Nigerians’ Federal Torture Claim Survives

     (CN) – Plaintiffs who accuse a Chevron subsidiary in Nigeria of using torture to oust demonstrators from an offshore barge survived the company’s motion for summary judgment, because federal law does not require that torture be committed by a government entity for a cause of action to accrue.

     On May 25, 1999, Larry Bowoto and Bassey Jeje, along with Bola Oyinbo, Arolika Irowarinum and more than 100 others, set off for an oil-drilling platform and an attached construction barge off the coast of Nigeria. For three days the protestors occupied the barge, before Chevron Nigeria Ltd. asked for Nigerian assistance.
     On May 28, members of the Nigerian Government Security Forces stormed the barge. According to Bowoto and Jeje, Irowarinum was killed during the attack, and Oyinbo died from torture three days later. Bowoto and Jeje were shot during the raid but survived.
     Bowoto and Jeje sued parent company Chevron Corp. in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, accusing Chevron, through its Nigerian subsidiary, of paying the Nigerian military to attack the barge. The long-running case has already seen numerous claims dismissed, including RICO counts and other torture-related claims.
     In the latest round of litigation, Chevron moved for summary judgment on all remaining federal law claims. Chevron claimed the Alien Tort Statute requires that alleged torture be carried out by government entities.
     Denying the argument, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco ruled that previous jurisprudence in Alien Tort Statute cases dating back to the law’s enactment in 1789 does not require that torture be committed by states, only that the torture be committed by an official or under color of law.
     However, Chevron’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiffs’ summary execution claims was granted, because the deaths that occurred on the barge occurred on the high seas and are preempted by the Death on the High Seas Act.
     Plaintiffs were given leave to amend the complaint to allege violations of the proper law.

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