Suit over Nigerian incident fails in U.S. court

John O'Brien Dec. 2, 2008, 3:15pm

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) - Chevron Corp. is not liable for the deaths of two Nigerians and injuries of several others who protested the company's alleged pollution, a jury unanimously decided Monday.

Chevron sought to protect its workers when the protestors took over an offshore platform in 1998 by calling on the Nigerian military, which used force to end the protest. The villagers claimed Chevron was polluting groundwater and killing fish, while Chevron claimed the protestors were taking hostages and threatening violence.

Nineteen plaintiffs filed suit, seeking to enforce the Alien Tort Claim Act. It allows "any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States" to be filed in U.S. federal court.

Chevron did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The plaintiffs reportedly will appeal.

One of Chevron's most recent filings said it could not be found liable for seven main reasons, which included:

-Chevron Nigeria Limited's operations manager said he requested help from the Nigerian government with the objective of peacefully resolving the situation;

-California law could not support an award of punitive damages because there was no evidence of oppressive, malicious or fraudulent conduct in California. Also, federal law could not support a punitive damages award because there was no evidence that actionable conduct was committed by an officer, director or managing agent of the defendants; and

-Chevron Corp. can't be held liable for Chevron Nigerian Limited's conduct because CNL acted on its own behalf and not under Chevron's control.

"All of plaintiffs' secondary liability theories are shot through with factual gaps and legal flaws," said the motion for judgment as a matter of law, filed Nov. 24.

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