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Jota v. Texaco Inc.

Citation: 29 ELR 20181
(10/05/1998)

The court holds that a district court erroneously dismissed foreign plaintiffs' environmental and personal injury claims against a U.S. oil company on the grounds of forum non conveniens, comity, and failure to join an indispensable party. The claims alleged that members of the indigenous tribes suffered environmental and personal injuries due to the oil company's practices in Ecuador. The court first holds that the district court's dismissal on the ground of forum non conveniens was erroneous in the absence of a condition requiring the oil company to submit to jurisdiction in Ecuador. In order to grant a motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens, a court must satisfy itself that the litigation may be conducted elsewhere against all defendants. The oil company, however, does not dispute that it is not amendable to suit in Ecuador. The court also holds that the district court's dismissal on the grounds of forum non conveniens inappropriately rested entirely on the adoption of another district court's weighing of the relevant factors in litigation that is arguably distinguishable. Therefore, on remand, the court should independently reweigh the factors relevant to forum non conveniens dismissal. The court next holds that the district court's dismissal on the grounds of comity was erroneous in the absence of a condition requiring the oil company to submit to jurisdiction in Ecuador. When a court dismisses on the ground of comity, it should normally consider whether an adequate forum exists in the objecting nation and whether the defendant sought to be sued in the U.S. forum is subject to or has consented to the assertion of jurisdiction against it in the foreign forum. The court then holds that the reasoning behind the district court's dismissal for failure to join an indispensable party sufficed only to support dismissing so much of the complaint as sought to enjoin activities currently under the government of Ecuador's control. Since some aspects of the equitable relief sought by the plaintiffs would have required substantial participation by the Ecuadoran government, which at an earlier stage had resisted joinder, the district court had discretion to dismiss some portions of the plaintiffs' complaint. But since much of the relief sought could be fully provided by the oil company without any participation by Ecuador, dismissal of the entire complaint on Fed. R. Civ. P. 19 grounds exceeds that discretion.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
John C. Bonifaz
Law Offices of Cristobal Bonifaz
48 N. Pleasant St., Amherst MA 01002
(413) 253-5626

Counsel for Defendant
George S. Branch
King & Spalding
1185 Avenue of the Americas, New York NY 10036
(212) 556-2100

Before Leval and Wexler,* JJ.