Donziger Asks High Court To Weigh In On Chevron Judgment – Law360
Attorney Steven Donziger has asked the Supreme Court to hear his appeal of a finding that a $9.5 billion oil pollution judgment against Chevron in Ecuador was fraudulently produced and could not be enforced, saying that key international jurisdiction and racketeering law questions needed to be addressed.
In a petition for a writ of certiorari filed March 27, Donziger argued that the Supreme Court should address whether disappointed litigants from other countries could launch a preemptive collateral attack on a foreign civil judgment. The petition said that for the first time in history, the Second Circuit had allowed this to occur. In addition, the filing raises questions about how far the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act can be stretched. The petition questions the Second Circuit’s finding that plaintiffs can use injunctive-relief-only RICO suits to seek culpability.
Donziger, who represented the so-called Lago Agrio plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in Ecuador, lost an appeal to the Second Circuit seeking to overturn a district judge’s finding that the judgment against Chevron was the product of “egregious fraud.” Chevron Corp. had sued Donziger for allegedly bribing the Ecuadorean court and ghostwriting the judgment it issued — allegations he strongly denies.
“The Second Circuit’s decision in this case marks the first time in history that any circuit has allowed a party that lost a foreign money judgment to bring its own action collaterally attacking that judgment here — absent any enforcement attempt — even though the loser has not paid any of the judgment to date,” the petition said.
Last year, the Second Circuit said it had no basis for reviving the judgment stemming from a lawsuit alleging that Texaco Inc. dumped crude oil into the Amazon rainforest during a decadeslong oil-drilling operation, giving the region’s inhabitants cancer and destroying natural resources. Chevron acquired Texaco’s liability when it bought the company in 2001.
The attorney who filed the petition said the questions were vital for the Supreme Court to consider.
“This long-running oil pollution dispute between Chevron and Ecuadorian villagers and the lawyers has gotten a lot of attention because it’s a story of good and evil that has stretched out over decades and continents,” Deepak Gupta, Donziger’s attorney, told Law360 in an email Friday. “But our cert petition points out that the case also presents serious legal issues that are in need of resolution by the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Chevron sees a different villain in the case.
“Steven Donziger and his associates were found by a U.S. court to have committed racketeering, extortion, money laundering, wire fraud, witness tampering and obstruction of justice in obtaining an Ecuadorian judgment against Chevron. That decision was unanimously upheld in a 127-page decision by a U.S. appeals court,” the company said in a statement to Law360 on Friday. “We do not think Donziger’s latest attempt to distract from his fraudulent behavior is worthy of Supreme Court review.”
The Second Circuit rejected Donziger’s argument that Chevron lacked standing to challenge the Ecuadorean judgment, saying its initial complaint alleging fraudulent and corrupt conduct by Donziger and others plausibly alleged that a judgment against Chevron would be traced to those actions and that the case wasn’t mooted by the appeals court’s 2012 overturning of a broader, worldwide anti-enforcement order.
The appeals court also rejected arguments that the district court’s ruling violated international comity principles and wrongly sought relief against Donziger and others, saying it only prevented three men from enforcing the judgment in U.S. courts, leaving them and other Lago Agrio plaintiffs free to seek enforcement in other courts around the world.
Donziger is represented by Deepak Gupta, Matthew Spurlock of Jonathan E. Taylor of Gupta Wessler PLLC.
Counsel information for Chevron was not immediately available in the Supreme Court case, but in the appeals court, the company has been represented by Gibson Dunn.
The case is Steven Donziger et al. v. Chevron Corporation, case number 16-1178, in the U.S. Supreme Court.
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