U.S. Court: Alien Tort Statute/Torture Victim Protection Act




CJA sought to hold Colonel Nicolas Carranza – the former Vice-Minister of Defense for El Salvador – accountable for his actions in El Salvador by using two federal statutes, the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA), which allow for civil suits in U.S. courts to remedy a limited set of human rights violations.

In 1985, Carranza immigrated to the United States, where he gained citizenship in 1991. CJA and pro bono co-counsel, Bass, Berry & Sims, filed a civil suit against him on behalf of our plaintiffs before the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee in December 2003. The complaint was amended in February 2004 to add the claims of an additional plaintiff, Daniel Alvarado. Brought under the ATS and the TVPA, the suit charged Carranza with liability for torture, extrajudicial killing and crimes against humanity under the established doctrine of command responsibility.

The parties engaged in motion practice and discovery. The trial in federal district court in Memphis began in October 2005.  After two weeks of testimony, the jury found Carranza responsible for crimes against humanity, torture and extrajudicial killing and awarded plaintiffs a total of $6 million in damages.

Carranza appealed the jury verdict to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. In an unusual development, on March 28, 2008, the Republic of El Salvador filed an amicus brief arguing that the trial judgment should be voided, on account of Carranza’s entitlement to amnesty under El Salvador’s 1993 Amnesty Law.  In response, a coalition of international law experts filed an amicus brief arguing that the 1993 Amnesty Law violates the Salvadoran constitution and international law. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Carranza and the Republic of El Salvador’s arguments and affirmed the 2005 jury verdict on March 17, 2009. On May 28, 2009, Carranza filed a certiorari petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, which was denied in October 2009.

CJA and pro bono co-counsel continue to pursue collection of the $6 million judgment against Carranza. To date, we have successfully garnished one of Carranza’s bank accounts.