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
19 April 2010

[PDF] Universal Periodic Review – United States of America Submission to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Author: EarthRights International

EarthRights International (ERI) makes this submission for the Universal Periodic Review of the United States of America, focusing on the United States’ participation in U.S. civil lawsuits raising international human rights claims over the past four years. Founded in 1995, ERI is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization dedicated to the protection of human rights and the environment...Our legal program focuses primarily on cases against corporations who are responsible for human rights abuses, frequently litigated in U.S. courts under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS)…ERI has served as counsel in five ATS lawsuits against multinational corporations, and has submitted amicus curiae briefs in at least a dozen similar cases.

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Article
1 January 2010

[PDF] Human Rights Due Diligence: Is It Too Risky? [scroll to p. 6]

Author: John F. Sherman, III, Harvard Kennedy School; Amy K. Lehr, Foley Hoag law firm, in CSR Journal, ABA Section of Intl. Law (American Bar Assn.)

Due diligence can and should now be used to assess and reduce a business risk that was only explicitly recognized
as a risk quite recently--corporate involvement in human rights abuse... Under this framework [of UN Special Representative John Ruggie], the business responsibility to respect human rights requires companies to conduct human rights due diligence... Conducting due diligence provides corporate boards with strong protection against mismanagement claims by shareholders, usually in the form of derivative lawsuits. [article addresses concerns that due diligence might increase risks from Alien Tort Statute claims, negligence claims, misrepresentation claims, confidentiality obligations; argument that conducting due diligence should result in immunity. Refers to apartheid reparations lawsuits, Chevron lawsuit re Nigeria, Unocal lawsuit re Burma, ExxonMobil lawsuit re Aceh, Nike v Kasky, UK OECD Guidelines cases involving Afrimex, Vedanta]

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Article
30 September 2009

Judge Dismisses Indonesians' Lawsuit Against Exxon

Author: Brent Kendall, Dow Jones

A federal judge Wednesday dismissed a long-running lawsuit by Indonesian villagers who sought to hold Exxon Mobil Corp. liable for alleged killings and torture committed by Indonesian soldiers guarding a natural gas plant in Indonesia's Aceh province…Siding with Exxon Mobil Wednesday, Chief District Court Judge Royce Lamberth…ruled the villagers had no standing to bring a lawsuit against the oil giant in U.S. courts because they are non- resident aliens…Exxon Mobil spokeswoman…Ross said Wednesday, "We have fought these baseless claims for eight years and today's decision validates the company's assertion that the claims are without merit."…Agnieszka Fryszman…, an attorney representing the villagers, said Wednesday's ruling "is an unusual interpretation of the standing requirement and we're confident that the court of appeals will see it differently."

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Article
30 September 2009

[PDF] John Doe VIII v. Exxon Mobil Corporation - Memorandum Opinion

Author: Chief Judge Royce Lamberth, US District Court for the District of Columbia

[Full text of court's memorandum opinion granting the defendant's motion to dismiss]

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Article
27 July 2009

Exxon Asks Judge to Dismiss Suit by Indonesian Villagers

Author: Jordan Weissmann, Blog of Legal Times

Defense lawyers for Exxon Mobil urged a federal judge today to dismiss a longstanding suit by Indonesian villagers who have accused the company of abetting human rights abuses in their country…[D]efense counsel Alex Oh argued that continuing the case would interfere with U.S. foreign policy goals in a politically fragile region. Investigating claims that soldiers hired by Exxon shot, abducted and raped civilians could upend a delicate peace process in Indonesia, which is recovering from a civil war, she said…Lawyers for the villagers…argu[ed] they can keep their investigations “very narrow” by tailoring them to Exxon’s involvement with the soldiers.

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Article
27 July 2009

ExxonMobil seeks to toss Indonesia suit

Author: Upstream Online

US supermajor ExxonMobil may ask to question Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as a witness in its defense against a human rights-abuse lawsuit, a move that could be used to throw the case out of court. Yudhoyono…was Indonesia’s minster of mining and energy during the 1999-2001 period in which villagers in Aceh province claim they were abused by security forces employed by the company, Alex Oh, a lawyer for ExxonMobil, said. “His conduct will be squarely at issue in this case,” Oh said…She asked the judge to dismiss the suit on separation-of-power grounds because seeking testimony from Yudhoyono and others may interfere with US foreign policy…

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Article
29 June 2009

Human rights abuses: How complicit are oil companies?

Author: Gerald Karey, Platts Weblog

Oil companies need to go where the oil is and that sometimes takes them to countries where the social, environmental and political rights of indigenous peoples count for little. However, those oil operations and the companies' involvement with the host governments are increasingly being challenged… But even if not complicit, when in order to operate in a country a company must accommodate itself to a regime that rules at the point of a gun, it can leave a deep stain on its reputation that proves very hard to wash away. [refers to Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Unocal]

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Article
8 June 2009

Shell settles human rights suit for $15.5M

Author: Chris Kahn, Associated Press

Royal Dutch Shell agreed to a $15.5 million settlement Monday to end a lawsuit alleging that the oil giant was complicit in the executions of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and other civilians by Nigeria's former military regime. Shell…said it agreed to settle the lawsuit in hopes aiding the "process of reconciliation." But Europe's largest oil company acknowledged no wrongdoing in the 1995 hanging deaths of six people, including poet Ken Saro-Wiwa…Jenny Green, a lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York who helped file the lawsuit in 1996,…said [the settlement] will send a message to Shell and other multinationals that operate in developing countries. "You can't commit human rights violations as a part of doing business," she said. "A corporation can't act with impunity. And we think there is accountability in this settlement." [also refers to Chevron, ExxonMobil]

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Article
3 June 2009

Lawsuits target oil company operations overseas

Author: Chris Kahn, AP

Royal Dutch Shell is preparing for a federal trial…where it would face allegations that it played a role in the executions of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and other civilians by Nigeria's former military regime. It is just the latest in a series of trials seeking to hold big oil companies liable for human rights abuses or environmental damage overseas…Oil companies say they can't be held responsible for the actions of the national governments in countries where they operate. They have, however, paid attention to the potentially damaging perception of human rights abuses, and so have company shareholders…No matter what happens in court, the attention already has forced the industry to take a harder look at its relationship with foreign governments. [also refers to Chevron, ExxonMobil, Unocal (part of Chevron)]

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Article
27 May 2009

The U.S. Can't Be the World's Court - New York isn't the right venue to sue for apartheid abuses.

Author: [opinion] John R. Bellinger III, partner at Arnold & Porter law firm; former Legal Adviser, US State Department, in Wall Street Journal

A federal judge in New York recently allowed a lawsuit to proceed against General Motors, Ford and IBM for aiding and abetting crimes against humanity committed by the apartheid government in South Africa. And a lawsuit against Royal Dutch Shell for alleged human-rights abuses in Nigeria is scheduled to begin today in Manhattan. We may be on the verge of a new wave of legal actions against U.S. and foreign corporations in American courts... these lawsuits, which are being brought under the 200-year-old Alien Tort Statute, are likely to cause friction between foreign governments and the Obama administration. Congress should step in and clarify the types of human-rights cases that may be heard... Litigation under the Alien Tort Statute may force companies to modify their international activities in some cases, although it rarely produces monetary awards for plaintiffs. But it does give rise to diplomatic friction in U.S. relations with foreign governments... Human-rights and labor groups are likely to press the Obama administration to support litigation under the Alien Tort Statute and even to reverse the Bush administration's opposition to the apartheid case. [also refers to lawsuits against Caterpillar, Dow Chemical, Yahoo, ExxonMobil, Unocal (now part of Chevron), Talisman Energy, Rio Tinto]

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