Judge Douses $5 Billion Claim Against Chevron

     SAN FRANCISCO s(CN) – A federal judge dismissed a $5 billion complaint against Chevron for an oil rig fire in Nigeria, finding the plaintiffs were “not cooperating with their own counsel.”
     U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti ruled separately that a third amended complaint was filed without Chevron’s consent or leave of court.
     Dr. Foster Ogola 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 in January 2014.
     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 et al. 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 Conti’s summary of the case.
     Ogala claimed KS Drilling negligently operated the KS Endeavor under the management of Chevron Nigeria Limited.
     Chevron Corp., Chevron Investments and Chevron U.S.A. were named as defendants, but not Chevron Nigeria Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of Chevron Investments.
     Contin dismissed the case in May 2014, finding the plaintiffs had failed to state claims against the defendant companies as alter egos of Chevron Nigeria Ltd.
     The plaintiffs also failed to “claim anywhere in the complaint to represent a class,” Conti said, dismissing claims on behalf of unnamed nonparties.
     “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 found. “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.”
     In August 2014, Conti slammed the plaintiffs again, for copying their amended lawsuit “almost verbatim from the original complaint.”
     He dismissed the second amended complaint against Chevron with prejudice on Tuesday.
     Ogala and four co-plaintiffs had been served with two sets of requests for production of documents and one set of interrogatories. They not respond by their April 3 deadline, however, and “are not cooperating with their own counsel,” Conti ruled.
     “Defendant’s efforts to meet and confer have not yielded any commitment to respond to the discovery by the five plaintiffs and there is no prospect that they will respond,” Conti said.
     “Accordingly, I find that no less drastic sanction is feasible.”
     Joining Ogola as named plaintiffs were Elder Endure Humphrey Fisei, Mr. Fresh Talent, Matthew Kingdom Mieseigha, Chris Wilfred Itonyo and Natto Iyela Gbarabe.
     Conti separately granted Chevron’s motion to strike a third amended complaint, which removed five and added 11 named plaintiffs.
     Those plaintiffs, Conti said, filed the third amended complaint without Chevron’s consent or leave of court.
     “The third amended complaint does not fall into either category,” Conti wrote.
     All was not in Chevron’s favor, though. Conti called its request to deny the plaintiffs leave to amend premature.
     “Given that plaintiffs have not asked the court for leave to file an amended complaint, Chevron’s request is premature,” Conti said. “The court will consider Chevron’s arguments if and when plaintiffs file an amended complaint.”
     The KS Endeavor explosion killed two workers. Chevron said that 152 workers on the gas exploration rig and an associated barge were evacuated safely.

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