Just call it the case that keeps going, and going. And going. Over two decades strong, what started out as a case to protect the indigenous people of the Amazon basin in Ecuador from the destruction resulting from oil exploration, has devolved into a RICO battle that will test the limits and applicability of the civil provisions of the statute.
Steven Donziger, now in the battle for his reputation, is appealing a district court's ruling against him.
The Ecuador Case
A group of Ecuadorian villagers, represented by Steven Donziger sued Chevron for environmental contamination and pollution that occurred in the Amazon jungle. After two decades of litigation, the villagers won an $18 billion judgment against Chevron, in Ecuadorian court, which was later reduced to $9.5 billion, reports Petro Global News.
The RICO Case
Before the plaintiffs could collect their judgment, Chevron turned the tables, and filed a civil suit against Steven Donziger under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970. Last October, trial between the two parties began and Chevron set out to convince a district judge for the Southern District of New York that the $18 billion judgment was awarded as a result of bribery. Judge Kaplan ruled for Chevron finding that Steven Dozinger "had orchestrated a vast extortion conspiracy in the form of a lawsuit," reports Bloomberg.
Last week, two appellate briefs were filed; one on behalf of Donziger and the other on behalf of Hugo Gerardo Camacho Naranjo and Javier Piaguaje Payaguaje. Donziger argues that "Judge Kaplan exceeded his authority under [RICO]" and that "RICO should not be read to allow for the sort of judicial order that Kaplan issued in Chevron's favor," according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Naranjo and Payaguaje claim that "this litigation has lost its way" and that the district court did not have the authority to enjoin them from seeking enforcement of the judgment, reports The Washington Examiner.
Giving us a glimpse at what will be in their response brief, Chevron has issued the following statement: "Steven Donziger and his associates were found by a U.S. court to have committed racketeering, extortion, money laundering, wire fraud, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice in obtaining the Ecuadorian judgment against Chevron." The company added, "We are confident that the judgment against them will be upheld."
This case will be closely watched by corporations and plaintiffs' lawyers alike because of the emerging trend of business interests using RICO "as a means to fight what they consider bogus suits." On the other hand, plaintiffs' lawyers "see the trend as an ominous attempt to distort a federal statute, demonize corporate critics, and evade responsibility for misconduct," says Bloomberg.
However you characterize it, this case is one to watch, and we'll keep you posted.
- 2nd Cir News: Chevron Trial Begins, Conn. Officials Appeal to SCOTUS (FindLaw's U.S. Second Circuit Blog)
- Chevron Ecuador: Oil Giant Fined 8.6 Billion by Ecuadoran Judge (FindLaw's U.S. Second Circuit Blog)
- Comity of Errors: Second Circuit Reverses Chevron Ruling (FindLaw's U.S. Second Circuit Blog)