Chevron's U.S. win in Ecuador case looms over cases elsewhere
By Mica Rosenberg
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Ecuadorean villagers who are trying to get billions of dollars from Chevron Corp for pollution in the Amazon jungle are ready to refocus their fight on pending suits in other countries after a setback in the United States.
A scathing judgment issued by a U.S. judge this week against their lawyer will cast a long shadow over cases filed in Canada, Brazil and Argentina, where the plaintiffs are seeking Chevron assets as payment because the oil giant no longer has a presence in Ecuador.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan handed down a 500-page decision that found American lawyer Stephen Donziger used "corrupt means" to help villagers from the Lago Agrio region win the historic $18 billion judgment against Chevron in Ecuador in 2011. The damage award was later revised down to $9.5 billion. While Kaplan's decision bars Donziger and the villagers from enforcing the Ecuadorean ruling in the United States, it is not binding in pending cases elsewhere.
Of the three cases, the Canadian one seems to have progressed the farthest, with an appeals court there ruling in December that the province of Ontario was a proper jurisdiction for the plaintiffs to press the company to pay up. Chevron has asked for an appeal of that ruling to be heard by Canada's Supreme Court.
Vaughan Black, a professor at the Schulich School of Law in Halifax, Nova Scotia, thinks Kaplan's ruling will resonate if the Canadian case ends up being considered on its merits.
"Basically an Ontario court would have to look at all the evidence again and start at the beginning," Black said. "I suppose there is always the possibility that they could take a different view of which witnesses were credible, but the New York court didn't even think it was a close call. So it doesn't look very promising for the Ecuadorean plaintiffs."
The sprawling environmental case stretches back to the 1990s, when the villagers first tried to seek compensation for contamination in northeastern Ecuador by Texaco starting in 1964. Chevron acquired Texaco and for 20 years has been fighting the case as well as Donziger, who has spent most of his career representing the Ecuadorean plaintiffs.
The foreign courts will ultimately have to decide how to weigh the evidence presented against Donziger, which Kaplan said proved the judgment in Ecuador was tainted by fraud, against the underlying claims of the villagers who say they were sickened by decades of pollution. Continued...