Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co.

226 F.3d 88 (2d Cir. 2000), cert. denied, 532 U.S. 941 (2001)


  • Defendants are Royal Dutch, a corporation incorporated in the Netherlands, and Shell, incorporated in England.
  • Shell Nigeria is a Nigerian owned subsidiary of defendants
  • Plaintiffs allege human rights violations by the Nigerian government aided by defendants.
  • Wiwa and Kpuinen were hanged in 1995 after a special military tribunal.
  • Defendants maintain an Investor Relations Office in NYC.

Procedural History:

  • Plaintiffs brought action in district court.       Court finds personal jurisdiction, but dismisses on grounds of forum non conveniens
  • Court of Appeals Affirms in part and reverses and remands in part.

Contentions of parties:

[Plaintiffs: Defendants directly ot indirectly contributed to human rights abuses in Nigeria (instigates, orchestrated, planned and facilitated).

[ Defendants: Investor Relations Office not sufficient for “doing business” in NY.

  1. Spend little money $500,000 a year.
  2. If agent were not in NY, defendant would not carry out what agent is doing
  3. Agent is not central to defendants’ business
  4. If they were to perform agent’s functions, would not necessarily do it in NY


Whether a US court has personal jurisdiction over a defendant company accused of human rights violations in a foreign country.

Whether the dismissal of a human rights violation claim


A US Court can exercise jurisdiction over a foreign corporation accused of human rights violations in a foreign country if the court can exercise personal jurisdiction over that company.


Under New York law, a corporation is “doing business” in New York, and is therefore present in New York and subject to personal jurisdiction with respect to any cause of action, related or unrelated to the New York contacts, if it does business in New York not occasionally or casually, but with a fair measure of permanence and continuity. (Westlaw).

Rule of Law:

NY Long Arm Statute: “Doing business in NY.” (both for state and federal courts).

Case law: Companies with only ancillary relationships to maintain a NYSE listing are not “doing business” in NY for purposes of the Long-Arm Statute.

Constitution: 1. continuous, systematic, substantial contacts, 2. reasonableness


NY Long Arm Statute: “Doing business in NY.”- The Investor Relations Office was an agent for the defendants, and went well over taking ancillary steps in support of listings on the NYSE.

Constitutional: “1. Continuous, systematic, substantial contacts, 2. reasonableness” The corporation has a physical presence in NY, the Investor Relations Office is enough to satisfy the contacts (1) requirement. Jurisdiction would be fair because it is not inconvenient or burdensome for defendants- have had a NY law firm for 40 years.

Private Interests:

Defendants want to litigate in England, arguing that the documents are in England and shipping would be burdensome, Nigerian witnesses would be more expensive to fly to NYC than to London, but the court is not convinced.

Litigation in NY would not be an inconvenience because the defendants have offices and counsel in NY.

The burden on the plaintiffs would be substantial.

Public Interests:

Shell is a British corporation and Nigeria was a part of the Commonwealth at the time. The court says that these factors are important but not overriding. The court is not persuaded.

New Information, questions, etc:

1- Minimum contacts

2- fairness:

Private interest factors Public Interest Factors
  • Ease of access to proof
  • Availability of unwilling witnesses/ cost of witnesses
  • View of Premises
  • Practical problems RE “easy expeditious, inexpensive” trials
  • Administrative difficulties (i.e. court congestion)
  • Local interest in local matters
  • Holding trial in forum whose law will apply
  • Avoid unnecessary conflict of laws/ interpretation of foreign law
  • unfair to require jury duty in unrelated forum