By Santiago Cueto, International Business Law Advisor
18 January 2010
The seventeen-year war between Ecuador's 30,000 class plaintiffs against oil giant Chevron continues its global odyssey, as the oil giant pulls out every trick in the book to avoid an impending $27 Billion judgment against it in Ecuador for contaminating an immense portion of rainforest and devastating the local population.
Chevron first fought successfully to force plaintiffs to try their lawsuit in Ecuador rather than U.S. courts. Then it sought (unsuccessfully) to win indemnification in U.S. courts from a possible judgment in Ecuador. And now it's filed for arbitration seven thousand miles across the Atlantic in Holland.
Chevron's latest tactical attempt to escape justice in Ecuador is consistent with its October 2007 press release, in which it promised the plaintiffs "a lifetime" of appellate and collateral litigation if they persisted in pursuing their claims.
Unfortunately for Chevron, it grossly underestimated the resolve of the class plaintiffs. As reported in The Wall Street Journal article, Chevron Plaintiffs Ask U.S. Court for Action, the People of Ecuador just filed a Petition to Stay Arbitration in United States District Court (S.D.N.Y) to enjoin Chevron from proceeding on the baseless international arbitration claim it recently filed in Holland. In December the Government of Ecuador filed its own Petition to Stay Arbitration.
As a litigator, I'm mindful that an attorney's obligation to zealously advocate his clients' interest may involve forum shopping as part of the procedural calculus, however, the obligation must be tempered with a keen understanding of what becomes abusive litigation.
Chevron's global quest for a favorable forum is a text book example of abusive litigation. To litigate a lawsuit across three continents is a cynical game of musical jurisdictions and takes corporate arrogance and the civil justice system to a new low. Isn't it time for Chevron to take a seat when the music stops in Ecuador?