In Kiobel vs. Royal Dutch Petroleum, the Supreme Court said the Alien Tort Statue doesn't give Nigerian nationals the right to sue the oil company for alleged rights abuses overseas.
Esther Kiobel filed the case in U.S. courts under the Alien Tort Statute, a 1789 law, saying her husband Barinem Kiobel was executed by the Nigerian military with the alleged backing of Shell.
Shell argued the issue shouldn't be considered in U.S. courts because it's a foreign company facing claims for actions outside the United States. Kiobel is a Nigerian national, though the Alien Tort Statute gives foreign nationals the right to sue in U.S. federal courts for alleged violations of international law or treaties signed by the United States with foreign countries.
Kiobel filed the lawsuit in 2002 before becoming a U.S. citizen.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said the 1789 law doesn't reach to violations outside the United States, dismissing the suit against Shell. While all of the justices agreed on dismissal, some members of the court said lawsuits may be permissible if U.S. nationals or national interests are harmed.
Earthrights Co-founder Katie Redford said there's a silver lining in the ruling.
"The Kiobel opinion suggests that other cases involving human rights abuses abroad may still go forward," she said in a statement. "Corporations operating in the U.S. still must think twice before they cut corners and curb human rights standards to improve their bottom line."