A divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has dismissed claims against two private military contractors accused of torturing detainees at Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib military prison. The plaintiffs, Iraqi nationals who were held at Abu Ghraib by the U.S. military, brought separate suits in 2004 against CACI International Inc. and Titan Corp. alleging that they had been abused by employees for the contractors. Here’s a copy of last Friday’s decision.
In 2007, a Washington, D.C., federal district court judge dismissed the case against Titan, ruling that the plaintiffs’ state tort claims were pre-empted by federal law since Titan’s employers were fully integrated into military units. But the district court denied summary judgment to CACI International on the grounds that the company retained authority over its employees. Both rulings were appealed, and the cases were consolidated for argument at the D.C. Circuit.
On Friday, the appellate court affirmed Titan’s summary judgment win, overturned the lower court’s ruling against CACI, and dismissed the plaintiffs’ remaining claims. Writing for the majority, Judge Laurence Silberman ruled, “During wartime, where a private service contractor is integrated into combatant activities over which the military retains command authority, a tort claim arising out of the contractor’s engagement in such activities shall be preempted.”
In his dissenting opinion, Judge Merrick Garland wrote that “No act of Congress and no judicial precedent bars the plaintiffs from suing the private contractors — who were neither soldiers nor civilian government employees.”
Williams & Connolly partner Ari S. Zymelman argued the case for Titan before the D.C. Circuit. Steptoe & Johnson‘s J. William Koegel Jr., argued for CACI. Zymelman told the Litigation Daily he was pleased with the court’s decision but did not offer further comment. Koegel did not immediately return our call.
Susan L. Burke of Burke O’Neil, who argued for the Iraqi detainees, told Law360 on Monday that the plaintiffs will seek en banc review.
This article first appeared on The Am Law Litigation Daily blog on AmericanLawyer.com.