ABUJA, Oct 24 (Reuters) - A Nigerian community from the
oil-rich Niger Delta has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District
Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, seeking $1 billion
in compensation from Anglo-Dutch oil company Shell for decades
of pollution caused by oil spills. The case was filed in
Detroit last week, citing the Alien Tort Statue.
The suit was brought on behalf of the people of Ogale in
the Eleme local government area of the Niger Delta, where a
United Nations environmental report earlier this year found
people were drinking water contaminated with carcinogens at 900
times the World Health Organization's safety limit.
Shell operates "well below internationally recognized
standards to prevent and control pipeline oil spills, the
complaint lodged by the Nigerian plaintiffs said. "(The
company) has not employed the best available technology and
practices that they use elsewhere in the world."
Shell declined to comment. It has said in the past that the
majority of oil spills in the Niger Delta are caused by oil
theft and sabotage to its facilities but it clears up spills
whatever the cause as quickly as possible.
The Alien Tort Statute, which dates back to 1789, was
revitalized in the 1980s with a series of civil suits in the
United States against individuals and corporations for alleged
breaches of international law in their operations abroad. Last
year however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
upheld a finding by the U.S. District Court for the Southern
District of New York that corporations could not be sued under
the Alien Tort Statute. Plaintiffs in that case, which also
involves Shell oil operations in Nigeria, petitioned the U.S.
Supreme Court to address the question of corporate liability
under the statute.
Last week the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the issue,
which has created a split at the circuit court level. In
contrast to the Second Circuit, the D.C. Circuit, Seventh
Circuit and Eleventh Circuit have all found that corporations
can be held liable under the statute.
The new case is Obe et al v. Royal Dutch Shell, PLC et al
in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of
Michigan, no. 11-14572.
For the plaintiffs: Kayode Oladele of Juris International
and Benjamin Whitfield of Benjamin Whitfield, Jr. Assoc.
For Royal Dutch Shell: Not immediately available.
(Reporting by Joe Brock; additional reporting by Rebecca
Hamilton in New York)
Follow us on Twitter: @ReutersLegal