Maynas v. Occidental Petroleum

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Maynas v. Occidental Petroleum

A Legacy of Harm: Indigenous Communities in the Peruvian Amazon take Occidental Petroleum to Court.

Country:

Peru

Case Status:

Closed/Settled

Issues:

Land Rights, Extractive Industries

Harms:

Extreme Pollution of Lands and Waterways, Disruption of ability to fish, hunt and raise crops, Widespread Lead and Cadmium Poisoning

Summary

In 2007, EarthRights International brought suit on behalf of twenty-five indigenous Achuar plaintiffs from the Peruvian Amazon against Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum Corp. (Oxy), alleging egregious harm caused by Oxy over a thirty-year period in the Corrientes River basin during which Oxy contaminated the rivers and lands of the indigenous Achuar communities, causing death, widespread poisoning and destruction of their way of life. For several years, Oxy argued that the case should be litigated in Peru, rather than in California, under the doctrine of forum non conveniens. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Oxy’s arguments and ruled that the case should continue in the Achuar Plaintiffs’ chosen forum: Oxy’s home state of California. In 2015, ERI announced that the parties were pleased to confirm a mutual settlement of the claims in the litigation. Under the settlement, the terms of which are confidential, Oxy provides assistance to enable these five Achuar communities to carry out community development projects for their benefit. All parties are satisfied with the resolution of this dispute.

Plaintiffs

Twenty-five indigenous Achuar plaintiffs from the Peruvian Amazon.

The California-based NGO, Amazon Watch, also sued Oxy for unfair business practices in covering up the contamination.

Apu Tomás Maynas Carijano, a plaintiff in the case and an Achuar traditional leader, stated, “With this lawsuit, I am here demanding Oxy clean up and compensate for the contamination it left in the Río Corrientes region. We can no longer eat the fish or drink the water. Our children are guaranteed death unless Oxy acts now.”

“[Oxy] said there wasn’t anything wrong, that the river and the animals and fish were fine. . . . Oxy . . . didn’t warn us about anything, and this was when Oxy was contaminating our area. . . . Oxy said, ‘we’re just extracting petroleum, we’re not contaminating.’ And so we got no support from Oxy . . . How am I going to survive? Where am I going to hunt? I want help. How am I going to raise my children?” — Man from Antioquía, May 2006

Defendants

Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum Corp deliberately ignored industry standards and employed out-of-date practices for 30 years, resulting in cadmium and lead poisoning among the Achuar communities. Oxy dumped an average of 850,000 barrels per day of toxic oil by-products directly into rivers and streams used by the Achuar for drinking, bathing, washing, and fishing – totaling approximately nine billion barrels during the 30 years of operation.

Partners

In addition to EarthRights International (ERI), counsel for the plaintiffs include Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris Hoffman & Harrison LLP and Natalie Bridgeman Fields.

1971 – 2000- In 1971 Oxy signed a contract with the Peruvian government to drill for oil in Achuar territory, after initial testing had demonstrated the existence of significant reserves. Oxy began exploring and extracting petroleum from the Corrientes River basin in a remote region designated “Block 1AB” that had long been inhabited by the Achuar people. Large-scale production began in 1975, making it Peru’s largest onshore oil field complex, eventually producing approximately 42 percent of Peru’s oil. During its 30-year presence in the Corrientes region, Oxy built massive supporting infrastructure, such as airports, heliports, and refineries and at its peak produced approximately 115,000 barrels of crude oil per day. Oxy’s activities fell far short of the accepted industry standards throughout the course of their operations, as the company discharged massive quantities of contaminated waters into local streams, stored wastes improperly, and caused periodic oil spills. Three decades of Oxy’s activities caused significant health and environmental harms suffered by the Achuar people and their once-pristine rainforest environment. In 2000, Oxy sold its concession to Pluspetrol, an Argentine corporation that continues to use the systems and infrastructure Oxy designed and put in place. While the company at the helm of Block 1AB might be different, its modus operandi remains the same. Oxy’s destructive patterns, and the resulting human rights and environmental harms, have continued on Pluspetrol’s watch.

2007- ERI, along with its co-counsel, Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris Hoffman & Harrison LLP and Natalie Bridgeman Fields, brought suit on behalf of twenty-five indigenous Achuar plaintiffs from the Peruvian Amazon against Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum Corp. (Oxy), alleging egregious harm caused by Oxy over a thirty-year period in the Corrientes River basin during which Oxy contaminated the rivers and lands of the indigenous Achuar communities, causing death, widespread poisoning and destruction of their way of life. ERI and its co-counsel also represented the California-based NGO Amazon Watch, which sued Oxy for unfair business practices in covering up the contamination.

2008- The Oxy lawsuit was dismissed by the federal District Court in Los Angeles; the judge ruled that under the doctrine of “forum non conveniens,” the case should be litigated in Peru instead of the United States.

The plaintiffs appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the case should stay in the United States, and that the district court should have granted some discovery before dismissing the case. Oxy also cross-appealed, arguing that Amazon Watch had no standing to sue, and should be dismissed from the case.

2010- The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling, finding that the case should stay in Los Angeles. The Ninth Circuit did not rule on Amazon Watch’s standing to sue, instead ruling that the district court should consider that question. Oxy then filed a petition for rehearing at the Ninth Circuit, challenging the appeal decision.

2011- The Ninth Circuit issued a new opinion, addressing some of Oxy’s criticisms but not changing the result of the appeal; the amended opinion still decided that the case should stay in Los Angeles. Oxy filed a second petition for rehearing challenging the new opinion and asking the whole court (“en banc”) to review the panel’s decision.

2012- The Ninth Circuit denied that petition; five judges of the Ninth Circuit filed an opinion stating that they believed the en banc court should review the panel’s decision, and the judges on the panel issued another short opinion defending their decision. Oxy subsequently filed a petition for review with the U.S. Supreme Court, which the plaintiffs opposed.

2013- The Supreme Court denied the petition.

2015- ERI announced that the parties were pleased to confirm a mutual settlement of the claims in the litigation. Under the settlement, the terms of which are confidential, Oxy provides assistance to enable these five Achuar communities to carry out community development projects for their benefit. All parties are satisfied with the resolution of this dispute.

Legal Issues

The legal issue of whether, when victims travel to the home city of a U.S. company to file a complaint, the company can easily argue that the lawsuit should be dismissed back to the place where the plaintiffs are from.

Press

Indigenous Peruvians win Amazon pollution payout from US oil giant | The Guardian | March 5, 2015

Líderes Achuar y Occidental Petroleum llegan a un acuerdo tras contaminación del rio Corrientes | La Republica| March 5, 2015

Peru indigenous groups settle U.S. court claims with Occidental | Reuters | March 5, 2015

Occidental Petroleum pays Peru indigenous confidential sum in Amazon pollution settlement | Fox News | March 5, 2015

Indigenous Peruvians win case against Oxy | TeleSUR English (video) | March 5, 2015

Justice is Served: Achuar celebrate victory over Occidental Petroleum | Cultural Survival | ​June 2015

Peru’s Indigenous Communities Are Fighting Back Against Environmental Contamination by Seizing Oil Wells | VICE | February 3, 2015

Indigenous Peru Group Threatens to Sue Occidental | Reuters | May 3, 2007

Oxy Faces Lawsuit Threat Over Amazon Toxins ​| Inter Press Service News Agency

Venice Attorney Objects to Occidental’s Actions in the Amazon | Venice Paper

Peru’s Rainforest: Oil and Gas Run Through It ​| Christian Science Monitor | 2007

Oxy Sued Over Peruvian Drilling | LA Business Journal

Grupo indígena de Perú amenaza con demandar a Occidental ​| Latino MSN

Amazon Communities Warn Oxy Over Toxins ​| Upside Down World | May 9, 2007

Oil Company Accused of Dumping Waste in Amazon | Petroleum World | May 5, 2007

Peru Indigenous Warn Oxy Over Toxins ​| WW4Report | May 10, 2007

Peruvian Group Suing Oxy Over Pollution ​| ABCMoney | October 5, 2007

Indigenous Community Sues LA-Based Occidental Petroleum | Living in Peru

Peruvians Sue Oil Giant Over Amazon Pollution | Buzzle.com

Business & Human Rights Centre

Press Releases

Peruvian Indigenous Communities Pleased with Settlement of Pollution Lawsuit Against Occidental Petroleum | March 5, 2015

Press Conference Announcing Outcome of Pollution Lawsuit Against Occidental Petroleum | February 27, 2015

Blogs

What Happens in the Amazon, Doesn’t Stay in the Amazon: One Mother’s Inspiring Quest for Justice | Katie Redford, Huffington Post

Oil companies caught cheating; what else are they hiding? | Michelle Harrison

Ninth Circuit confirms appeal ruling in Oxy case | Marco Simons

Court grants Oxy’s petition for rehearing, but Achuar communities still win appeal | Marco Simons

The Oxy appeal ruling: What it means, and what comes next | Marco Simons

Video and publications

A Legacy of Harm: Occidental Petroleum in Indigenous Territory in the Peruvian Amazon

Oil in the Corrientes

Faces of Change: Adolfina Garcia

Maynas Carijano v. Occidental Petroleum

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