Legal Blow for Families of Slain Nepali Laborers

     HOUSTON (CN) - Supreme Court precedent leaves little legal ammo for the families of Nepali laborers who were executed after a defense contractor allegedly trafficked them into Iraq, a federal judge ruled.
     Ramchandra Adhikari is the lead plaintiff in the 2008 action alleging that U.S. military contractors duped 13 Nepali men into indentured servitude.
     With promises of a $500 monthly salary, many of the men allegedly believed they would be working at a luxury hotel in Jordan. When they learned that they were actually on their way to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq, the large brokerage fees they owed allegedly kept the men from turning back for home, according to the complaint.
     Insurgents from the Ansar al-Sunna Army captured 12 of the men in August 2004 as they traveled in the front of an unsecured 17-car caravan along the Amman-to-Baghdad highway in Iraq's Anbar province, the families say. The 13th man, Buddi Prasad Gurung, was in a separate car and evaded capture, according to the complaint.
     When the insurgents executed the captives, international news stations aired the footage of their deaths, reaching the men's families in Nepal who filed the suit.
     Daoud & Partners and KBR, a former Halliburton subsidiary previously known as Kellogg Brown & Root, are named as defendants.
     Because "all relevant conduct by Daoud and KBR occurred outside of the United States," however, U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison dismissed the claims against them under the Alien Tort Statute last week.
     The judge relied on the Supreme Court's recent resolution of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., which reined in extraterritorial application of U.S. law.
     This limitation also applies to the families' claims under federal anti-racketeering law, despite their assertion that "the alleged acts orbited a U.S. military facility," Ellison found.
     "The majority of the events and conduct that make up the alleged RICO violation take place outside of the base," the 23-page opinion notes. "In fact, the deceased plaintiffs never made it to the military base."
     Ellison made his ruling public on Friday, two days after issuing the order under seal.
     Though the judge also nixed the families' claim against Daoud under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, he preserved the TVPRA claim against KBR. The public ruling contains 19 lines of blacked-out text in a section on the act titled "Knowing Requirement."
     KBR moved unsuccessfully for sanctions in one of the several motions addressed by the order. "This is a complicated and fact intensive case," Ellison wrote. "Emotions understandably run high when human lives have been lost. However, sanctions are not - even remotely - justified."