UCI Law Clinics Assist Former Child Slaves in U.S. Supreme Court


Irvine, Calif. (Nov. 24, 2020) -- Students in the University of California, Irvine School of Law (UCI Law) Civil Rights Litigation, International Human Rights Litigation and International Justice Clinics are part of the litigation team representing former child slaves before the U.S. Supreme Court in Doe v Nestle USA and Cargill, Nos 19-416 & 453. Civil Rights Litigation Clinic Director Paul Hoffman will argue these consolidated matters in the Supreme Court on December 1, 2020.

The case involves key questions about whether the former child slaves may use the Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”) to obtain redress from these corporations for their alleged participation in the system of child exploitation on farms and plantations in the Ivory Coast. The plaintiffs were trafficked into the Ivory Coast from neighboring Mali and kept in conditions of chattel slavery for years before they escaped. The corporations are alleged to have maintained this system of slavery in order to secure a steady supply of cocoa beans for their products.

More than a dozen students from the three clinics assisted in researching issues of domestic and international law, as well as writing the briefs for the Court.

“UCI students provided essential support for these very important human rights cases,” said Prof. Hoffman. “The students participated in every aspect of the cases before the Court and did exceptional work.”

“It was an unusual opportunity for students to play such an important role in such an important case before the Supreme Court,” said Melanie Partow, an Adjunct Clinical Professor in the Civil Rights Litigation Clinic at UCI Law.

“Through this project, our students have had the unique opportunity to work on a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case and apply their knowledge of international human rights law in a domestic forum. I know this has been a highlight of their law school experience,” said Mary Hansel, Adjunct Clinical Professor in the International Justice Clinic.

The students are now helping Professor Hoffman with preparations for the December 1 oral argument. Also working on the plaintiffs’ litigation team are Dean Erwin Chemerinsky of the Berkeley Law School; Terrence Collingsworth, Executive Director of International Rights Advocates; John Washington, Adjunct Clinical Professor in UCI’s International Human Rights Litigation Clinic; and Catherine Sweetser, Director of UCLA International Human Rights Clinic. UCLA students also participated on the litigation team.

“I consider myself very lucky to be part of the team working on this case for the Supreme Court,” said Sarah Eller, a 3L at UCI Law who worked on the briefs. “As a law student, I know that opportunities to work directly on important international human rights cases are rare, especially when those cases are led by attorneys as amazing as the ones on our team. From working on the oppositions to certiorari last year and the merits briefs this year, I learned what lawyering at the highest level looks like.”

The briefs for Cargill, Inc. v. Doe I and Nestlé USA, Inc. v. Doe I are available online.

About the University of California, Irvine School of Law

The University of California, Irvine School of Law is a visionary law school that provides an innovative and comprehensive curriculum, prioritizes public service, and demonstrates a commitment to diversity within the legal profession. UCI Law students have completed more than 100,000 hours of pro bono work in the past decade. Forty-eight percent of UCI Law’s graduates are students of color. At UCI Law, we are driven to improve our local, national, and global communities by grappling with important issues as scholars, as practitioners, and as teachers who are preparing the next generation of leaders. The collaborative and interdisciplinary community at UCI Law includes extraordinary students, world-renowned faculty, dedicated staff, engaged alumni, and enthusiastic supporters. More information on UCI Law is available here. Please follow us on Twitter and Instagram @ucilaw.

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