The US Supreme Court declined to take up a case examining whether drug giant Pfizer could be sued in an American court for allegedly conducting nonconsensual drug tests on 200 Nigerian children in 1996. The action allows the case to move toward a trial.
The suit was filed under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which empowers federal judges to hear civil lawsuits filed by non-US citizens for violations of the “law of nations.”
Lawyers for Pfizer denied that the Nigeria experiments were conducted without the consent and knowledge of the children and their guardians. In addition, the lawyers argued that the children’s case should be thrown out of court because the alleged drug experiments are not the precise type of international law violation covered under the ATS.
What made the high court appeal potentially significant is that the Supreme Court has declared that foreign plaintiffs may rely on the ATS to file lawsuits, but only in a few limited circumstances. The high court has not yet identified precisely which few cases may be brought and which may not. Pfizer v. Abdullahi (09-34) offered an opportunity for the justices to offer guidance and clarification.