Chevron Sues Bowoto Plaintiffs for $500,000 in Costs

by Roger Alford

This story in the continuing saga of Bowoto v. Chevron should give human rights litigants pause:

Chevron Corp., which prevailed in a human-rights lawsuit seeking to hold it responsible for the shooting of Nigerian protesters at an oil platform, is seeking nearly $500,000 in legal costs from the villagers who brought the suit. Chevron’s claim for reimbursement, filed in federal court, includes $190,000 in copying charges.

I contacted counsel for Chevron to secure a copy of the memorandum in support of costs, which is available here. The pleading includes itemized costs for several small expenses and two significant expenses of $263,640 for deposition costs and $190,216 for photocopying expenses.

The message of this latest move is clear: corporate defendants like Chevron are willing to fight hard against ATS litigation and send a message to human rights litigants that they should be extraordinarily careful to pursue claims that have a good chance of losing. As one of the lawyers representing the Nigerian plaintiffs put it, “My assumption is that it’s punitive and it’s designed as a shot across the bow of any would-be plaintiffs in the future.”

http://opiniojuris.org/2009/02/17/chevron-sues-bowoto-plaintiffs-for-500000-in-costs/

8 Responses

  1. Response… Boycott chevron till the application is withdrawn.

  2. Good for Chevron.

  3. ATS jurisprudence–at least as far as human rights are concerned–has always confused me. It seems like said rights under CIL (at least as the courts define them) are more comprehensive than Constitutional ones. Thus, an alien might be able to win an award through Sec. 1350 that an American citizen could not through Sec. 1331. And as a matter of policy, that seems backward.

    Any thoughts?

  4. Excuse me, but this is no surprise.  The threat of retaliatory litigation is CONSTANTLY in the back of the minds of human rights litigators.  It’s not as if we have six figures to fritter away making copies. 

  5. I believe William Haynes, our old friend from being General Counsel for Rumsfeld’s DOD is the General Counsel at Chevron and testimony last summer.  Plus ca change.
    Best,
    Ben

  6. Regarding the punitive/retaliatory effect and intent: in the 9th Circuit, isn’t indigency a defense under section 1920?  (Perhaps it turns on whether courts are inclined to liken ATS suits to civil rights litigation.)  This is on top of the difficulty of collecting.

    I’d be interested in hearing whether the perceived significance of this is concern that money will be taken from losing plaintiffs, or more that it’s an additional signal that defendant(s) will litigate.  As to the latter, it’s even more indicative of a defendant’s resolve if it’s a costly gesture . . . as here, given that the fees for preparing the motion may exceed the likely recovery of costs, on top of the fees involved in failing to settle.

    P.S.  Sergei, the discrimination you describe is a necessary consequence of the way that 1350 is written; perhaps it made more sense in light of the ATS’ original purposes, though they are contested.  In any event, I doubt that the rights available to aliens under the ATS come close to the set potentially secured for everyone by the subject matter grant in 1331, which includes not only the Constitution and treaties of the US but also federal statutes.

    P.P.S.  Ben, really not sure of the relevance to your point or to this post, but I recall that Charles James (from Bush I, Antitrust Division) is the GC at Chevron, though Haynes may also be there.

  7. Excellent.  The case in question was one of the foremost examples of ATS-driven junk lawsuits.  Here’s to hoping Talisman Energy follows suit.

  8. Sorry – chief corporate counsel

    Chevron Corp. has hired as its chief corporate counsel William Haynes II, who until February was general counsel for the Department of Defense. Haynes, who will report to Chevron General Counsel Charles James, replaces former chief corporate counsel William Buck, who retired, according to Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson.

    Best,
    Ben

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