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Aguinda v. Texaco, Inc.

ELR Citation: 33 ELR 20010
Nos. Nos. 01-7756 (L), -7758 (C), 303 F.3d 470/(2d Cir., 08/16/2002)

The court affirms the dismissal of two class actions brought by residents of Peru and Ecuador against a U.S. oil company for environmental and personal injuries arising out of the company's oil exploration and extraction operations between 1964 and 1992. The residents sought money damages under theories of negligence, public and private nuisance, strict liability, medical monitoring, trespass, civil conspiracy, and violations of the Alien Tort Claims Act. The district court dismissed the case for forum non conveniens, determining that Ecuador was an adequate alternative forum and that the balance of private and public interest factors tilted in favor of dismissal.

The court rejects the residents' argument that Ecuador does not offer an alternative forum because Law 55, which provides that lawsuits filed outside Ecuador will terminate any jurisdiction of Ecuadorian judges over the matter, precludes them from proceeding in Ecuadorian courts. The court is skeptical as to the law's retroactivity, as well as its application to cases dismissed for forum non conveniens. Furthermore, the Ecuadorian Constitutional Court has since declared Law 55 unconstitutional. Similarly, the court holds that there is no merit in the residents' argument that Ecuadorian courts are unreceptive to tort claims. The record shows that several plaintiffs have recovered judgments against oil companies for claims arising out of the very facts here alleged, and other U.S. courts have found Ecuador to be an adequate forum for hosting tort suits. Moreover, while Ecuador's judicial procedures may be less streamlined than U.S. procedures, that does not make Ecuador's procedures ineffective or render Ecuador inadequate as an alternative forum. In addition, the court holds that the district court was within its discretion in concluding that the private and public interest factors tilt in favor of dismissal. However, the court holds that the district court must modify its ruling to make dismissal conditional on the oil company's agreement to waive any defense based on the statute of limitations for limitation periods expiring between the date of filing the U.S. actions and one year, rather than 60 days set forth in the original ruling.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Cristoral Bonifaz
Law Offices of Cristoral 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