Friday, September 10, 2010

Chevron Prevails on Nigerian Appeal (9th Circuit)

Bowoto v. Chevron, 09-15641.

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Chevron Corp successfully beat back an attempt by Nigerian villagers to hold it liable for a deadly clash on an oil platform in Nigeria, a federal appeals court ruled on Friday.  In 2008 a Northern California jury decided Chevron did not have to pay compensation to a group of plaintiffs for a clash a decade earlier between Nigerian state forces and protesters on Chevron's Parabe oil platform, 9 miles (14 km) off Nigeria's coast. The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals refused on Friday to disturb that verdict, according to its ruling. The appeals court also found that the Torture Victim Protection Act, passed by Congress in 1992, does not apply to corporations. The case in the 9th Circuit is Bowoto v. Chevron Corp, 09-15641.

NOTE: Corporate Liability under the TVPA:  The Court found that corporations cannot be held liable under the TVPA.  It found that the plain language imposes liability only on "individuals" and the ordinary meaning of this term excludes corporations.  Nothing in the legislative history rebuts this presumption.  On the contrary, "the legislative history demonstrates that Congress rejected the notion of corporate liability."  The Court also rejected plaintiffs' "alternative argument that they may sue Chevron under the TVPA upon a theory of 'aiding and abetting.' . . .  The TVPA, however, does not contemplate such liability.  It limits liability to '[a] individual' who subjects another to torture.  Even assuming the TVPA permits some form of vicarious liability, the text limits such liability to individuals."

DOHSA Preemption of ATS Claims: The Court declined to decide whether DOHSA preempts wrongful death claims under the ATS ("We do not necessarily agree with the district court's determination that [Supreme Court decisions] foreclose the possibility of there ever being a cognizable ATS claim . . . to recover for a death on the high seas"), finding that the issue was moot because the jury "squarely rejected a wrongful death claim brought under Nigerian law that was nearly identical."  "[A]ny difference in the burden of proof between the ATS, preponderance, and Nigerian law, beyond a reasonable doubt standards, is immaterial under the circumstances of this case. The jury rejected a total of 20 common law claims brought by Plaintiffs under a variety of burdens of proof. There is no reason to believe the jury would have found a summary execution claim meritorious under any standard."

Challenges to Jury Instructions: The Court found that the Nigerian law battery instruction was correct in placing the burden on plaintiffs to prove that force was unreasonable.  It rejected plaintiffs' reliance on Ashley because English cases have only persuasive value in Nigeria.  It found the cited Nigerian cases "more authoritative" - which hold that the burden of proof for a civil battery claim is the same as under Nigerian criminal law, and the criminal law requires the prosecution to prove unreasonable force.

The Court found that the affirmative defenses instructions were correct, and refused to consider plaintiffs' challenge to the California law battery instruction on the merits because plaintiffs failed to preserve it in the district court.

Evidentiary Challenges: The Court found that (1) plaintiffs' waived their challenge to the tug boat kidnapping evidence by referring to the incident in their opening argument; (2) the machete photograph was relevant to counter plaintiffs claim that they were peaceful and did not have weapons; (3) Stapleton and Hervey's testimony about what they were told about the violence of the ongoing takeover was relevant because it was conveyed to and considered by the Crisis Management Team; (4) the evidence of prior kidnappings by the Ilaje was relevant to establish the reasonableness of Chevron employee's view that negotiations had failed; and (5) Judge Illston's Rule 403 balancing was properly documented.