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US court rejects Chevron plea for payment of $485,000 by Ilaje community

A U.S. federal court on April 23, 2009 rejected a request by Chevron Corporation that members of the Ilaje community in Ondo state who lost a suit brought against the Oil firm, should pay Chevron’s costs of litigation arising out of the suit.


The Bowoto v. Chevron Corp., No. 99-2506, heard by a US Federal Court last year was brought by EarthRights International a US based environmental rights groups on behalf of the Ilaje community against Chevron


The villagers had sued Chevron for alleged complicity in attacks against  members of the Ilaje community Ondo state, Nigeria who in May 1998, staged a peaceful protest at Chevron’s Parabe oil platform off the Nigerian coast against Chevrons activities in the communities which was reportedly destroying the environment and economic livelihoods


Two demonstrators were killed, and several others wounded by Nigeria security forces called in to quell the protests.


The Security men were allegedly paid by Chevron, ferried to the platform in Chevron helicopters and supervised by Chevron personnel.  


A US Federal court that heard the suit ruled in favour of Chevron on all charges, last November, but the plaintiffs are appealing that decision with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.


Ruling on Chevron’s request that the plaintiffs should pay the litigation cost, the trial Judge Susan Illston found that making these victims pay Chevron’s costs “would have a chilling effect on future civil rights litigants.”


The court’s order additionally recognizes that “this case was an attempt by impoverished citizens of Nigeria to increase accountability for the activities of American companies in their country,” and that denying payment of Chevron’s costs was warranted given the “extreme economic disparity between plaintiffs and defendants—Chevron Corporation’s fourth quarter net income in 2008 was $4.9 billion; full year 2008 net income was $23.93 billion.”


Plaintiffs’ counsel Cindy Cohn, Legal Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), stated,” We’re pleased that Chevron’s attempt to punish these poor Nigerian villagers was soundly rejected by the Court, and that the Court saw through the oil company’s larger effort to deter victims of human rights abuses from bringing suit.”


The plaintiffs have also appealed the jury’s verdict, and argued that a new trial was appropriate after Chevron’s lawyers made improper arguments and misused evidence.


Plaintiffs’ counsel Marco Simons, Legal Director of EarthRights International (ERI), said, “In this order, the Court rejected Chevron’s argument that the plaintiffs’ claims had no merit, and we are confident that we will be vindicated on appeal.”