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Monday, October 20, 2014
Special Reports

Chevron Files Appeal Brief Against Donziger

Appellants’ placed the impartiality of the Ecuadorian judiciary squarely at issue, Gibson Dunn argues.

BY LATINVEX STAFF

On October 8, 2014 Chevron filed an appeal brief with U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in support of its racketeering and fraud case against Steven Donziger and his associates.

The brief follows Donziger’s appeal in July after U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan found him and his associates guilty of fraud in their lawsuit against Chevron’s environmental damage in Ecuador. (See Chevron Wins Ecuador Fraud Case).

In his appeal, Donziger claimed that Kaplan stretched the RICO statute beyond its “breaking point,” committed reversible error by accepting corrupt witness testimony, disregarded the overwhelming scientific evidence of Chevron’s contamination in Ecuador and unlawfully interfered with a final decision from another nation’s Supreme Court when he imposed an injunction in favor of the oil company in a two-decade dispute with rainforest villagers over widespread oil contamination.

“After a seven-week trial, the district court found that Donziger led a racketeering enterprise, targeted at Chevron, with full cooperation from the other Appellants,” Chevron’s law firm Gibson Dunn said in its appeal. “He procured a fraudulent judgment in Ecuador through bribery, relied on numerous falsehoods to coerce a payoff from Chevron, and lied to U.S. courts to further conceal these crimes. Appellants do not — and, as the evidence demonstrates, cannot — contest the district court’s factual findings. Their attacks on the district court’s conclusions of law have no merit.”

First, Chevron had standing to bring this case, they argue. “Donziger claims that standing disappeared in the course of this litigation, but black-letter law directs that standing be measured at the inception of litigation,” the appeal says. “Nor have developments in the case, including Chevron’s decision to forgo money damages, rendered the dispute moot.”

Second, the district court properly granted equitable relief against Donziger under the federal RICO statute, the Gibson Dunn brief argues. “The court’s ruling rests on extensive, virtually un-questioned findings of fact. Contrary to what Donziger argues, Chevron is not judicially estopped from pursuing its RICO claim (or any other cause of action) be-cause of statements by Texaco in Aguinda,” the filing says. “In any event, Texaco’s representations in Aguinda are not what the Appellants suggest. Donziger also argues that RICO does not allow a district court to grant injunctive relief to private litigants. This is one of the few legitimate disputes presented on appeal.”

Third, while appellants devote most of their briefs to arguing that the Ecuadorian intermediate appellate court’s orders amount to a “substitute judgment” that cures the pervasive fraud in the Lago Agrio trial proceedings, the US district court found that the Lago Agrio court’s orders themselves do not support the claim that the appellate panel conducted a de novo review, Gibson Dunn argues. “Appellants’ reliance on the appellate orders placed the impartiality of the Ecuadorian judiciary squarely at issue, and after a careful and extensive review of the evidence, the district court found that the Ecuadorian judiciary does not afford an impartial tribunal, especially in politicized cases,” the brief says. “Principles of comity did not preclude this analysis — or the district court’s conclusions.”

Fourth, appellants argue that the district court lacked the power to accord Chevron equitable relief from the fraudulently procured Lago Agrio judgment through the separate vehicle of an independent action, but precedent firmly establishes that this cause of action lies in the circumstances presented here, Gibson Dunn says.

The district court’s factual findings — which Appellants do not challenge — are comprehensive and well-grounded in extensive evidence,” the brief’s conclusion says. :Those findings establish that Donziger violated RICO, that Appellants procured the Ecuadorian judgment by fraud, and that Appellants have injured and will continue to injure Chevron. The district court’s targeted remedy will prevent Appellants from bene-fitting from their misdeeds, and will limit, if not stop, Appellants from subjecting Chevron to further harms. That relief was well within the district court’s discretion and is adequately supported by each of the court’s liability findings.”

For the full brief, click here.