NEW YORK (Reuters) -- Victims of apartheid in South Africa cannot pursue lawsuits seeking to hold Ford Motor Co. liable for conducting business that helped perpetuate the practice decades ago, a federal appeals court ruled today.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said black South Africans did not show that Ford engaged in enough wrongdoing in the United States from the 1970s to early 1990s to justify lawsuits over their alleged roles in killings, torture and other human rights abuses.
Ford was accused of providing military vehicles for South African security forces, and sharing information about anti-apartheid and union activists. The plaintiffs sued 13 years ago under the Alien Tort Statute, a 1789 law that lets non-U.S. citizens seek damages in U.S. courts for human rights abuses abroad.
But the U.S. Supreme Court significantly narrowed the reach of that law in April 2013, leading a reluctant U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in August 2014 to dismiss the South African plaintiffs' case.
Upholding Scheindlin's ruling, Circuit Judge José Cabranes wrote for a 3-0 appeals court panel that Ford could not be held directly responsible for alleged improper actions by its South African unit.
"Knowledge of or complicity in the perpetration of a crime under the law of nations (customary international law ) -- absent evidence that a defendant purposefully facilitated the commission of that crime -- is insufficient to establish a claim of aiding and abetting liability under the ATS," Cabranes wrote.
Diane Sammons, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, argued that Ford's U.S. conduct justified liability.
"We certainly will consider an appeal to the Supreme Court," she said.
The suit also named IBM Corp. as a defendant.
Ford and IBM did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Germany's Daimler AG was dismissed from the case in December 2013. Dozens of companies were previously dismissed.
Apartheid ended in 1994 when South Africa held its first all-race elections, bringing Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress to power.