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Stephen Breyer on Corporations

Supreme Court Justice (nominated by Pres. Clinton 1994)


Sovereign immunity applies to foreign-controlled companies.

Justice Breyer wrote the concurrence on DOLE FOOD v. PATRICKSON on Apr 22, 2003:

In 1997, a group of Central American farm workers alleged injury from chemical exposure against Dole Food Company and the Dead Sea Companies, which produced dibromochloropropane, an agricultural pesticide that harmed the farm workers. Dole argued that the Dead Sea Companies were instrumentalities of a foreign state, Israel, as defined by the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA) and thus entitled to immunity.

HELD: Delivered by Kennedy; joined by Rehnquist, Stevens, Scalia, Souter, Thomas, and Ginsburg

The Court held, 7-2, that a foreign state must itself own a majority of the shares of a corporation if the corporation is to be deemed an instrumentality of the state under the provisions of the FSIA. The corporate structure ("tiering") in this particular case prevented the Dead Sea Companies from claiming instrumentality status.

CONCURRENCE IN PART and DISSENT IN PART: By Breyer; joined by O'Connor

The phrase "owned by a foreign state" covers a foreign state's legal interest in a corporate subsidiary, where that interest consists of the foreign state's ownership of a corporate parent that owns the shares of the subsidiary. The relevant foreign nation does not DIRECTLY own a majority of the corporate subsidiaries' shares. But (simplifying the facts) it does own a corporate parent, which, in turn, owns the corporate subsidiaries' shares. Does this type of majority-ownership interest count as an example of what the statute calls an "other ownership interest"? The Court says no. I disagree.
Source: Supreme Court case 03-DOLE argued on Jan 22, 2003

Ok to sue for corporate direct OR indirect negligence.

Justice Breyer joined the Court's decision on CSX TRANSPORTATION v. MCBRIDE on Jun 23, 2011:

A railroad employee complained that the configuration of locomotives he had been assigned was unsafe because it required excessive use of an independent handbrake. Told to run the configuration as it was, the engineer after 10 hours of work injured his hand while using the handbrake. He never recovered full use of his hand and sued the railroad under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA).

HELD: Proximate cause not needed in railroad employee injury suitDelivered by Ginsburg; joined by Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan & Thomas

Recognizing the hazards of railroading, Congress enacted FELA in 1910. It allowed injured employees to recover "for injury resulting from negligence" of the railroad. By using this language, Congress intended to substitute for common law "proximate cause" a standard that any negligence by the railroad, however slight, that caused injury to an employee would lead to railroad liability for the injury. Congress dispensed with examination of whether the railroad's negligence was the "direct" or "probable" cause of the injury. If any injury is forseeable, and the railroad negligent in preventing it, FELA allowed damages even if the particular injury is not forseeable. FELA's wording, Supreme Court precedent, and 50 years of Court of Appeals decisions following this precedent lead to this conclusion.

DISSENT: Congress did not disavow proximate cause in worker RR suitsFiled by Roberts; joined by Scalia, Kennedy, and Alito

Proximate cause has long been a requirement in tort law. When enacting FELA, Congress expressly disavowed four other common law standards of tort law; The Court therefore has no basis to find that Congress intended to do away with proximate cause in FELA cases by implication. The Court misinterprets the Court's precedent and provides a standard for FELA cases lacking in guidance to courts and allowing unpredictable recoveries.
Source: Supreme Court case 11-MCBRIDE argued on Mar 28, 2011

Other Justices on Corporations: Stephen Breyer on other issues:
Samuel Alito
Stephen Breyer
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Elena Kagan
Anthony Kennedy
John Roberts
Antonin Scalia
Sonia Sotomayor
Clarence Thomas

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David Souter
Sandra Day O'Connor
William Rehnquist
John Paul Stevens

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Page last updated: Jul 12, 2013