were the organizations they had foremost in their mind, and yet the statute doesn't impose liability on those organizations.
It suggested a very personal wrong of a torturer avoiding accountability to their victims in their home country, and coming to our country and seeking safe haven--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: So it's okay to keep out individuals who subject others to torture, but corporations, we want their money so they should invest here, because we're going to protect them from liability for people that they torture?
Ms Ferguson: --I think -- I think the question is whether there is a plausible reason why Congress would have taken this incremental approach, and focused first on those personally responsible versus extending liability more broadly under secondary liability theories.
And because the statute is so clear on its face, because "individual" carries its ordinary meaning, and the surrounding statutory text confirm that Congress was using "individual" in its ordinary sense, couldn't prevent the very high bar for the Court to depart from the plain-text meaning of the statute.
Justice Antonin Scalia: You don't have to prove it's an intelligent statute, could you?
Maybe it's a stupid statute.
Is that possible?
Is it possible?
Ms Ferguson: It could be clearer--
Justice Antonin Scalia: Is it possible that it -- it's a stupid statute?
Ms Ferguson: --Yes.
It's possible, but it was clear enough--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: It's also possible that it's not a stupid statute.
I took -- I took -- the reason I say that is because if you want to elaborate on this -- because I purposely asked it.
But -- but one of the things in the government's brief, it did as I said have an impact.
But as Father Drinan is asked, shouldn't we have here -- this is before it reads "individual".
It reads PLO?
"I think that we should exclude nongovernmental organizations. "
"I think it would be best to stay with that and just avoid all of the problems about the PLO and related groups. "
Now -- but you heard the response to that, which really was, if I look at the context, I'll see that's less relevant than I think -- than I did think.
So what do you think?
Ms Ferguson: --I think that even the human rights supporters who were strong advocates of getting this legislation enacted understood that this was an incremental approach, that where there was some certainty within international law within this area of official torture carried out by public officials under color of State law, and it provided a cause of action for this Filartiga scenario, and even the human rights supporters understood that it was important to proceed cautiously and incrementally.
This -- the United States does not tread lightly when imposing its jurisdiction over the acts of foreign defendants for foreign conduct under color of foreign law.
That's an intrusion on other nations' jurisdiction.
And we don't do that lightly.
Justice Elena Kagan: But Miss Ferguson, your story makes it sound as though everybody was really focused on this question, and made a determination to proceed incrementally and not to include foreign nations.
Isn't it -- if you -- if you look at what happened here, more likely that other than Congressman Lynch -- Leech -- in fact, nobody was focused on this question.
But because of Congressman Leech's intervention, the words changed, and the word was continued throughout the legislative process.
And that's the word that was voted on.
Ms Ferguson: Well, Representative Yaton was the sponsor of both the bill that was marked up where "person" was changed to "individual", and was also the sponsor of the bill that was ultimately enacted.
So he was certainly aware that "individual" was selected for this reason of excluding corporations.
But more importantly, "individual" almost invariably carries the meaning of "natural person".
If Congress had wanted the statute to reach nonsovereign organizations, it very easily could have used the term 1983 does.
And the notion that they couldn't use "person" because it would encompass foreign States is not the case when you're dealing with a person to describe a potential class of defendants, because we presume that Congress does not intend to aggregate the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.
And the Dictionary Act tells us that "person" is the term Congress uses when it wants to refer to natural persons and artificial persons, but not sovereigns.
So if the Congress wanted to do what the Petitioners claim, they had a very useful term that Congress uses all the time to reach that category, and it's the term "person".
But instead, they used "individual", and elsewhere in the same sentence, they used "individual" to refer to who shall be liable.
They used "individual" four more times in a way that can only mean a human being.
Now granted, there are exceptions to this canon of consistent usage, but they have no fair application here.
Those canons apply when you have a term that has more than one ordinary meaning and you can use them interchangeably without being confusing.
Here, the ordinary meaning of individual is to exclude organizations.
We regularly use individual to mean we're not talking about corporations; we're not talking about organizations.
So in the same sentence of the statute to use individual to mean -- let's assume we don't normally mean corporations and then immediately just switch and -- and use it to refer to human beings would be very confusing.
And yet we see Congress very deliberately and carefully then switch to the broader term "person" when it wanted to sweep in a broader class of potential plaintiffs.
They wanted to make sure they were sweeping as broadly as possible to allow persons who have wrongful death claims to be able to bring a suit where the victim has died.
So they use the term "person".
And Petitioners' interpretation gives no separate meaning to individual and person, but we assume that when Congress uses those terms distinctly, they intend to give them different meanings.
I would just return to the plain text of the statute.
It's very clear.
The only situation in which the Court has found that "individual" should be interpreted inconsistent with its ordinary meaning is upon a showing of absurd results.
Here, there simply is no absurd result.
Congress had every reason to proceed cautiously and incrementally in extending U.S. jurisdiction over conduct that has no nexus to the United States.
And it proceeded by focusing on this Filartiga scenario, ensuring that the United States would not become a safe haven for torturers.
I would ask that the Court give the statute its plain-text meaning and affirm the court of appeals.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Thank you, counsel.
ORAL ARGUMENT OF CURTIS E. GANNON, FOR UNITED STATES, AS AMICUS CURIAE, SUPPORTING THE RESPONDENTS
Mr. Gannon: Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:
By using the term "individual" when describing who shall be liable for damages under the Torture Victim Protection Act, Congress chose to limit the statute's scope to natural persons.
That's the ordinary meaning of the term "individual", especially in legal usage.
And as Justice Sotomayor pointed out, this statute uses the term "person" in addition to the term "individual".
Justice Samuel Alito: Mr. Gannon, suppose two people are tortured, and one is an alien who has never been within 10,000 miles of the United States, and the other is a U.S. citizen.
The position of the United States is that the alien can sue, but the U.S. citizen can't?
Mr. Gannon: The position of the United States is that the alien may be able to sue.
And I think that's going to depend ultimately on this Court's construction of the ATS.
There are always going to be differences in application between the ATS and the TVPA so long as the ATS is still on the books and has any vitality.
That of course wasn't clear to Congress when it enacted the TVPA in 1992.
It wasn't sure whether the ATS was going to be a going concern in light of Judge Bork's opinion in Tel-Oren.
But rather than amend the ATS, Congress in the TVPA decided to create a separate statute which provided an express right of action both to aliens and to U.S. citizens for two specific norms.
It's broader than the ATS in several ways but it's narrower that the ATS in several ways.
So if your hypothetical involved piracy, two victims of piracy, then it's quite clear after this Court's decision in Sosa--
Justice Samuel Alito: No, but two victims of torture, you don't find that to be an incongruous result?
Mr. Gannon: --Well, I think that is ultimately going to depend on what happens under this Court's ATS jurisprudence, and so it does seem that the Court--
Justice Samuel Alito: I'm asking about your position, the position of the United States.
Mr. Gannon: --The position of the United States in the other case today is that the ATS does not include a categorical bar on corporate liability; and that -- that has no regard for the theory of liability, the locus of the acts, the citizenship of the parties and the character of the international law norm at issue.
Justice Samuel Alito: But Mr. Rahim had never been naturalized.
I guess that was a mistake.
Mr. Gannon: Well, in -- in this instance, then that would present a different question that this Court has not yet been presented with under the ATS, and ultimately, maybe an alien will be able to bring a suit under the ATS that he can't bring -- that a U.S. citizen could not bring under the TVPA, but that is a product of the fact that there are still two different statutes.
The Alien Tort Statute will always give more rights to aliens than to U.S. citizens because by definition it is only available to aliens.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: So what's the good reason--
Mr. Gannon: Well, I--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: --for the U.S. to have limited liability to natural persons in the TVPA, but not in the ATS context?
Mr. Gannon: --Well, I think that there are several reasons that Congress could have had in mind, although I think that if you read the legislative record, that Justice Kagan is probably correct, that most members of the Congress weren't thinking precisely about this question.
Representative Leach appears to have been.
I think that in the other passage cited on page 25 of the United States brief involving Father Drinan that Justice Breyer was looking at before, there is an earlier passage that we cite where Father Drinan seems to indicate there may be a distinction between the two bills that are pending before the Senate at that point, because one refers to persons and one refers to individuals.
Justice Antonin Scalia: But they were thinking about that in 1797, I mean -- you are saying in the later statute--
Mr. Gannon: No, I think that in--
Justice Antonin Scalia: --A more perceptive Congress in -- in 1797?
Mr. Gannon: --No, I think the difference is that the ATS has not even attempted to speak to this question, whereas the TVPA does.
As this Court noted in Amerada Hess, the ATS does not define a class of defendants here.
Congress define a class of defendants, and I think that there are several reasons why they ended up with this result, the chief of which is that all of the cases that they were thinking about at that time had involved natural persons.
The -- the Filartiga case was -- was the flagship case--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: That's why they are thinking of it.
Here's argument the other way, which I see now, is that -- is that look, Father Drinan and the others are not talking about individual versus person; they are talking about whether say, the PLO falls under color of law of a foreign state.
And so they are not thinking of that question.
Mr. Gannon: --It's true.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: And if in fact it does fall under color of law there, they don't care about whether it's individual or person.
They've never really thought about that.
Mr. Gannon: But the fact--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: The only one who thought about it was Congressman Leach, and that was four bills earlier.
Mr. Gannon: --No, but the reason they are not thinking about it is because the paradigm they were thinking about was the torturer who is found in the United States who is -- who is walking on the streets.
There is an individual moral accountability that -- that everybody understood needed to happen there.
To the extent that the legislative history is referring to groups, my friend Mr. Fisher referred to references in the legislative history to groups and organizations that basically are references to things like death squads.
And as a practical matter, even today none of the cases in the Eleventh Circuit that are brought under the TVPA are being brought against death squads.
They -- the case that Petitioners cite in their reply brief, the Drummond case, was not a case where the Columbia paramilitary was a defendant.
The defendants there were actually two corporations and a CEO.
And so I think as a -- as a practical matter, although it is natural for us to think that if an individual is liable, then so too is the organization that it may have been acting -- that he may have been acting on behalf of; but it is not natural to think that these type of clandestine shadowy organizations that would claim responsibility for such acts -- such heinous acts overseas, would have a jurisdictional presence in the United States.
And I think if you -- as Respondents' counsel already noted, because the TVPA requires state action, the organizational entity here is usually going to be the states, but petitioners acknowledge that no state entity is going to be liable here, and indeed the result here is not that dissimilar to some of this Court's 1983 jurisprudence.
Petitioners mentioned the question of whether Congress was concerned that the term "person" might pull in something like municipalities, because it could be read to bring in sovereigns, but in -- in the context of municipalities, under Monell this Court has concluded there is no respondeat superior liability, and that superiors or supervisors are not liable for the torts of their agents; they are only liable for their own individual wrongs.
And so I do think that there are policy reasons why Congress could have said something different here.
But -- and they may well be encouraged to do that by 20 years of ATS precedent, that as now for the first time since the TVPA was enacted started to raise the question of whether corporations should be held liable under the other statute.
If Congress wants to disagree with the types of policy concerns that were behind this Court's Monell decision, Congress could reach a different result, but we don't -- don't think that that's a decision that ought to be reached through statutory construction.
Here, Congress used the term "individual".
It spoke about an individual who subjects an individual to torture or extrajudicial killing.
It separately referred to "person".
And Petitioners' reading of the statute actually gets the relationship between person and individual, which is quite clear as an ordinary question of Federal statutory construction in the Dictionary Act, precisely backwards, because under their reading, "individual" means any nonsovereign natural or artificial person, but "person" can only mean natural person.
And so we think that that is -- is a particularly odd reading of the statute in light of the Dictionary Act, and the statutory structure.
If there are no further questions, I would urge the Court to affirm.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Thank you, Mr. Gannon.
Mr. Fisher, you have 4 minutes remaining.
REBUTTAL ARGUMENT OF JEFFREY FISHER ON BEHALF OF THE PETITIONERS
Jeffrey Fisher: I can make four points, if I may, Your Honor.
First, when asked again and again why Congress would have done this, I think all I heard was that Congress wanted to adopt an incremental approach.
And then Mr. Gannon said, well, maybe we also wanted to have moral accountability.
Well, an incremental approach doesn't make any sense.
Yes, Congress did so in the context of requiring exhausting a limitations period, so it treaded softly there.
But there are numerous Federal statutes: RICO, the Sherman Act, the Antiterrorism Act, which is quite similar to this act in many ways, that apply to events abroad.
And they all apply to organizations.
So if Congress was going to do this, there's no reason to think it wouldn't have wanted to do it.
Miss Ferguson pointed to the Dorelien case as the one example she could point of where a TVPA judgment was able to be enforced.
And the only reason why that was able to be enforced is because that guy happened to win the Florida Lottery.
He had hidden all of his other assets abroad and won the Florida Lottery.
Is that the statute that Congress meant to pass?
We don't think so.
Moral accountability was already taken care of in the U.S. Criminal Code.
There's an express provision of the U.S. Criminal Code that holds torturers liable for torturing abroad.
And we've cited that in our briefs.
I know some of you are going to look at the legislative history, so let me say two quick things about the legislative history.
First, Justice Kagan, with respect to Representative Leech's comment, if anyone after that hearing wanted to know what that committee thought the change it had made meant, and what the bill meant, it would have looked at its report.
And if we've cited -- we've cited the committee reports in the Foreign Relations Committee, and it says the TVPA allows liability for any person that commits torture.
It uses the word "person" utterly interchangeably with the word "individual".
So that's -- whatever moment happened 4 years before the enactment was long since lost.
And the reason it used ultimately the word "individual" and not "person", as I've described before, was to steer clear I think of any possibility of State entities.
Mr. Gannon points to Monell, but Monell favors us.
Monell holds that organizations can be liable.
Now, there's a separate question that you talked about in the earlier argument, too, as to what the mens rea would be, whether it would have to be according to a policy or practice, or whether it would be pure respondeat superior.
But Monell is on our side in this case, and we've alleged a policy in our complaint in this case.
Thirdly, in the U.S. Code, where the word "individual" is used, it obviously means natural persons lots of times.
But when it does, it almost always uses the -- contrasts it in that very sentence with an entity or organization.
So in this course, when you say individuals or corporations, yes, you mean a natural person.
But as the United States points out in footnote 3 of its own brief, the word "individual" when it is used alone is a less favored usage that actually gives rise to ambiguity because of the secondary meaning I've described before.
And then finally, let me say the questions are asked about the relationship between this case and the Kiobel case, and I think it's absolutely clear -- and this goes again to one of Justice Kagan's questions on absurdity -- if this Court holds that the Alien Tort Statute would have let a torturer right by Mr. Rahim, someone who's tortured, that is, bring a cause of action, I think it would indeed be absurd to imagine Congress stepping in and passing a statute saying if you're an American citizen, I'm sorry, you're out of luck.
But if you happen to be lucky enough to be an alien and never having tried to be a citizen in this country, go ahead and bring the case in our courts; we think that would be absurd.
So with those points, if the Court has any further questions around the submissions I've made -- I guess the last thing I would say is, at the end of Mr. Gannon's argument, he referred to the interplay between the word "individual" and "person" in the briefs, and I can assure you from have having worked on this during the case, it is an incredible sideshow as to whether or not estates are people and all the ways that that works.
But it's laid out in our brief, and we think that it's quite clear that there is no disjoint between the word "individual" and "person".
If you look at our brief, it will explain why.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Thank you, counsel.
The case is submitted.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Justice Sotomayor has our opinion this morning in case 11-88, Mohamad versus the Palestinian Authority.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: The Torture Victims Protection Act or TVPA authorizes a cause of action against “an individual” for acts of torture and extrajudicial killing.
The question in this case is whether the term individual as used here means natural persons or whether the term is used more broadly such that the Act authorizes liability against certain organizations.
In 1995, Azzam Rahim, a naturalized U.S. citizen, traveled to the West Bank.
There, according to the allegations in the complaint, he was arrested by Palestinian Authority intelligence officers imprisoned, tortured, and ultimately killed.
Ten years later, his relatives, petitioners here, brought suit against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Liberation Organization asserting claims of torture and extrajudicial killing under the TVPA.
The District Court dismissed the suit on the ground that only natural persons could be sued under the Act.
The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed and we now affirm as well.
Petitioners concede that foreign states may not be sued under the Act, namely, that the Act did not create an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976.
They argue however, that the Act does not similarly restrict liability against other entities.
In petitioner's view, by permitting suit against an individual, the TVPA contemplates liability against natural persons and non-sovereign organizations.
We decline to read individual so unnaturally.
As explained in more detail in our opinion, the ordinary meaning of the word “individual” and the statutory context in which it is used persuades us that the Act authorizes suits against natural persons alone.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is affirmed.
The opinion of the Court is unanimous as -- except as to Justice Scalia who joins the Court's opinion except as to part 3(b).
Justice Breyer has filed a concurring opinion.