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Using sexual assault legislation as an example.

New York State Senate passed the Adult Survivors Act in June 2021. This act created a one-year look back window for survivors of sex crimes who were 18 years of age or older at the time these crimes were committed.

The bill behind this law has a long statement that includes the following section (formatting added)

...EVERY CIVIL CLAIM OR CAUSE OF ACTION BROUGHT AGAINST ANY PARTY ALLEGING INTENTIONAL OR NEGLIGENT ACTS OR OMISSIONS BY A PERSON...

This then could imply that an organisation that is accused of negligence in connection with a sexual assault case could be sued under this act.

My question is somewhat more general however:

Could an international organisation be sued for a crime like this, if the crime happened outside of U.S. jurisdiction but the organisation has a presence in New York State?

("Presence" here means a permanent presence such as that the organisation has been running some operation in the state.)

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  • Hi @Jen the answer does not need to be specifically about the Adult Survivors Act. Even a more generic would work if it shows what legal principles are applicable.
    – neo
    Jan 2, 2023 at 19:52
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    Many international organizations are immune from the jurisdiction of the United States, so it depends on which organization it is.
    – phoog
    Jan 2, 2023 at 20:01
  • 1
    how can an organisation commit such an act?
    – Trish
    Jan 2, 2023 at 22:21
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    @Trish for example, by covering up previous crimes by an individual and moving them into the path of new victims.
    – Dale M
    Jan 2, 2023 at 23:11
  • @Trish further to Dale M's comment, this law does not concern criminal liability but civil liability ("...EVERY CIVIL CLAIM OR CAUSE OF ACTION...").
    – phoog
    Jan 3, 2023 at 14:25

2 Answers 2

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The law that New York passed does not create any cause of action, it overrides existing rules regarding time-barring of civil claims, so the quick answer to the question "does this law apply in that kind of case" is "that law is irrelevant". There is a general legal question about the jurisdictional limits of a court. For example, a foreign insurance company will be subject to specific personal jurisdiction in a US federal court over a claim under a cargo insurance policy for a shipment to the US.

The case Daimler AG v. Bauman seems to be similar to the type of case you are asking about. This case involves the Dirty War of Argentina, and the question of whether Daimler's business connection to Mercedes-Benz Argentina gives plaintiffs standing to sue in US courts over actions in Argentina. SCOTUS held in that case that

Daimler is not amenable to suit in California for injuries allegedly caused by conduct of MB Argentina that took place entirely outside the United States

The court first notes that

For a time, this Court held that a tribunal’s jurisdiction over persons was necessarily limited by the geographic bounds of the forum

but this has been modified to

recognition of two personal jurisdiction categories: One category, today called “specific jurisdiction”...[which] encompasses cases in which the suit 'arise[s] out of or relate[s] to the defendant’s contacts with the forum' [and] distinguished exercises of specific, case-based jurisdiction from a category today known as 'general jurisdiction,' exercisable when a foreign corporation’s 'continuous corporate operations within a state [are] so substantial and of such a nature as to justify suit against it on causes of action arising from dealings entirely distinct from those activities.'

The court observes that "general jurisdiction has not been stretched beyond limits traditionally recognized". As I understand the hypothetical, the proposed wrong does not derive because of the defendant's connection with the jurisdiction, and the connection to New York (or any other state) would be that it might be forum convenient for the plaintiff to litigate in. This would fall under the category of "general jurisdiction" (assuming that New York is not the company's corporate home nor is it their primary place of business), and the state's courts would not normally have jurisdiction in that case (lacking any specific statute creating a cause of action and explicitly declaring extraterritorial jurisdiction). The underlying constitutional rationale is the Due Process consideration that a person (including a corporation) should not be be forced to defend themselves in courts in states where they have no real connection. The question that would be asked is whether the corporation had sufficient connection to the state that the state courts would have jurisdiction.

We should also turn to three SCOTUS cases, Nestle v. Doe et al, RJR Nabisco, Inc. v. European Community and Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., where questions of extraterritorial jurisdiction are considered. The Nestle court's analysis of the underlying principle starts by observing and citing from RJR Nabisco that

First, we presume that a statute applies only domestically, and we ask "whether the statute gives a clear, affirmative indication" that rebuts this presumption.

In Kiobel, the court states – reaching further back to Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain that

[w]hen a statute gives no clear indication of an extraterritorial application, it has none,

a principle which "serves to protect against unintended clashes between our laws and those of other nations which could result in international discord) (EEOC v. Arabian American Oil Co).

The relevant statute under which these suits were initiated is the Alien Tort Stature, 28 USC 1350, which allows an alien to sue in US courts under certain circumstances, and states only that "The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States". ATS would clearly not be applicable to the case of a US person suing a foreign corporation, but the other cases have articulated a principle that transcends the specifics of the ATS – there would have to be a statute giving a state extraterritorial jurisdiction over the matter.

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    This answer assumes that the question uses "international organization" unconventionally to mean "multinational corporation," which is not what "international organization" normally means.
    – phoog
    Jan 3, 2023 at 14:40
  • does this apply also to religious organizations? Take for an example a case where a sex crime happened in some other country, and the perpetrator was protected by the religious organization that happens to be established both in that other country and in New York state.
    – user100487
    Jan 5, 2023 at 17:43
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If by "international organization" you mean the kind of organization defined in 22 USC 288...

For the purposes of this subchapter, the term “international organization” means a public international organization in which the United States participates pursuant to any treaty or under the authority of any Act of Congress authorizing such participation or making an appropriation for such participation, and which shall have been designated by the President through appropriate Executive order as being entitled to enjoy the privileges, exemptions, and immunities provided in this subchapter. The President shall be authorized, in the light of the functions performed by any such international organization, by appropriate Executive order to withhold or withdraw from any such organization or its officers or employees any of the privileges, exemptions, and immunities provided for in this subchapter (including the amendments made by this subchapter) or to condition or limit the enjoyment by any such organization or its officers or employees of any such privilege, exemption, or immunity. The President shall be authorized, if in his judgment such action should be justified by reason of the abuse by an international organization or its officers and employees of the privileges, exemptions, and immunities provided in this subchapter or for any other reason, at any time to revoke the designation of any international organization under this section, whereupon the international organization in question shall cease to be classed as an international organization for the purposes of this subchapter.

...then the answer is no:

(b) International organizations, their property and their assets, wherever located, and by whomsoever held, shall enjoy the same immunity from suit and every form of judicial process as is enjoyed by foreign governments....

(22 USC 288a(b))

(The organization can waive this immunity, so if there is a waiver then a suit would be possible.)

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