Ecuadorean villagers harmed by Chevron’s pollution of a formerly pristine corner of the Amazon rainforest have been seeking legal redress against the company for almost two decades. Yesterday, they moved a whole lot closer to finally achieving justice, as an Ecuadorean appeals court upheld a judgement of 18 billion US dollars against Chevron.
Chevron stands accused of pollution on a truly massive scale. The victims, indigenous peoples and farmers, originally tried to challenge that pollution in Chevron’s home forum, the United States, but after years of litigation, a federal court in New York accepted Chevron’s argument that the case should be heard in Ecuador. So the plaintiffs filed suit in Ecuador.
And they won. Last spring, an Ecuadorean trial judge found that Chevron is liable for 18 billion US dollars in damages.
Chevron, of course, appealed. But even prior to that ruling, Chevron, sensing they were going to lose, began claiming that the plaintiffs’ case was fraudulent, and actually sued the plaintiffs and their lawyers in New York, asking among other things that the New York court bar the plaintiffs and their counsel from trying to enforce any judgment. Surprisingly, the federal district court issued just such an injunction, but it was quickly overturned on appeal.
Now, as of yesterday, an Ecuadorean appeals court has upheld the judgment. This is a huge victory for the plaintiffs, not only in their legal case, but also in the court of public opinion. Chevron’s mantra has been that the public should ignore the trial court judgment because it was obtained by fraud. But they made that argument in the Ecuadorean appeal as well, and although I have not yet read the entire decision, it is hard to see how the appellate court could have upheld the verdict without at least implicitly rejecting Chevron’s claims of fraud.
The fight is not over. Chevron could appeal to the Ecuadorean Supreme Court. It could seek to challenge any efforts to enforce the judgment, which will have to be outside Ecuador since Chevron no longer has operations in Ecuador. And Chevron could continue to pursue the arbitration proceedings it instituted against Ecuador in The Hague under the U.S.-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty.
Nonetheless, after yesterday’s ruling, Chevron’s options are limited. And after so many years, justice may finally be done.