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, EarthRights 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.

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
Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum Corp deliberately ignored industry standards and employed out-of-date practices for 30 years, resulting in cadmium and lead poisoning among the Achuar communities.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.
In addition to EarthRights International, counsel for the plaintiffs include Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris Hoffman & Harrison LLP and Natalie Bridgeman Fields.
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.

Timeline

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. EarthRights 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

EarthRights 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.


Documents

Oxy Brief in Opposition
Oxy Petition for a Writ of Certiorari
Oxy En Banc Rehearing Denial
Plaintiffs Response to Second Petition for Rehearing
Oxy Petition for Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc
Oxy Amended Appeal
Plaintiffs Petition for Rehearing Response
Oxy Petition for Rehearing
Oxy Appeal Judgment
Plaintiffs Opening Brief
Oxy Answering Brief
Plaintiffs Reply Brief
Oxy Reply Brief on Cross-Appeal
Oxy Forum Non Conveniens Order
First Amended Class Action Complaint
Final Class Action Complaint

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