What 30,000? Etc. It’s Still Not a Class-Action Lawsuit

By October 23, 2009Briefly Legal, Energy, Trade

In a response to our post (“What 30,000?“) debunking the claim that 30,000 Amazonian Indians have sued Chevron, the Amazon Defense Coalition’s PR person, Karen Hinton, writes:

Most of the time I don’t bother to read this blog, much less respond. But like so many others, this post is way over the top. The lawsuit is a class-action lawsuit. That means it covers any and all people living in the Texaco concession area who have been harmed by the contamination. As with class-action lawsuits filed in this country, names of specific individuals are included in the lawsuit but that does not mean the lawsuit is limited to those individuals.

We’ve read the lawsuit. The plaintiffs are 48 Ecuadorians. There’s no mention of a “class” or a citation of the Ecuadorian law that defines class-action litigation. No judge has certified the class, that is, recognized anyone’s standing to sue for damages on behalf of the supposed 30,000 Amazonians.

Just because you call it a class action, does not make it one. Indeed, Ecuador law does not even acknowledge class-action lawsuits.

It’s true a precursor lawsuit filed against Texaco in 1993 in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York was filed as a class action, and Steven Donziger — now running the litigation against Chevron — was one of the lawyers. But that’s the law in the United States, one of the few unfortunate countries that statutorily provide for class-action litigation. (A federal judge eventually dismissed that suit based on forum non conveniens, i.e., the suit did not belong in the United States.)

So the legal team suing Chevron in Ecuador knows the litigation not a class action lawsuit, and yet Hinton and her fellow angry bloggers call people names who point out the fact. Typical, but not very effective as PR strategy goes unless you’re only trying to keep your base in a state of constant outrage (and generosity). Really, it’s not that hard to figure out the falsehoods: All you have to do is read the lawsuit.

Are we wrong? Well, here’s a sincere offer to Ms. Hinton: Point out to us in the suit the “class action.” Tell us where the legal authority is for 48 Ecuadorians to sue on behalf of whomever these 30,000 Amazonians may be.

UPDATE (5:50 p.m.) Ms. Hinton responds, to her credit (see comments):

In Ecuador, it’s called a popular action, which means that any member of a community can bring a lawsuit where they see an act that is destroying or somehow disrupting a community resource (in this case, the water and land). So we are representing 30,000 people because that is the estimate of how large the community is that is impacted by the pollution.

So it’s NOT a class action, after all. And our point that the case has been consistently misrepresented is, in fact, correct.

And, rereading the suit, we still only see 48 plaintiffs, with the money going to the Amazon Defense Coalition. “Popular action” is a sentiment, not a law.

P.S. But we stand to be corrected.

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