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9th Circuit: CA Courts Can Hear Mercedes Benz Lawsuit on Torture

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on May 20, 2011 1:11 PM

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that it California courts have jurisdiction in the Mercedes Benz lawsuit involving violation of international human rights laws. According to Courthouse News Service, 22 Argentine residents claimed that Mercedes Benz was complicit with Argentine security forces in detaining, kidnapping, torturing and killing them or their relatives in the late 1970s.

A suit was filed in 2007 against DaimlerChrysler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, and subsequently dismissed by the District court, when a motion for summary judgment brought by the defendant was granted on the grounds that in personam jurisdiction did not exist over the parties.

The May 18, 2011, ruling overruled District Court for the Northern District of California that claimed lack of personal jurisdiction. The Ninth Circuit opinion found that personal jurisdiction existed because there were sufficient minimum contacts between the defendant and the jurisdiction.

While the underlying issues in the case were not ruled on, the allegations are nevertheless shocking; plaintiffs allege in the Mercedes-Benz lawsuit the company labeled workers as subversives and communicated that information to the military dictatorship. It also allegedly opened its plants to raids by the state security forces. Plaintiffs brought suit under the Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victims Protection Act.

Minimum contacts were established through the number of vehicle sales in California. Courthouse News reports that 2.4 percent of DaimlerChrysler's total worldwide sales were from California at the time the lawsuit was filed. In addition to the sales figures, the company has three offices in California and centers throughout the state.

The Ninth Circuit wrote, "It would seem odd, indeed, if the manufacturer of Mercedes-Benz vehicles, which are sold in California in vast numbers by its American subsidiary, for use on the state's streets and highways, could not be required to appear in the federal courts of that state."

This case now rolls onward.

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