ExxonMobil lawsuit (re Aceh)

Indonesia troops guard ExxonMobilIn 2001, eleven Indonesian villagers filed suit against ExxonMobil in US federal court alleging that the company was complicit in human rights abuses committed by Indonesian security forces in the province of Aceh.  The plaintiffs maintain that ExxonMobil hired the security forces, who were members of the Indonesian military, to protect the natural gas extraction facility and pipeline which ExxonMobil was operating.  The plaintiffs further claim that ExxonMobil knew or should have known about the Indonesian military’s human rights violations against the people of Aceh.  The plaintiffs allege that they suffered human rights violations, such as murder, torture and rape, at the hands of these security forces. 

On October 14, 2005, a US federal judge ruled that the plaintiffs’ case may proceed on District of Columbia (DC) state law claims (which include wrongful death, theft by coercion and assault and battery), but he dismissed the plaintiffs’ federal claims under the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Torture Victim Protection Act.  On March 2, 2006, a US federal judge denied a motion to dismiss filed by ExxonMobil, and ordered the parties to proceed toward discovery in this case.  In January of 2007, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit denied ExxonMobil's appeal of the lower court's denial of its motion to dismiss.  Additionally, the court of appeals denied ExxonMobil's petition for a writ of mandamus to compel the lower court to dismiss the claims against the company.  In July of 2007, ExxonMobil appealed to the US Supreme Court (petitioned for a writ of certiorari).  On 13 November 2007, the US Supreme Court invited the US Solicitor General to file a brief expressing the views of the executive branch on this petition.  On 16 June 2008, the US Supreme declined to hear this case.  On 27 August 2008, the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled on a motion for summary judgment filed by ExxonMobil; the judge declined to grant the defendants’ motion.  The judge found that the plaintiffs had presented sufficient preliminary evidence to support their allegations of abuse and therefore the case should be submitted to a jury for trial.  On 30 September 2009, the US District Court ruled on another motion to dismiss from the defendants.  The judge granted ExxonMobil's motion to dismiss the case finding that the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the case in a US court.  On 8 July 2011, the Court of Appeals reversed the district court's dismissal of the case, finding that a corporation should not be immune from liability under the Alien Tort Claims Act.  The court remanded the lawsuit to the lower court.  ExxonMobil filed a motion with the Court of Appeals on 8 August 2011 asking the court to rehear the case en banc. In September 2014, a US federal court held that Indonesian villagers from the Aceh province can proceed with their claims against ExxonMobil.   In a decision issued in July 2015, a US federal court ruled that the plaintiffs' claims sufficiently "touch and concern" the United States and may proceed in US court.

- "Exxon Wants Rehearing in Corporate Liability Dispute", Mike Carcella, Blog of the Legal Times, 10 Aug 2011
- "Appeals Court Revives Torture Claims Against Exxon", Mike Scarcella, Blog of the Legal Times, 8 Jul 2011
- "Judge Dismisses Indonesians' Lawsuit Against Exxon", Brent Kendall, Dow Jones, 30 Sep 2009
- “Judge Rejects Summary Judgment in Human Rights Lawsuit Against Exxon”, Mike Scarcella, Legal Times, 28 Aug 2008
- "Exxon faces lawsuit on killings in Indonesia", Bloomberg News, Associated Press, 17 Jan 2007
- "Exxon: Torture suit sets bad precedent", Slobodan Lekic, Associated Press, 8 Mar 2006
- “ExxonMobil Rejects Aceh Human Rights Abuse Claims”, Kirsty Alfredson, CNN.com, 22 Jun 2001

- ExxonMobil: Human Rights Policy

- Cohen, Milstein (co-counsel for the plaintiffs): ExxonMobil - Aceh, Indonesia

- International Rights Advocates (co-counsel for the plaintiffs): ExxonMobil: Case Summary (includes links to legal briefs filed in this case)

- [PDF] John Doe VIII, et al. v. Exxon Mobil Corporation, et al. - Petition for Rehearing En Banc, 8 Aug 2011
- [PDF] Exxon Mobil Corporation v. John Doe I – Petition for a Writ of Certiorari, Reply Brief in Support of Petition, 23 Oct 2007
- [PDF] Exxon Mobil Corporation v. John Doe I – Petition for a Writ of Certiorari, Respondents’ Brief in Opposition, 9 Oct 2007
- [PDF] Exxon Mobil Corporation v. John Doe I – Petition for a Writ of Certiorari, 20 Jul 2007

- US State Department: [PDF] Amicus Brief filed in Doe et al. v. ExxonMobil et al., 14 Jul 2003

- International Rights Advocates: [PDF] Complaint filed for Doe et al. v. ExxonMobil et.al., 11 Jun 2001

- US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia: [PDF] John Doe VIII, et al. v. Exxon Mobil Corporation, et al. - Opinion of the Court, 8 Jul 2011
- US District Court for the District of Columbia: [PDF] John Doe VIII, et al. v. Exxon Mobil Corporation, et al. - Memorandum Opinion, 30 Sep 2009
- US District Court for the District of Columbia: [PDF] John Doe, et al. v. Exxon Mobil Corporation, et al. - Memorandum & Opinion, 27 Aug 2008
- US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit: [PDF] Doe et al. v. ExxonMobil, 12 Jan 2007

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Article
10 August 2011

Exxon Wants Rehearing In Corporate Liability Dispute [USA]

Author: Mike Scarcella, Blog of the Legal Times [USA]

Lawyers for Exxon Mobil...have asked the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to reject a panel decision that exposed the oil giant to corporate liability for alleged atrocities in Indonesia. Exxon's lawyers, including Sri Srinivasan of O’Melveny & Myers, said in a petition...that the three-judge panel got it wrong when it found Exxon can be held liable under the Alien Tort Statute. The 2-1 panel decision “vastly expanded” the statute to find that corporations can be liable for violent acts committed abroad, Srinivasan said. Srinivasan, chair of O’Melveny’s appellate and Supreme Court practice, said the panel decision, if it is not overturned, “threatens to unleash a flood of litigation in U.S. court for actions lacking any salient connection to the United States.”...Two suits against Exxon in Washington federal district court merged into the single appellate case. The plaintiffs alleged Indonesian military, serving for Exxon to protect facilities there, tortured civilians in a village there over many years...A lawyer for the plaintiffs...was not immediately reached for comment.

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Article
8 August 2011

UPDATE: ExxonMobil Selling Gas Assets At Center Of Indonesia Human-Rights Lawsuit

Author: Isabella Ordonez, Dow Jones Newswires [USA]

Exxon Mobil...said Monday it is selling some of its depleting natural gas assets in Indonesia's Aceh province...The properties being marketed have been at the center of a lawsuit brought by Indonesian villagers that seeks to hold ExxonMobil...liable for alleged killings and torture committed by Indonesian soldiers guarding the assets. The lawsuit was thrown out by a trial judge in 2009, but a U.S. federal appeals court reinstated the case in early July, saying the suit had been wrongly dismissed...ExxonMobil didn't immediately respond to requests for comments on whether the sale was also motivated by the recent reinstatement of the human-rights lawsuit...ExxonMobil has recently said the plaintiffs' claims were baseless and that the company was reviewing the July ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which reinstated the lawsuit. Exxon has said it has worked for generations to improve the quality of life in Aceh through employment of local workers, provision of health services and extensive community investment. "The company strongly condemns human rights violations in any form," the company said.

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Article
18 July 2011

The Global Lawyer: Corporate Alien Tort Rouses from Its Deathbed

Author: Michael D. Goldhaber, Am Law Daily [USA]

…[US Court of Appeals judges] Richard Posner…and…Judith Rogers…[have] lined up behind corporate liability for human rights violations under the U.S. Alien Tort Statute…[which] was snuffed out in the Second Circuit in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum last year...[I]n Flomo v. Firestone, Judge Posner affirmed the dismissal of claims by Liberian rubber tappers that Firestone had encouraged child labor...Posner summarily rejected the central premise of Kiobel--that corporations have never been prosecuted for violating customary international law...[In] Doe v. Exxon...Judge Rogers reinstated claims by Indonesian villagers that Exxon is liable for incidents of torture, killing, and arbitrary detention allegedly committed by security forces dedicated to an Exxon facility...Rogers...also notes that the principle of corporate liability is generally accepted under domestic…law, and general principles of law are a standard source of customary international law...Commentators immediately noted that the deepening of the circuit split on corporate liability strengthens the case for granting cert [Supreme Court review] in Kiobel. [also refers to Talisman]

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Article
8 July 2011

Appeals Court Revives Torture Claims Against Exxon [USA]

Author: Mike Scarcella, Blog of the Legal Times [USA]

In a major ruling with wide implications for corporations that operate overseas, a divided federal appeals court in Washington today said Exxon Mobil Corp. is not immune from liability for alleged brutal conduct that agents of the company allegedly orchestrated against a group of Indonesian villagers. The plaintiffs, 15 Indonesian villagers, sued Exxon in two actions…, claiming government security forces, working for Exxon, killed and tortured villagers in Aceh, Indonesia…“The law of the United States has been uniform since its founding that corporations can be held liable for the torts committed by their agents,” Judge Judith Rogers…said in the opinion…"We have fought these baseless claims for many years. The plaintiffs’ claims are without merit," the [ExxonMobil] statement said.

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Article
22 February 2011

Exxon Seeks Dismissal of Alien Tort Case Originating in Indonesia

Author: Mike Scarcella, National Law Journal

Lawyers for Exxon Mobil Corp. want a federal appeals court in Washington to absolve it from any liability stemming from human rights allegations that its security force -foreign government soldiers hired to protect personnel and facilities - brutalized a group of villagers in Indonesia…In two consolidated cases, the appeals court is [deciding]… whether Exxon can be held liable for alleged human rights violations through aiding or abetting the soldiers or because the oil and gas company acted in joint participation with them. The plaintiffs' claims also include state law allegations of wrongful death, assault and battery... The suit, first filed in 2001…claims soldiers physically abused and killed villagers who lived or worked near an Exxon gas operation in Aceh, Indonesia…

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Article
25 January 2011

US Appeals Court Weighs Consequences of Indonesians' Lawsuit Against Exxon

Author: Brent Kendall, Dow Jones

A federal appeals court on Tuesday explored the potential consequences of allowing Indonesian villagers to sue Exxon Mobil Corp. for alleged atrocities committed by Indonesian soldiers guarding a natural gas plant in the Aceh province. A group of villagers alleges the soldiers, serving as Exxon's security forces, murdered, tortured, raped and kidnapped local residents…Exxon says the claims are baseless and argued in court that there were a host of reasons the lawsuit should be thrown out…Agnieszka Fryszman, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the soldiers were " essentially privatized" and were under Exxon's control. She said the company was legally responsible for the soldiers' actions.

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Article
8 October 2010

Shortening the Long Arm of the Law [USA]

Author: [opinion] John B. Bellinger III, former US State Dept. legal advisor, New York Times

For more than a decade, dozens of multinational corporations have been sued in federal courts in the United States for alleged human rights violations under the...Alien Tort Statute. Now these suits may be over. In August...[the New York-based Second Circuit Court of Appeals] ruled that corporations may not be held liable for violations of international law...If the Supreme Court upholds the decision, it will remove an effective weapon for human rights groups to force changes in the behavior of multinational corporations...[and] the impact of their activities on local populations and the environment...Even...[without] the threat of lawsuits under the Alien Tort Statute, [corporations] should ensure that their international operations...comport with accepted human rights principles. [refers to Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Talisman Energy, Rio Tinto, Coca Cola, Pfizer, Caterpillar, Yahoo]

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Article
15 September 2010

ERI Files Brief Supporting Indonesian Victims' Case Against ExxonMobil

Author: Earthrights International

In 2001, eleven Indonesian villagers sued ExxonMobil in U.S. courts, alleging that the company had contracted with abusive Indonesian forces…and that they had committed numerous abuses against the local population…On September 13, ERI submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals…supporting the Indonesian villagers' claims…ERI's brief addresses the question of liability for aiding and abetting abuses under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS)…ERI's brief argues that established federal law doctrines, including aiding and abetting liability, apply in ATS cases. Anyone who knowingly provides substantial assistance to the perpetrator of a human rights abuser should be equally responsible for the abuse…

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Article
1 June 2010

[PDF] Think globally, sue locally: Out-of-court tactics employed by plaintiffs, their lawyers, and their advocates in transnational tort cases

Author: Jonathan Drimmer, Steptoe & Johnson, released by U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform

Over the past 15 years, there has been a sharp rise in lawsuits brought against United States companies, as well as foreign companies with a substantial U.S. presence, that are premised on alleged personal or environmental injuries that occur overseas...With increasing frequency, plaintiffs, their attorneys, and their advocates are employing aggressive out-of court tactics that approach, straddle, and sometimes cross ethical lines in seeking to gain litigation advantages....The tactics...have clearly demonstrable patterns. Among them are: Aggressive media tactics...Community organizing tactics...Investment tactics...Political tactics...Fraudulent misconduct...[refers to AirScan, Archer Daniels Midland, Bridgestone, Bridgestone-Firestone (part of Bridgestone), Brylane (part of Pinault Printemps-Redoute), Cargill, Chevron, Chiquita, Coca-Cola, Daimler, Del Monte Foods, Dole, Dow Chemical, Drummond, ExxonMobil, Gap, Gulf Oil, Levi Strauss, Mercedes-Benz (part of Daimler), Mobil Oil (part of ExxonMobil), Nestlé, Occidental Petroleum, Petroecuador, Pfizer, PPR (formerly Pinault-Printemps-Redoute), Rio Tinto, Shell, Target, Texaco (part of Chevron), Union Carbide (part of Dow), Unocal (part of Chevron), Wal-Mart, Yahoo!]

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Article
31 May 2010

[PDF] Launch of online portal on “Business, Conflict & Peace”

Author: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

Today at the United Nations in Geneva, the non-profit Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is launching the first global information hub on “Business, Conflict & Peace”...Chris Avery, Director of the Resource Centre, said: “We are giving this subject priority because it is in conflict zones where abuses are most severe, where the risk of complicity is greatest, and where victims are the most vulnerable. We created this portal to bring together in one place all the best information about how companies are impacting human rights (positively or negatively) in conflict and post-conflict zones – and to provide guidance on how to avoid abuses”...The portal explains key initiatives in this field.

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