German Automaker Could Face US Lawsuit Over Alleged Link To Murders In Argentina's Dirty War

Videla Argentina AP Photo/Eduardo Di Baia, FileGen. Jorge Rafael Videla took power in Argentina in a 1976 coup and led a military junta that killed thousands of his fellow citizens in a dirty war to eliminate ‘subversives.’

The Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday in a case accusing DaimlerChrysler AG (now Daimler AG) of collaborating to have left-wing sympathizers
tortured or killedduring Argentina’s Dirty War.

Mercedes-Benz in Argentina, then a subsidiary of Daimler-Benz AG, allegedly notified the Argentinian government of plant-workers subversive to the government in the 70s and 80s when a military dictatorship in Argentina kidnapped, tortured, and murdered almost 30,000 “subversives,” notably labour union members and organisers.

A group of 22 survivors and heirs, all either Argentinian citizens or residents, sued DaimlerChrysler AG in California in 2005 under the Alien Tort Statute, which lets people sue foreign companies for human rights violations in U.S. courts.

They allege the company knew the Argentinian government would kidnap, torture, and murder these workers, thus silencing union activists.

Their case has to have some connection to the U.S. in order for their lawsuit in California to survive, SCOTUSBlog has explained. But German automaker Daimler Benz AG’s merge with US automaker Chrysler in 1998 makes this case harder to understand. The two companies briefly became DaimlerChrysler AG, before selling Chrysler in 2007, leaving German-owned Daimler AG.

When the suit was filed, Daimler Benz AG, a German corporation, had merged with the American Chrysler Corporation to form DCAG. Therefore, a California court initially ruled DCAG maintained “dual operational headquarters” in Germany and Detroit, Mich, according to the opinion. The company also fully owns its American subsidiary, Mercedes Benz USA, which does business often in California. Therefore, the German owned DCAG, maintained “systematic and continuous contact” with the state, according to the opinion.

In this suit, DaimlerAG is appealing that decision.

The outcome of this case could have broad effects on the legal responsibility of corporate entities, foreign or not, for human rights abuses in the U.S. court system.

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