This morning, there’s interesting news coming out of Washington, D.C. (from Bloomberg News and others) as District Court judge Louis Oberdorfer has ruled that a lawsuit (Doe v. Exxon Mobil, No. 01-1357 (D.D.C.)) brought by Indonesian villagers against Exxon Mobil can survive a motion for summary judgment filed by Exxon Mobil. According to Judge Oberdorfer, determining whether the company is liable for alleged human-rights abuses is a matter that should be left to a jury.
The case has had a long and very interesting journey, rather like a similar case brought on behalf of Burmese individuals against Unocal, Doe v. Unocal, brought in 1997. What distinguished Unocal, generally, was that it was essentially the first federal law suit brought under the Alien Tort Claims Act based on standards of international human rights, that was allowed to go forward.
Exxon Mobil, however, does not seem to be based on the same theory. In 2005, the District Court dismissed the claims based on similar theories, but allowed the case to move forward on claims based on state law. It is that form of the suit which survives for trial. The law firm of Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll has an excellent page dedicated to their case.
According to Bloomberg, Chevron is also facing suit for alleged abuses in Nigeria.