US court to take up Argentina 'Dirty War' Daimler suit

The US Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider whether German auto giant Daimler AG can be sued over charges its Mercedes unit in Argentina collaborated in murder and other crimes during that country's "Dirty War."

The court agreed to look at a complaint filed by 22 Argentine plaintiffs against Daimler before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California. The high court will do so in its next session, in the autumn.

Daimler has no facilities or employees in the United States, although it does have an indirect subsidiary that distributes Daimler AG manufactured vehicles in California.

The California appeals court ruled that, because of the existence of that subsidiary, Daimler had to answer charges that the unit in Argentina committed human rights violations.

The plaintiffs argue that they or people close to them suffered abuses while employed by Mercedes-Benz Argentina in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the country was ruled by a military junta.

They state that the company "collaborated with the Argentine government to kidnap, detain, torture, or kill (respondents) or their relatives during Argentina's military regime of 1976 to 1983, known as the ‘Dirty War.'"

The plaintiffs are invoking the so-called Alien Tort Statute, a 200-year-old law that allows foreigners to sue in US courts over violations of international law or treaties that the United States has signed.

Daimler, in its appeal before the Supreme Court, called the California ruling a "breathtaking expansion of general personal jurisdiction that is impossible to reconcile with the decisions of this court or other circuits."

The German company added that the result of the California ruling will be a "proliferation of suits in American courts by foreign plaintiffs suing foreign defendants based on foreign conduct."