EarthRights International Criticizes Chevron's "Gamesmanship" Before U.S. Federal Judge
Amazon Defense Coalition
11 July 2011 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
New York, NY – In legal briefs, two prominent U.S. environmental law groups are criticizing Chevron's "unprecedented" attempt to use U.S. courts to try to block its legal obligation to pay clean-up costs in Ecuador for contaminating the Amazon rainforest.
Ecuadorian indigenous plaintiffs won an $18 billion judgment against Chevron in February after an eight-year trial where undisputed evidence demonstrated that the oil giant discharged billions of gallons of toxic waste into the rainforest, decimating indigenous groups and causing an outbreak of cancer. Chevron's damage to Ecuador's rainforest dwarfs the impact of BP's Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to lawyers for the plaintiffs.
The law groups lining up against Chevron include the Environmental Defender Law Center (EDLC) and EarthRights International. Both have asked the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York to reverse an injunction issued by Judge Lewis A. Kaplan that purports to block the Ecuadorians from enforcing their judgment around the world, even in countries where U.S. courts do not have jurisdiction.
In anticipation of an adverse judgment in Ecuador, Chevron sold its assets in the country and forced the plaintiffs to seek to collect any final judgment in the many nations where the oil giant operates.
In a last-ditch effort to obstruct international enforcement of the Ecuadorian judgment, Chevron filed a completely separate lawsuit before Kaplan in February of this year asking that he declare Ecuador's entire judicial system broken. Without an evidentiary hearing, Kaplan quickly issued a global injunction purporting to prevent the Ecuadorians from initiating enforcement proceedings anywhere in the world.
Almost all of the plaintiffs have rejected Kaplan's jurisdiction and have vowed to lawfully seek to collect any enforceable judgment outside of the U.S., regardless of how Kaplan rules. Almost none of the plaintiffs have even visited the United States.
Argument over Kaplan's authority to issue the preliminary injunction will be heard the week of September 12 in Manhattan. In the meantime, Kaplan has scheduled a trial – the plaintiffs call it a "show trial" as the judge is refusing to consider most of their evidence – for November, where it is expected he will make the injunction permanent unless the appellate court stays the proceedings.
The two environmental law groups warned that the reasoning behind Kaplan's injunction threatens to shut the courthouse doors to human rights victims attempting to bring litigation against multinational corporations.
Noting that the Ecuadorians originally filed their lawsuit in the U.S. in 1993 – only to see it shifted to Ecuador in 2002 at Chevron's request after the oil giant praised Ecuador's courts – EarthRights warned that Kaplan's "perverse approach" was creating a "recipe for gamesmanship and legal quagmires" that would encourage any corporation accused of causing harm abroad to manipulate the U.S. legal system to avoid liability.
"Allowing Chevron's strategy sanctions the misuse of the judicial process and undermines its integrity," EarthRights said in its brief.
The EDLC argued that Kaplan's purported worldwide injunction is an "exercise of power that district courts do not possess."
"There is no warrant for a New York court to install itself as a super-appellate court over the Ecuadorian legal system and as the world-wide arbiter of the enforceability of foreign judgments," said the EDLC in its brief, noting that a U.S. court would never allow a foreign court to issue an injunction shutting down the U.S. as a forum to enforce a foreign judgment.
"Foreign courts would be unlikely to accept that a U.S. district court has the authority to determine the issue for them, and to close their court house doors to claims brought under their own law," the brief added.
Chevron's approach and Kaplan's injunction have generated increasing controversy and prompted heavy criticism from U.S. law professors and international law scholars, the government of Ecuador and by noted New York human rights law scholar Bert Neuborne.
In seeking Kaplan's recusal from the case, the Ecuadorians chastised him for mocking their case from the bench and exhibiting a pro-corporate bias in favor of Chevron. Just last week, the Second Circuit issued an order consolidating the motion by the Ecuadorians to recuse Kaplan with the underlying appeal of his injunction, a highly unusual move that suggests the court is taking the recusal issue seriously.
The Ecuador trial court found that Chevron's dumping contaminated an area the size of Rhode Island. The court also found that Chevron had repeatedly tried to delay and undermine the proceedings, in part by threatening to file criminal charges against Ecuadorian judges unless they ruled in the company's favor.
During the trial, the Ecuador court also sanctioned two Chevron lawyers with fines for abusing the trial process.
Chevron operated in Ecuador from 1964 to 1992 under the Texaco brand. Chevron bought Texaco in 2001 and did so without properly vetting the company for the Ecuador liability, according to complaints filed with the company and regulatory authorities by disgruntled shareholders.
Both EarthRights International and the EDLC provide legal representation to victims of environmental human rights abuses by U.S. corporations abroad.