No Suit for You!: The Ninth Circuit in Bowoto v. Chevron Corp. Holds the Death on the High Seas Act Preempts Alien Tort Statute Survival Claims

 

By Michael Crain

An Excerpt from No Suit for You!: The Ninth Circuit in Bowoto v. Chevron Corp. Holds the Death on the High Seas Act Preempts Alien Tort Statute Survival Claims, 35 Tul. Mar. L. J. 595

I. Overview
 
This case arose after two Nigerians were killed, and many others injured, while protesting Chevron Nigerian Limited's (CNL) practices relating to the environment and the hiring of local workers. 1 In 1961, Chevron and the Nigerian government entered into a joint venture, forming CNL, and began extracting oil from Nigeria's land and coastline through oil fields and offshore platforms. 2 Although CNL extracted billions of dollars' worth of oil, Nigerian citizens became upset that CNL was, in their view, neither protecting the environment nor providing an adequate number of jobs to Nigerians. 3 As a result, several Nigerian tribes formed the Concerned Ilaje Citizens (CIC), a group created to address these grievances. 4 After failing to be recognized by CNL, CIC decided its best course of action was to stage a protest on one of CNL's oil platforms. 5 On May 25, 1998, the plaintiffs, along with 100 members of CIC, went aboard CNL's Parabe oil platform to stage their protest. 6 Both sides disagree as to whether the protest was peaceful. 7

 [*596]  Soon thereafter, CNL created a crisis management team to address the situation as well as to negotiate with CIC to end the protest. 8 After negotiations proved to be fruitless, CNL reached out to the Nigerian Governmental Security Forces (GSF) to bring an end to the situation. 9 Soon after landing on the platform, GSF opened fire on the protestors, killing two, then later arrested and transported many of the protestors back to land where, according to CIC, they were tortured. 10 The protestors then filed this lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California pursuant to the Death on the High Seas Act's (DOHSA) foreign cause of action clause. 11 The district court issued three pretrial rulings: that DOHSA preempts the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) summary execution claims, that DOHSA also preempts ATS survival action claims, and that corporations are not considered "individuals" under the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA). 12 The jury found for...

 

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