Burden of proof at issue in Chevron-Nigeria appeal
[Audio of today's hearing.]
SAN FRANCISCO, June 14 (Reuters) - An appeal of a major case brought by Nigerians against Chevron Corp (CVX.N) hinges on where the burden of proof lies: with forces that landed on an occupied oil platform or the occupiers harmed by them.
In late 2008, a jury in federal court cleared the company of liability arising from the clash a decade earlier between Nigerian state forces and protesters on Chevron's Parabe oil platform, 9 miles (14 km) off Nigeria's coast.
Theresa Traber, representing the villagers who brought the case against the U.S. oil company, argued before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday that the federal trial court erred by putting the burden of proof on the plaintiffs.
Lawyers for the villagers said Judge Susan Illston set the bar too high in requiring the plaintiffs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Nigerian soldiers acted improperly.
The occupation of Parabe, by about 100 local villagers who were protesting environmental damage and demanding compensation and jobs, ended in a violent clash in May 1998. [The villagers had threatened Chevron that they would commit "sea piracy" if their demands were not met, and subsequently took hostages back to the mainland.]
Traber said it should be the defense -- including Chevron since it fed and housed the soldiers -- that should demonstrate the troops acted reasonably when firing on the protesters.
But Craig Stewart, representing Chevron, argued it was a "police" action that broke up the three-day occupation, so it was up to the other side to show "excessive force" was used.
"The burden rests on plaintiffs in that case," he told the court in San Francisco.