Court denies Exxon, backs villagers

The story highlighted in Project Word's 2012 coverage of a human rights lawsuit against ExxonMobil—which appeared in the Dallas Morning News,  Mother Jones, and accompanying pieces for radio and multimedia—has taken a surprising turn. A 2013 Supreme Court ruling favored Shell Petroleum in a similar case. But on September 24th, the group of Indonesian villagers we profiled won a groundbreaking ruling in federal court. 

Announcement below.

ExxonMobil Indonesian Villagers Human Rights Abuse Cases to Proceed in Federal Court

(WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sept. 24, 2014) – In a significant victory for families of Indonesian citizens who were killed or abused by security personnel hired by ExxonMobil Corporation, a federal court today ruled that two closely related lawsuits against Exxon Mobil for human rights violations can proceed.

The Plaintiffs in the cases, which were filed in the U.S. District Court District of Columbia, allege that Indonesian soldiers hired by ExxonMobil to provide security at the corporation’s natural gas facility physically abused and killed family members who lived or worked in villages within the sprawling operations in rural Aceh, Indonesia.

“This is a huge victory for the plaintiffs,” said Plaintiffs’ co-lead counsel Agnieszka Fryszman, a partner at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll. “We are especially pleased that the Court agreed with us that the Plaintiffs had sufficiently tied Exxon’s conduct to the injuries and abuses that were inflicted on these villagers. We look forward to seeing justice done and to putting our case before a jury.”

In 2008, another judge on the District Court had denied ExxonMobil's attempt to avoid trial by rejecting the company’s motion for summary judgment, citing “evidence that these security forces committed the alleged atrocities.” The Court of Appeals then held that the claims must be considered under Indonesian law, not the law of the District of Columbia.
Among highlights of today’s decision, the District Court in a meticulous 43 page opinion:

• Held that Plaintiffs claims can go forward under Indonesian law, finding that “expert testimony indicates to the Court that Indonesian tort law, while using different terminology from American law, compensates tort victims in similar fashion to the common law.”

• Permits Plaintiffs to add information regarding Exxon’s conduct in the United States in order to meet the standard set out by a recent Supreme Court decision, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Shell.

• Rejected Exxon’s arguments regarding the application of a variety of international law doctrines.

• Permits Plaintiffs to gather additional evidence in support of their claims.

Co-counsel Paul Hoffman of Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman LLP,
said, “The well-reasoned and thoughtful opinion is an important one for the enforcement of human rights law.”

Co-counsel Terry Collingsworth of Conrad & Scherer added “Since I first met our clients in 2001, they have endured not only the agony of human rights crimes, but over thirteen years of justice delayed. We are looking forward to getting this case to trial so that our long-suffering clients can obtain justice.”

For more information about the case and the District Court decision, visit the Cohen Milstein website.