gavel.jpgA U.S. appeals court in San Francisco today reinstated a lawsuit against the parent company of Mercedes Benz by 22 Argentine residents who claim the automaker collaborated with that country’s security forces during Argentina’s so-called “dirty war” in the 1970s.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the lawsuit, filed in 2004, can proceed against Daimler AG of Germany in federal court in San Jose.

The plaintiffs in the case are former auto workers, union activists, and surviving relatives of auto workers at a plant outside Buenos Aires who were allegedly kidnapped, tortured or caused to “disappear” and presumably murdered by security forces in 1976 and 1977.

The lawsuit claims Mercedes Benz officials violated international human rights laws and U.S. laws by allegedly giving security forces the names of workers they considered “subversive” while knowing that those named would be detained, tortured or killed.

In today’s decision, a three-judge panel of appeals court said Daimler had enough connection with California, through its “extensive business operations” in selling cars, to allow the lawsuit to proceed in federal court in the state.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote, “We conclude that it is reasonable to exercise jurisdiction over (Daimler AG) in California, a state that has itself become a major hub for world commerce and attracts business not only from all over Europe, but from all over Asia as well.”

The panel overturned a ruling in which U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte of San Jose dismissed the case in 2007 for lack of jurisdiction.

Daimler spokesman Han Tjan said the company will appeal the ruling. The decision can be appealed to an expanded panel of the 9th Circuit and then to the U.S Supreme Court.
Tjan also noted that the claims in the lawsuit have not yet been ruled on.

“No ruling or judgment has been made as to the underlying allegations, which Daimler AG steadfastly denies,” Tjan said.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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