The U.S. Supreme Court today rejected Chevron’s latest attempt to block global enforcement of a historic $19 billion environmental judgment from Ecuador’s courts, removing another hurdle for rainforest indigenous groups as they continue their efforts to seize billions of dollars of Chevron assets around the world.
Chevron's losing petition was prepared and signed by Ted Olson, one of the top Supreme Court litigators in the country and the former Solicitor General of the United States under the last Bush Administration. Olson works at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, Chevron's lead outside law firm on the Ecuador matter and itself the subject of judicial rulings that it has committed ethical violations on behalf of the oil giant.
Jim Tyrrell of Patton Boggs and John Keker of Keker & Van Nest signed papers for the Ecuadorian rainforest communities and their counsel.
The Supreme Court decision represents the latest of numerous courtroom setbacks for Chevron as the company tries to evade paying the Ecuador judgment, which was issued in early 2011 after an eight-year trial found that the oil giant deliberately dumped more than 16 billion gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon. A three-judge appellate panel in Ecuador later affirmed the decision, criticizing Chevron harshly for threatening judges and filing frivolous motions to delay the proceedings.
Several pro-business groups who are funded in part by Chevron, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers, had weighed in on the oil giant’s behalf before the Supreme Court.
When Chevron refused to pay the Ecuador judgment, lawyers for the 30,000 affected villagers this summer hired prominent law firms to file seizure actions targeting billions of dollars of Chevron assets in Canada and Brazil. They have promised to file more seizure actions soon in other countries, potentially creating significant operational problems for the oil giant, according to Chevron’s own court filings. See here.
Chevron’s use of substandard operational practices in Ecuador – it operated there from 1964 to 1992 under the Texaco brand -- decimated indigenous groups and caused an outbreak of cancer that has killed or threatens to kill thousands of people, according to findings of the court. A summary of the evidence against Chevron can be found here, a video about the case can be seen here, while a summary of the cancer deaths can be found here.
Independent journalists, such as 60 Minutes and a prominent Australian news show, also have confirmed Chevron’s extensive pollution in Ecuador.
Chevron had asked the Supreme Court to salvage an unprecedented injunction imposed in March 2011 by New York federal judge Lewis A. Kaplan purporting to bar worldwide enforcement of the Ecuador judgment. That injunction provoked outrage in much of the legal community and was overturned unanimously in September 2011 by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the ruling the Supreme Court declined to review.
Over the last two years, federal courts at every level in the United States – trial courts, intermediate appellate courts, and now the Supreme Court – have now rejected Chevron’s attempts to block or undermine the Ecuador judgment. The oil giant claims the judgment was procured by fraud, a charge the villagers and their lawyers say is a smokescreen invented by Chevron to cover-up its own criminal behavior in Ecuador as found by various courts.
“Chevron's latest loss before the Supreme Court is an example of the company's increasingly futile battle to avoid paying its legal obligations in Ecuador," said Aaron Marr Page, a lawyer for the Ecuadorians.
"Chevron is running from justice while its toxic dumping continues to create an imminent danger of death to indigenous peoples in Ecuador,” said Page.
Chevron’s losses in U.S. courts on the Ecuador case are mounting fast.
In the last two years, 18 U.S. trial courts and four appellate courts have either rejected or declined to consider Chevron’s campaign to paint the Ecuador judgment as a product of “fraud”, according to an analysis of court data by representatives of the rainforest communities. That analysis can be read here.
Even Judge Kaplan, who has been subject to withering criticism for his biases against the Ecuadorians, further gutted Chevron’s strategy when he dismissed or stayed three of Chevron’s fraud claims and its unjust enrichment claim against the rainforest communities in a racketeering case pending against them in New York.
In its public relations materials, Chevron continually tried to claim U.S. courts have found “fraud” in the Ecuador proceedings. In reality, three different Ecuadorian courts have heard Chevron’s allegations and rejected them, while no U.S. court has found fraud on the merits after an evidentiary hearing or trial.
In the handful of courts where judges made such a preliminary finding, it was done in the context of simple discovery proceedings and later was overturned by federal appellate courts.
A panel of federal appellate judges in Philadelphia, for example, blasted Chevron for attacking Ecuador’s courts – calling its comments “disparaging”. Another federal judge in New Orleans accused the oil giant of using “hyperbole” and trying to make “a mountain out of a molehill.” See here.
This was the second time in the long history of the Ecuador lawsuit that the Supreme Court declined to hear a Chevron petition for review. In 2009, the court declined to review a decision that denied Chevron’s attempt to force Ecuador’s government into a private arbitration over who should pay for the clean-up in Ecuador.
For that petition, Chevron used high-profile lawyer Paul Clement, another former U.S. Solicitor General. Clement argued the losing side in the famous case last year over the Obama Administration’s health care law.
Just last week, the Gibson Dunn law firm was criticized for overbilling Chevron by sending 11 lawyers to a relatively minor court hearing.