The Supreme Court said on Monday it would decide whether companies can be liable in this country for international human rights law violations, a case involving allegations that Royal Dutch Shell Plc helped Nigeria violently suppress oil exploration protests in the 1990s.

The justices agreed to hear an appeal by a group of Nigerians who argue they should be allowed to proceed with their lawsuit accusing the oil company of aiding the Nigerian government in human rights violations between 1992 and 1995.

The plaintiffs, families of seven Nigerians who were executed by a former military government for protesting Shell's exploration and development, sought to hold the company liable under a 1789 U.S. law called the Alien Tort Statute.

A U.S. appeals court in New York dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that corporations cannot be held liable in this country for violations of international human rights law.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that review was necessary because appeals courts around the nation have issued conflicting rulings on the issue of corporate liability under the more than 200-year-old law.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in the Shell case early next year, with a decision likely by June.