Royal Dutch Shell can’t seem to plug up the lawsuits spewing from Nigeria.
Last week a group of Nigerians sued Shell in Detroit, alleging the company owes them $1 billion in damages for oil spills that caused decades of pollution that contaminated their drinking water.
The lawsuit came on the heels of a United Nations environmental report that found the Ogale people of the Niger Delta were drinking water contaminated with carcinogens at 900 times the World Health Organization’s safety limit.
The Nigerians filed the suit in the District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows foreign parties to bring civil suits in the U.S. against other parties that have allegedly breached international law in their operations abroad.
Courts have disagreed whether parties can sue corporations under the Alien Tort Statute. In July, the D.C. Circuit ruled that a group of Indonesian villagers could move forward with their suit against Exxon Mobil, which they claim is liable for murder, assault and torture allegedly carried out by Indonesian soldiers who guarded the oil company’s facilities. According to Thomson Reuters, the 7th Circuit and the 11th Circuit also have found that companies can be held liable under the statute.
But the 2nd Circuit takes a different stance. In September 2010, it rejected a Nigerian group’s lawsuit against Shell for alleged crimes against humanity. The court then denied the plaintiffs’ petition for a rehearing en banc in February. But last week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. The high court will hear arguments early next year and will likely deliver a decision by June, Thomson Reuters reports.