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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
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Mitsubishi & Other Japanese Firms Shake Sex-Slave Suit

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A federal judge Monday dismissed a class action accusing six companies of helping the Japanese Empire force Korean women into sexual slavery during World War II.

Mitsubishi, Toyota, Nissan, Hitachi, NYK Line and Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal USA joined a growing list of defendants that evaded a class action brought by two former "comfort women," but U.S. District Judge William Alsup gave them until Dec. 28 to request leave to amend their complaint.

Named plaintiffs Hee Nam You and Kyng Soon Kim sued 19 defendants, including the Japanese government, its prince and its prime minister, in July.

They claim the defendant corporations provided the trains, vehicles and vessels or the steel to make them, and the government took the abducted Korean women to "comfort stations," where they were forced to have sex "five to 30 times a day" with Japanese soldiers.

Alsup previously dismissed Mitsui & Co. and Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun from the class action, which included a defamation claim against the newspaper, for calling the women "voluntary prostitutes."

In dismissing six more companies on Monday, Alsup found that claims for acts that took place more than 70 years ago were time-barred, and that the plaintiffs could not prove the defendants hid evidence that prevented them from suing decades earlier.

Alsup said the California Court of Appeal has rejected the plaintiffs' theory of outside reverse piercing to hold a U.S. subsidiary liable for the acts of its Japanese parent company.

The plaintiffs claimed the subsidiaries were alter egos of their parent firms, and that the U.S. satellite companies were established using profits gained from business dealings with Japan that aided in the perpetration of crimes against humanity.

During a Dec. 10 hearing , attorneys for the six U.S. subsidiaries argued that none of their clients existed during World War II and so could not be held liable for acts that occurred then.

Alsup also found that the women's claims involved a "non-justiciable political question" because resolving the issue would require the court to interpret a treaty signed by Japan and Korea in 1965, which allegedly settled all former comfort women's claims.

Alsup cited the D.C. Circuit's 2006 ruling in Joo v. Japan, which found that a 1951 treaty between the United States and Japan bars suing Japan or its companies for wartime acts.

The plaintiffs argued that that treaty barred only U.S. citizens, not foreign nationals, from suing Japanese companies for injuries suffered during the war.

But Alsup cited a statement the United States filed with the court in Joo, stating:"(I)t manifestly was not the intent of the President and Congress to preclude Americans from bringing their war-related claims against Japan ... while allowing federal or state courts to serve as a venue for the litigation of similar claims by non-U.S. nationals."

The plaintiffs also cited a 2000 ruling in the Central District of California case Jeong v. Onada Cement Co., in which the court found no U.S. treaty precluded a Korean man from seeking compensation through U.S. courts for time he spent in a Japanese forced labor camp.

But Alsup found that ruling relied in part on a U.S.-issued statement that was contradicted in Joo. He said the U.S. statement in Jeong warned that U.S. courts "should not be put in a position of judging the effects of agreements entered into between two foreign nations."

Alsup also rejected the plaintiffs' claims that the U.S. Supreme Court "sounded the death knell for the political question doctrine" in recent rulings. He said those rulings merely showed that a case involving the constitutionality of a government branch's conduct in foreign affairs does not automatically render the case non-justiciable.

"In the aftermath of war, thousands, even millions, will have suffered or died on a vast scale and treaty-making has necessarily been the time-honored way for resolution of those grievances," Alsup wrote. "War and the resolution are class obligations that must, under our system, be committed solely to the executive and legislative branches."

The judge gave the plaintiffs until Dec. 28 to file an updated motion for leave to file an amended complaint, taking into account his latest ruling. If filed, the defendants will have until Jan. 6, 2016 to file an answer, and a hearing on the motions will be held on Jan. 14.

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