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Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co.

Citation: 35 ELR 20003
No. No. 03-21222, (5th Cir., 12/21/2004) ancillary proceeding; discovery motions

The Fifth Circuit reversed a district court's denial of a motion to compel attendance and produce documents and its quashing of a subpoena directed to a non-party witness in a class action suit alleging that oil companies cooperated with and assisted the Nigerian military in the brutal repression of the Ogoni, a Nigerian ethnic minority. The underlying complaint alleges that the Ogoni demanded that the companies adhere to proper environmental standards and pay compensation for environmental damages in relation to its oil exploration and production activities in Nigeria. In response to the Ogoni’s demands, the Nigerian military and police forces, allegedly supported and assisted by the oil companies, retaliated against the Ogoni by visiting a campaign of terror on them. The district court quashed the subpoena and denied the motion to compel outright without providing oral or written reasons for doing so. Nor did the district court attempt to explain any deficiencies in either the subpoena or the motion so that the appellant might have an opportunity to cure any defects. This was an abuse of discretion. Because the subpoena was overbroad, the court modified the subpoena rather than simply quashing it.

A prior decision in this litigation is published at 31 ELR 20166.