Tahoe Resources lawsuit (re Guatemala)

Escobal_Mine_photo_credit_CPR_Urbana

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On 18 June 2014, seven Guatemalan men filed a lawsuit in Canada against Tahoe Resources seeking damages for injuries allegedly suffered during a shooting outside the company’s Escobal silver mine in April 2013.  Tahoe Resources is a Canadian mining company.

The residents of the Guatemalan town where the mine is located, San Rafael Las Flores,  allege that they were injured when Tahoe’s security personnel opened fire on them during a peaceful protest against the mine over concerns about its potential impact on their water supply and the lack of meaningful consultation with the community about the project.  They claim the shooting was “intentional” and a premeditated attempt by mine security personnel to "suppress" local opposition.  The plaintiffs allege that Tahoe Resources implicitly or explicity authorized the conduct of its security personnel.  The plaintiffs also allege that Tahoe’s Guatemala Security Manager, Alberto Rotondo, personally ordered the shooting and instructed the security personnel to "falsify accounts of the shooting and destroy or cover up evidence".  Guatemalan authorities have criminally charged Mr. Rotondo with assault and obstruction of justice.  Juan Pablo Oliva Trejo, a former Tahoe employee and security advisor to Rotondo, was arrested in Guatemala and charged with concealment of evidence related to the April incident.

In a statement, the company said that its security personnel had only resorted to non-lethal measures when trying to drive back about 20 people armed with machetes when the protest “turned hostile”.

In December 2014, a Guatemalan court ordered that Alberto Rotondo be put on trial on charges of causing serious and minor bodily harm during the attack, and obstruction of justice. A hearing was scheduled to take place in February 2015.

The Supreme Court of British Columbia held hearings in this case in April 2015.  Tahoe Resources asked the court to dismiss the case claiming that Canadian courts do not have jurisdiction over the case because all of the plaintiffs' claims relate to events which occurred in Guatemala. In November 2015, a British Columbia Supreme Court Judge decline jurisdiction in the case.  She ruled that the plaintiffs could seek justice in Guatemala.  On 1 November 2016, the plaintiffs appealed the decision, arguing that there are barriers to access justice in Guatemala and that the judge was incorrect to require the evidence to show that justice could never be done there.  Rather, they argued, they only need to provide evidence that there is a real risk of an unfair trial process in Guatemala.  In January 2017, the British Columbia Court of Appeal overturned a lower court decision and said it has jurisdiction over the claims as it would be difficult for the plaintiffs to have a fair trial in Guatemala.

- "Court rules that lawsuit against Tahoe Resources can proceed in B.C.", Hayley Woodin, Business in Vancouver, 26 Jan 2017
- "Lawsuit against B.C. company by miners injured in shooting must be heard in Guatemala: Judge", Canadian Press, 10 Nov 2015
- "B.C. mining company latest to be challenged in Canada for alleged actions abroad", Jennifer Brown, Canadian Lawyer InHouse, 3 Jun 2015
- “Injured men sue Vancouver company after Guatemalan mine shooting”, Tamsyn Burgmann, Canadian Press, 19 Jun 2014
- “Lawsuit Against Tahoe Resources a Wake Up Call for Investors and Canadians [Guatemala]”, Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) - Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network - MiningWatch Canada, 18 Jun 2014

Tahoe Resources:
- "Tahoe Resources Responds To Jurisdictional Ruling", News Wire, 26 Jan 2017
- “Tahoe Resources clarifies reports regarding incidents near Escobal Project”, 1 May 2013.

Canadian Centre for International Justice:
- "In milestone, BC Court clears Guatemalans’ lawsuit against Vancouver mining company to go to trial", 26 Jan 2017
- [PDF] Canadian Centre for International Justice Q&A session on the case, 18 Jun 2014.
- “CCIJ's Public Cases and Interventions: Tahoe Resources Inc.”, 18 Jun 2014
- [ES] “Casos e Intervenciones del Centro Canadiense de Justicia Internascional: Tahoe Resources Inc.”, 18 Jun 2014
- [FR] « Des Guatémaltèques intentent une poursuite judiciaire contre une compagnie minière canadienne pour une fusillade en 2013 », 18 juin 2014
- Tahoe Resources (Canada/Guatemala)

- [PDF] Notice of civil claim, Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman [plaintiffs’ lawyers], 18 Jun 2014

Supreme Court of British Columbia:
- Garcia v. Tahoe Resources [judgment dimissing jurisdiction], 9 Nov 2015

Court of Appeal of British Columbia:
Garcia v. Tahoe Resources [judgment allowing case to proceed], 26 Jan 2016

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Article
17 February 2017

Commentary: Recent decisions show willingness of Canadian courts to hold companies liable for overseas abuses of intl. human rights norms

Author: Michael G. Congiu, John Kloosterman, Stefan Marculewicz, Aaron Saltzman & Lavanga Wijekoon; Littler, on JD Supra (USA)

"Advancing Human Rights Claims Based on Global Supply Chain Activities: Recent Developments in California and Canada", 15 Feb 2017

Courts in California and Canada have emerged as testing grounds for advancing claims of forced labor in global supply chains...Over the past several years, non-Canadian plaintiffs have filed multiple civil actions in Canada against multinational companies that are based or incorporated in Canada on the theory that international norms...form a standard of care that, when violated, constitutes actionable negligence...In Nevsun and Garcia, Canadian courts have signaled a willingness to permit non-Canadian plaintiffs to pursue monetary damages against Canadian-based multinational companies based on violations that allegedly occurred on foreign soil...[T]he Nevsun opinion suggests that Canadian law could allow foreign plaintiffs to pursue private rights of action against Canadian companies based on violations of customary international law...[T]he Canadian cases suggest that it is increasingly important that multinational companies monitor their supply chains, or they could face litigation at home over alleged malfeasance...Plaintiffs will likely be heartened by these developments...and rely on them to further transform “soft law” into “hard law” in support of their efforts to impose international norms...as a standard of care for multinationals operating overseas.

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Article
26 January 2017

Canada set as jurisdiction for Guatemalan suit against Tahoe Resources

Author: Susan Taylor, Reuters

A Canadian court ruled on Thursday that a lawsuit against Tahoe Resources Inc filed by Guatemalan men who claim to have been shot by the miner's private security guards can proceed in British Columbia...The decision by the Court of Appeal for British Columbia, which reverses a 2015 provincial Supreme Court ruling, said that Vancouver-based Tahoe had not proven Guatemala was a more appropriate forum for the case...Seven Guatemalan men allege in a civil lawsuit that security personnel hired by Tahoe opened fire on them in April 2013 during a protest outside the Escobal silver mine in southeastern Guatemala...The men...are seeking unspecified punitive and compensation damages against Tahoe...The company said that it will decide whether to appeal the ruling after reviewing the decision, and plans to defend itself regardless of the jurisdiction...

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Article
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Author: 20 minutos

Una corte de apelaciones canadiense en Columbia Británica aceptó continuar con una demanda civil de un grupo de campesinos guatemaltecos contra una minera de aquel país por violación a sus derechos humanos durante una protesta en 2013.  La demanda civil que enfrenta la empresa Tahoe Resources obedece a las agresiones ocurridas durante una protesta de campesinos frente a las instalaciones de la mina de plata, oro y zinc de su propiedad llamada El Escobal...Según la investigación de la fiscalía de Guatemala, el entonces jefe de seguridad de la mina, Alberto Rotondo, presuntamente ordenó disparar contra manifestantes a un grupo de agentes privados de seguridad...Según el abogado Rafael Calas...este es el primero fallo en el que una corte de apelaciones canadiense permite que un proceso, por violaciones a los derechos humanos cometidos por una empresa canadiense en el extranjero, avance.  La empresa minera había argumentado que el sistema judicial guatemalteco era más adecuado para conocer el caso, pero en su sentencia la corte argumenta que hay "un riesgo real de que los apelantes no obtengan justicia en Guatemala"...

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Article
26 January 2017

Court rules that lawsuit against Tahoe Resources can proceed in B.C.

Author: Hayley Woodin, Business Vancouver

The British Columbia Court of Appeal has ruled that a lawsuit brought by seven Guatemalan men against Tahoe Resources Inc. ...can proceed in B.C.  The landmark judgment overturns a previous BC Supreme Court decision that rejected the case on the basis that Guatemala would be a more appropriate jurisdiction for the plaintiffs’ claims.  This is the first time a Canadian appellate court has allowed a lawsuit to proceed against a Canadian company for alleged human rights violations committed abroad, said Matt Eisenbrandt, legal director with the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ)...Tahoe...faces claims of battery and negligence related to an altercation that occurred near its Escobal mining project in April 2013...Criminal proceedings in Guatemala have since been suspended. That, along with “evidence of endemic corruption in the Guatemalan judiciary” were reasons for the Court of Appeal’s ruling today, according to the judgment...

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Article
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Author: Centre Canadien pour la Justice Internationale (CCIJ)

La Cour d’appel de la Colombie-Britannique a rejeté aujourd’hui l’appel de Tahoe Resources Inc. visant à écarter un procès civil intenté par sept Guatémaltèques cherchant à obtenir réparation pour des blessures subies lors de la violente répression d’une manifestation pacifique devant la mine de Tahoe au Guatemala.

Cette décision représente la première fois qu’une cour d’appel au Canada ouvre la voie à un procès contre une entreprise canadienne concernant des violations présumées des droits humains commises à l’étranger.

Dans sa décision, la Cour d’appel a renversé le jugement d’une cour inférieure selon laquelle la demande aurait dû être entendue par les cours guatémaltèques. La Cour d’appel a décidé que plusieurs facteurs, incluant les preuves de corruption systémique dans les institutions judiciaires guatémaltèques, défavorisaient le Guatemala en tant que forum préférable pour entendre le procès…

« La décision majeure d’aujourd’hui montre que les cours canadiennes sont ouvertes aux victimes d’abus liés aux activités de compagnies minière à l’étranger », a expliqué Matt Eisenbrandt, directeur juridique du CCJI...

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Article
26 January 2017

Garcia v. Tahoe Resources Inc.

Author: Court of Appeal of British Columbia

[Full text of decision]

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Article
26 January 2017

In milestone, BC Court clears Guatemalans’ lawsuit against Vancouver mining company to go to trial

Author: The Canadian Centre for International Justice

The British Columbia Court of Appeal today rejected efforts by Tahoe Resources Inc. to dismiss a lawsuit brought by seven Guatemalan men for injuries they suffered during the violent suppression of a peaceful protest at Tahoe’s mine in Guatemala.  The ruling represents the first time that a Canadian appellate court has permitted a lawsuit to advance against a Canadian company for alleged human rights violations committed abroad.  In the judgment, the Court of Appeal overturned a lower court decision that had found Guatemala was the more appropriate venue for the case.  The Court of Appeal ruled that several factors, including evidence of systemic corruption in the Guatemalan judiciary, pointed away from Guatemala as a preferable forum, thereby keeping the case in British Columbia.  The court concluded that “there is some measurable risk that the appellants will encounter difficulty in receiving a fair trial against a powerful international company whose mining interests in Guatemala align with the political interests of the Guatemalan state.”...Until recently, the legal doctrine of forum non conveniens had been an obstacle for foreign victims of corporate abuse seeking redress in Canadian courts...“Despite a lack of regulation by the Canadian government, we hope these recent developments in the courts signal an end to corporate impunity for human rights violations,” Eisenbrandt said...

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Article
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Author: Agencia EFE, W Radio (Colombia)

El Tribunal de Apelaciones de la provincia canadiense de Columbia Británica rechazó hoy el intento de la compañía minera Tahoe de desestimar una demanda presentada contra la empresa por siete ciudadanos guatemaltecos.  Los siete guatemaltecos presentaron en 2014 en Canadá una demanda contra Tahoe por el ataque armado en abril de 2013 perpetrado contra un grupo de manifestantes...En su decisión, el Tribunal de Apelaciones rechazó la decisión de una jueza que aprobó la petición de Tahoe de desestimar la demanda de los guatemaltecos, al entender que la justicia de Guatemala era el conducto más adecuado para resolver el caso.  "Concluyo que la juez erró al determinar que Tahoe había establecido que Guatemala era claramente un foro más apropiado que Columbia Británica para evaluar las peticiones de los demandantes", sentenció la jueza Nicole Garson...Garson añadió que, sin juzgar en general el sistema legal guatemalteco, hay un "considerable riesgo" de que los demandantes no reciban "un juicio justo contra una poderosa compañía internacional cuyos intereses en Guatemala se alinean con los intereses políticos del estado guatemalteco"...

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Article
25 January 2017

Tahoe Resources Responds To Jurisdictional Ruling

Author: Tahoe Resources (Canada)

Tahoe Resources Inc....today responded to a ruling by the Court of Appeal for British Columbia (the "Court of Appeal") that a legal action filed by claimants from Guatemala against the Company in June 2014 can be heard in the British Columbia court system.  The ruling overturns an earlier decision by the Supreme Court of British Columbia declining jurisdiction on the grounds that Guatemala was the more appropriate forum to adjudicate the claims.  While respecting the Court of Appeal's decision, the Company continues to believe that the more appropriate jurisdiction to hear the case is in Guatemala.  The Company is currently reviewing the decision and, following this review, will make a determination on whether to seek leave to appeal today's ruling. The Company looks forward to defending the legal action regardless of the jurisdiction in which it is heard.  Today's ruling does not impact current operations...In addition, the Company paid approximately US$35 million in royalties and taxes to governments and communities in Guatemala last year, and makes significant direct investments in support of nutritional programs, education, skills training, agriculture and infrastructure development.

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Article
1 November 2016

Seven men allegedly shot during protest at a Canadian-owned mine in Guatemala appeal stay ruling

Author: Keith Fraser, Vancouver Sun, on Montreal Gazette (Canada)

Lawyers for seven men allegedly shot during a protest against a Canadian-owned mine in Guatemala were in court Tuesday attempting to overturn a decision staying their lawsuit in B.C.  In November 2015, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Laura Gerow agreed with lawyers for Tahoe Resources Ltd. — a Vancouver-register mining company — that the case would be better heard in the Central American country.  The plaintiffs, all Guatemalan citizens, had sued the company for damages, claiming they were shot by mine security personnel...They argued that the case should be heard in a Canadian court because they lacked faith in the Guatemalan legal system to hold the company accountable.  But the judge found that Guatemala was clearly the more appropriate forum for the determination of the issues in dispute and stayed the legal action.  The plaintiffs launched an appeal of Gerow’s decision...“The plaintiffs seek justice in the courts in British Columbia against Tahoe, the owners of the mine, because they face barriers to justice in Guatemala,”...The plaintiff’s lawyer told the panel that Gerow had incorrectly put the plaintiffs to the test of showing that justice could never be done in Guatemala...

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