(CN) – As he had indicated he would, a federal judge refused on Monday to let Patton Boggs refile previously dismissed allegations that Chevron used intimidation tactics to thwart multibillion environmental claims in Ecuador.
Last month U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy scoffed at the Washington firm’s motion to reconsider his dismissal of its first lawsuit and the motion to amend.
Along with that reconsideration motion, Patton Boggs filed a new complaint that mirrored the action Kennedy refused to enter.
Patton Boggs had hoped the judge would say there is no conflict of interest in its representation of a group of indigenous Ecuadoreans who are trying to hold Chevron liable for decades of oil contamination allegedly caused by Texaco, which Chevron acquired and pulled out of Ecuador in 2001.
As Chevron and the Ecuadoreans appeal an $18.2 billion judgment in Ecuador, Chevron has requested relief in several other venues and conducted discovery in 20 courts throughout the United States in pursuit of that goal.
The Delaware-based oil company won an injunction in Manhattan to block collection efforts, is in arbitration with the government of Ecuador at The Hague, and is suing the players behind the Ecuadoreans’ suit.
At the heart of the conflict-of-interest dispute, Chevron has bristled at attempts by Patton Boggs partner James Tyrrell to intercede in Manhattan proceedings.
Tyrell has ties to the Breaux Lott Leadership Group, which Patton Boggs acquired in July 2010.
But Chevron had retained the politically powerful group, headed by former U.S. Senators Trent Lott and John Breaux, years earlier to lobby on its behalf in the Ecuador case.
Patton Boggs said Chevron is wrong to suggest there is a conflict of interest, since Breaux Lott performed “pure lobbying services” for Chevron, not legal work or advice.
But Kennedy dismissed the firm’s first complaint in April, pointing out that Chevron had not explicitly moved to disqualify Tyrrell or other Patton Boggs lawyers. He also said that the District of Columbia is the wrong venue and that it would be “intrusive” for him to iron out Patton Boggs’ ethical quandaries as they pertain to other districts.
He made similar findings in July and on Monday.
“Patton Boggs acknowledges that four of its five claims are identical to those that the court dismissed or denied leave to add in Patton Boggs I,” Kennedy wrote. “And it does not dispute that ‘denial of leave to amend on the merits precludes subsequent litigation of the claims in the proposed amended complaint.’ Patton Boggs argues, however, that it was denied the ‘full and fair opportunity’ to litigate its claims that is required for either preclusion doctrine to apply. Patton Boggs is incorrect.”
There were approximately 15 small differences between Patton Boggs’ amended complaint, which was proposed in February, and the new complaint, dated April 27. In addition to reflecting that an Ecuadorean judge had entered a judgment against Chevron, Patton Boggs said Chevron attempted to keep Patton Boggs from getting paid.
But Kennedy was not convinced.
“In fact, Patton Boggs concedes that it does not know ‘the exact manner and facts’ of defendants’ ‘efforts,’ admitting that it is ‘privy mainly to the result of defendants’ misconduct’ (although it attributes this ignorance to defendants’ successful efforts to conceal their alleged wrongdoing),” Kennedy wrote. “But the fact that Patton Boggs is no longer being paid does not establish that Chevron and Gibson Dunn are responsible for that outcome, let alone that they intentionally caused it. If Patton Boggs has any factual basis for that conclusion, it does not appear in the complaint.”
Though the judge conceded that the carbon-copy lawsuit “may have ‘unreasonably and vexatiously’ multiplied the proceedings before this court,” he declined to order the firm to pay Chevron’s attorneys’ fees, “but only because the bar for the imposition of fees and costs … is extremely high.”