(CN) – A panel of 9th Circuit judges agreed Wednesday to revisit its decision to revive allegations that Occidental Petroleum Corp. polluted the Peruvian rainforest and its rivers during 30 years of intensive oil production.
The federal appeals court in Pasadena granted Occidental Petroleum’s petition for a panel rehearing. In December 2010, the panel said Occidental had failed to show that Peru was a more convenient forum for a trial than California.
Dozens of indigenous plaintiffs and the California-based nonprofit Amazon Watch sued Occidental and a subsidiary in 2007, claiming the companies had used outdated and illegal methods for separating crude oil between 1971 and 2000. The plaintiffs, members of the Achuar communities that live along the Corrientes and Mascusari rivers in a remote part of the Peruvian rainforest, say Occidental’s actions contaminated their rivers and made children and adults sick from lead and cadmium poisoning. Pollution also allegedly killed off fish and other animals used for food. Though Occidental knew about the dangers, it failed to warn indigenous communities about the risks, according to the ruling.
Occidental removed the complaint from Los Angeles County Court to California District Court and moved to dismiss, arguing that the case should be tried in Peru, where the alleged actions occurred.
U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez agreed, but the three-judge appellate panel reversed his ruling in December with a long list of reasons why the case should potentially be tried in the United States.
“The District Court abused its discretion by accepting at face value Occidental’s ‘stipulation and consent to jurisdiction in Peru’ without considering the glaring absence of a waiver of the statute of limitations, which Occidental’s own expert suggests may have run,” Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote for the panel in December. “Dismissal on the basis of forum non conveniens is improper when a lawsuit would be time-barred in the alternative jurisdiction. Moreover, where there is reason to believe that a defendant will seek immediate dismissal based on the foreign forum’s statute of limitations, dismissal should be conditioned on waiving any statute of limitations defenses that would not be available in the domestic forum.”