Chevron defeats class action relating to offshore gas well blowout
Client(s) Chevron Corporation
Jones Day successfully represented Chevron Corporation in a class action lawsuit originally brought by 65,000 Nigerians seeking $5 billion on the claim that a natural gas well blowout six miles offshore caused widespread health and fishing impacts to an area roughly the size of New Jersey.
Given the implausible nature of the plaintiffs' claims, Jones Day developed a strategy to test and challenge the veracity of the plaintiffs' allegations and evidence. One aspect of that strategy was to obtain deposition testimony from absent class members who lived and fished within the allegedly impacted area. In the summer of 2016, Jones Day attorneys travelled to Lagos, Nigeria and deposed 36 members of the putative class. This exercise presented challenges due to the remoteness of the class communities and the general lack of record keeping. But the results were compelling.
In the lead up to the depositions, putative class members submitted "claim forms" describing their alleged personal, property, and economic damages. At deposition, they conceded that forms were submitted with forged signatures, sometimes in the names of deceased persons, and that even as to forms properly submitted, they routinely contained wildly inflated economic damages figures and claims of personal injury and property damage that defied the laws of medicine and physics. Jones Day compiled examples of the most outrageous claims in its class opposition brief and argued that the plaintiff's claims were unreliable, that the damages analysis required individual proof, and that litigation in the United States was not the superior method for resolving the dispute. These points were further confirmed by a showing that the reports submitted by the plaintiffs' expert witnesses were misleading, irrelevant, and in some cases, plagiarized and replete with falsehoods.
As a result, Jones Day successfully obtained an order denying the plaintiffs' motion for class certification. The court explained that the plaintiffs' evidence was "riddled with falsity and unreliability," and thus held that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate the Rule 23 requirements of "typicality," "adequacy," and "superiority," and that the proposed class definition suffered from numerous deficiencies.
Jones Day's representation will also have a lasting impact on the changing landscape of third-party litigation funding in the United States. During discovery, Chevron successfully moved to compel production of the plaintiffs' litigation funding agreement and related documents, as well as require the plaintiffs to reveal the identity of the funder by amending their Local Rule 3-15 disclosure of all persons or entities with a "financial interest (of any kind) in the subject matter in controversy or in a party to the proceeding."
The court's ruling recognized the importance of transparency and, shortly after the ruling, the Northern District amended its Local Rules to require disclosure in all proposed class actions of "any person or entity that is funding the prosecution of any claim or counterclaim."
Ogola, et al. v. Chevron Corporation, et al., No. 3-14-cv-00173 (N.D. Cal.)