Nigerian Oil Blaze Case May not Pass Muster
(CN) - Slamming a group of Nigerians for copying their $5 billion lawsuit against Chevron over a weeks-long oil blaze "almost verbatim from the original complaint," a federal judge warned that he may dismiss the case with prejudice.
Dr. Foster Ogala and others, on behalf of an estimated 65,000 residents of the Niger Delta region of southern Nigeria, sued the energy giant in San Francisco earlier this year.
They claimed the KS Endeavor, an offshore natural-gas rig drilling in North Apoi Field, exploded on Jan. 16, 2012, igniting a fire that burned for 46 days.
Ogala and others said they were "directly affected by, interested in and having claims arising out of the incident," and suffered "losses to their livelihood, environmental damage, and health problems as a result of the explosion and fire," according to a summary of the case by U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti.
They said KS Drilling negligently operated the KS Endeavor under the management of Chevron Nigeria Ltd.
Chevron Corp., Chevron Investments and Chevron U.S.A. were named as defendants in the lawsuit, but not Chevron Nigeria Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of Chevron Investments.
Conti dismissed the original action in May, however, over a failure to state claims against the defendant companies as alter egos of Chevron Nigeria Ltd.
Tossing claims on behalf of unnamed nonparties, Conti also said that the plaintiffs failed to "claim anywhere in the complaint to represent a class."
He said the plaintiffs failed to cite property damage and personal injury specifics, as well, or show how their alleged injuries resulted from the defendants' conduct.
"There is no discussion whatsoever of how a fire on an offshore rig damaged the businesses, livelihoods, property, or health of Dr. Ogala or any of the other plaintiffs in this case," Conti wrote. "Plaintiffs make claims about damage to fish, livestock, contamination of water and soil, and 'general health breakdown.' But there are no allegations that the damaged livestock belonged to plaintiffs, that the plaintiffs' livelihoods depended on fisheries, that the contaminated water or soil harmed them or their property, or that the 'general health breakdown' affected them. As for the claims of property damage and physical injury, there are no allegations that the fire ever spread from the KS Endeavor. Plaintiffs need to allege facts that make their damages claims plausible; in this case, they need facts that indicate how the fire actually harmed them."
Dismissing the first amended complaint, or FAC, Thursday, Conti again found that the plaintiffs failed to state injury specifics.
"Plaintiffs 'must allege and show that they personally have been injured, not that injury has been suffered by other, unidentified members of the class to which they belong and which they purport to represent,'" Conti wrote. "Plaintiffs appear to be aware of that requirement. But their FAC includes only allegations of injury to unidentified class members. Nowhere does the FAC ever describe any injury to any of the named plaintiffs. Plaintiffs must describe a specific injury to each of the named plaintiffs. Because they fail to do so, their FAC is insufficient to establish standing for their negligence claims."
In alleging that they "suffered: losses to their livelihood; environmental disaster impacting upon food and water supplies; health problems all arising out of the gross negligence of the defendant," the plaintiffs "copied almost verbatim from the original complaint," according to the 15-page decision.
Conti declined to strike or dismiss the class allegations, and dismissed the lawsuit with leave to amend.
Failure to properly amend their claims by Aug. 28 "may result in dismissal of this action with prejudice," Conti warned.
Joining Ogola as named plaintiffs are Elder Endure Humphrey Fisei, Mr. Fresh Talent, Matthew Kingdom Mieseigha, Chris Wilfred Itonyo and Natto Iyela Gbarabe.
"To establish standing, plaintiffs must explain specifically how each of these people was injured," the 15-page ruling states. "Plaintiffs 'must allege and show that they personally have been injured, not that injury has been suffered by other, unidentified members of the class to which they belong and which they purport to represent.'"