A U.S. federal appeals court blocked a $9.5 billion Ecuadorian pollution judgment Monday against oil producer Chevron Corp. because it was obtained through fraud and bribery.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan upheld a lower court ruling against Steven Donziger, an attorney defending 30,000 Ecuadorians alleging harm from pollution they sourced to the company.
The lawsuit, which has been raging for 23 years, began in New York and eventually shifted to Ecuador in 2003. The case alleged Chevron had for decades pumped pollution into Northern Ecuador’s rainforest.
U.S. Circuit Judge Amalya Kearse wrote in a 127-page court opinion that Donziger had failed to convince the New York court that he and his clients did not violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
Donziger and his Ecuadorian legal team, according to a lower U.S. court ruling in 2014, fabricated evidence in an effort to paint Chevron in a guilty light, coerced an Ecuadorian judge, and ghostwrote most of the Ecuadorian trial ruling against Chevron.
Kearse, quoting the lower court, said the “ends do not justify the means.”
She added: “And the defendants’ ‘this-is-the-way-it-is-done-in-Ecuador’ excuses—actually a remarkable insult to the people of Ecuador—do not help them.”
Kearse also said that the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision is in line with decisions in the South American nation arguing that U.S. courts should determine corruption charges.
“This decision, which is consistent with the findings of numerous judicial officers in the U.S. and South America, leaves no doubt that the Ecuadorian judgment against Chevron is the illegitimate and unenforceable product of misconduct,” R. Hewitt Pate, Chevron’s general counsel, said in an email.
Deepak Gupta, the attorney for Donziger, railed against the court’s final ruling, claiming the decision was a miscarriage of justice and an entirely “unprecedented in American law.”
“Never before has a U.S. court allowed someone who lost a case in another country to come to the U.S. to attack a foreign court’s damages award,” Gupta said in an email. “The decision hands well-heeled corporations a template for avoiding legal accountability anywhere in the world.”
Corporate watchdog group Public Eye foisted upon Chevron the “Lifetime Award” in 2015 for being the most irresponsible company in the group’s ten-year history.
“At the gates of the World Economic Forum (WEF), the Berne Declaration and Greenpeace Switzerland have bestowed upon Chevron the ‘Lifetime Award’ for being the most irresponsible corporation in the ten-year era of the Public Eye Awards,” Public Eye announced in a press release at the time.
“Chevron’s refusal to comply with the 2013 verdict which ordered the company to pay U.S. $9.5 billion in damages and clean up costs,” Paul Paz, a spokesman with the nominating group Amazon Watch, said at the ceremony.
Amazon Watch has a direct connection to Donziger, as its executive director, Atossa Soltani, admitted to hiring a liege of activists to intimidate judges in Northern Ecuador.
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