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Shell lawsuit (re oil spills & Ogale & Bille communities in Nigeria - Okpabi v Shell)

shell wikiOn 14 October and 22 December 2015, the Ogale and Bille Nigerian communities respectively filed claims against the UK company Royal Dutch Shell plc (hereinafter Shell) and its Nigerian subsidiary Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) in the UK High Court. Both claims were brought by law firm Leigh Day on behalf of around 42,500 residents and citizens of Nigeria who seek remedy for extensive oil pollution which considerably affected their livelihoods and the environment. The claimants argue that Shell failed to adequately prevent oil spills and subsequently to conduct proper clean-up in order to avoid serious contamination of agricultural lands and waterways. 

On 2 March 2016, the Technology and Construction Court gave permission to the claimants to sue Shell in England, and ruled that formal legal proceedings could proceed to the next stage in the London High Court. The company challenged both communities’ lawsuits, arguing that pipeline sabotage and illegal refining had been the main sources of pollution across the Niger Delta, and that the cases should be heard in Nigeria instead of the UK. 

On 26 January 2017, the High Court held that the communities could not seek redress against Shell in English courts. The Judge concluded that there was not sufficient evidence that Shell exercised a high degree of oversight, control or direction over SPDC, and therefore that the parent company had no legal responsibility for pollution by its Nigerian subsidiary. The claimants appealed this decision, arguing that the Judge reached this conclusion before disclosure of relevant documents or hearing witnesses about the relationship between Shell and SPDC. 

On 14 February 2018, the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s ruling, with a majority of judges holding that the parent company did not hold a duty of care towards affected communities. 

Following the dismissal, the claimants announced their intention to bring the case to the UK Supreme Court. On 27 April 2018, over 40 UK and international human rights, development and environmental NGOs submitted a letter to the Supreme Court supporting the claimants’ application to appeal. They asserted that the Appeal Court’s judgment could greatly limit access to justice for people harmed by UK companies’ international operations. On 9 July 2018, the Supreme Court announced that the Appeal Panel had decided to defer consideration of the claimants’ application to appeal until judgment is given in a similar parent company liability case being examined at the Supreme Court, namely Vedanta Resources PLC and another (Appellants) v Lungowe and others (Respondents). In May 2019, civil society organizations asked the UK Supreme Court to allow the fishing communities to appeal against the 2017 ruling saying that Shell did not hold a duty of care towards affected communities. In July 2019, the UK Supreme Court granted permission to appeal.

News

- "UK Supreme Court to hear Nigerians' case for pursuing Shell spill claim in England", 24 July 2019
"Nigerian fishermen fight for permission to appeal oil pollution ruling", The Times (UK), 30 April 2018
"Appeal court rules Nigerians cannot pursue Shell spill claim in England", Reuters, 14 February 2018
"Court of Appeal to hear Nigerian villagers' pollution claims against Shell", Leigh Day, 21 November 2017
"UK court hears appeal in Shell Nigeria oil spill case", Al Jazeera (Qatar), 21 November 2017
"Shell battles Nigerian communities in high-stakes London lawsuit", Reuters, 6 January 2017
"Shell Fights Lawsuits Over Environmental Record in Nigeria", Morning Star Advisor, 19 November 2016
“40,000 Nigerians take Shell to UK court over oil spills", Nigeria Today, 16 November 2016
- “Two new legal actions launched against Shell over Nigerian oil pollution”, Leigh Day, 1 March 2016

NGO Statements

“Seeking justice: the rising tide of court cases against Shell”,Amnesty International, May 2018
Court of Appeal Decisions Threatens to Close Route to Justice, CORE Coalition (UK), 1 May 2018
UK Supreme Court should allow 40.000 Nigerian villagers appeal a ruling that leaves victims of Shell's oil spills without remedy, civil society demands, European Coalition for Corporate Justice, 30 April 2018
"UK Court of Appeal Rules Royal Dutch Shell Not Liable for Nigeria Oil Spills", CORE Coalition, 15 February 2018
"UK: Shell ruling could give green light to corporations for abuses abroad", Amnesty International, 23 January 2017

 Legal Documents

Okpabi and others (Appellants) v Royal Shell Plc and another (Respondents),Registrar of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, 9 July 2019 
Rule 15 submission to the Supreme Court of the UK by CORE Coalition & Others on behalf of Okpabi et al. v Royal Dutch Shell, CORE, 27 April 2018 
Okpabi and Others v Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria LTD and Alame and others v Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria LTD, Court of Appeal (Civil Division), 14 February 2018
Okpabi and Others v Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria LTD, High Court of Justice Queen’s Bench Division, 26 January 2017

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Article
24 July 2019

Supreme Court grants permission to appeal to Nigerian Communities in their fight against Shell

Author: Leigh Day

Lawyers representing 40,000 Nigerian farmers and fisherman from two communities in the Niger Delta, have been given permission to take their legal claim against the oil giant Shell to the UK Supreme Court.

The decision will allow the two communities from Bille and Ogale in the Niger Delta to appeal to the UK’s highest court, havi­­ng suffered from decades of pollution from Shell’s pipelines.
 
They have taken their case to the English Courts on the basis that Royal Dutch Shell (RDS), which is headquartered in London, is legally responsible for the environmental failures of the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), a subsidiary of RDS.
 
The Supreme Court hearing will appeal a judgment from February 2018, from the Court of Appeal in London, which upheld an earlier High Court judgment, that the English Court does not have jurisdiction over the claims...

The decision will allow the two communities from Bille and Ogale in the Niger Delta to appeal to the UK’s highest court, havi­­ng suffered from decades of pollution from Shell’s pipelines.
 
They have taken their case to the English Courts on the basis that Royal Dutch Shell (RDS), which is headquartered in London, is legally responsible for the environmental failures of the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), a subsidiary of RDS.
 
The Supreme Court hearing will appeal a judgment from February 2018, from the Court of Appeal in London, which upheld an earlier High Court judgment, that the English Court does not have jurisdiction over the claims...

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Article
23 July 2019

Nigeria: UK Supreme Court grants permission to Nigerian communities in their fight against Shell over oil spills in Niger delta

Author: Creamer Media (South Africa)

‘UK Supreme Court to hear Nigerians' case for pursuing Shell spill claim in England’ 24 July 2019

The Supreme Court in London will hear an appeal by Nigerian farmers and fishermen to pursue claims in England against oil major Shell over oil spills in the Niger Delta, lawyers for the two affected communities said on Wednesday. The decision to hear the appeal re-opens the possibility for British multinationals to be held liable at home for their subsidiaries' actions abroad. It comes after a setback in February last year when a London court ruled that the claim could not be pursued in England.

"We maintain that claims by Nigerian communities against a Nigerian company about events in Nigeria, should be heard in Nigeria and not the UK," said an SPDC spokeswoman. SPDC maintains the spills are chiefly due to oil theft, sabotage and illegal refining. But the communities maintain they cannot seek redress locally. “The English courts are our only hope because we cannot get justice in Nigeria," said King Okpabi, the ruler of the Ogale community, in Wednesday's statement. Ruling on a similar case in April, London's Supreme Court decided that Zambian villagers had the right to sue India-listed mining company Vedanta in England.

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Article
31 May 2019

49 NGOs ask UK Supreme Court to allow Nigerian villagers to appeal against decision ruling Shell cannot be held responsible for pipeline spills affecting their livelihoods

Author: CORE Coalition

"49 global CSOs call for justice for Nigerian villages devastated by Shell oil spill", 29 May 2019

CORE Coalition and 48 other civil society organisations from around the world are calling on the UK Supreme Court to allow two Nigerian fishing communities to appeal against a ruling that oil giant Shell cannot be held responsible for pipeline spills that devastated their land and livelihoods.

Civil society groups are highly concerned by the judgement, handed down by the UK’s Appeals Court, and have submitted a joint letter to the Supreme Court in support of the Nigerian claimants’ application for permission to appeal against it.

CORE and international partners previously submitted a letter in support of the claimants’ application for permission to appeal in the case, in April 2018.

This second letter highlights that the recent Supreme Court ruling that Zambian communities can sue mining giant Vedanta in the UK for abuses caused by its Zambian subsidiary, only strengthens the Nigerian communities’ appeal to the UK Courts in the Shell case. The discrepancy between the two judgements makes it all the more important that the claimants’ application for permission to appeal is accepted...

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Article
4 September 2018

Okpabi v Royal Dutch Shell: An opportunity to honour international standards or another instance of corporate impunity?

Author: Gabriela Quijano, Legal Adviser, Amnesty International - International Secretariat

On 14 February 2018, a UK Court of Appeal dismissed the Okpabi v Royal Dutch Shell (RDS or Shell) appeal on the basis that RDS could not be held legally responsible for the actions of its Nigerian subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC)...This decision is highly concerning for two main reasons. Firstly, it denies the Ogale and Bille communities an opportunity for justice in a case where the chances of obtaining meaningful reparation in Nigeria are virtually non-existent.  Secondly, it backtracks on prior UK court decisions on parent company liability...

The Court of Appeal dismissed the claims based on the absence of evidence to demonstrate operational control of Shell over its subsidiary...Such a high evidentiary burden on claimants alleging parent company liability at such an early stage in the proceedings is unjust and unrealistic...

UK courts have gradually advanced useful parent company liability principles, with Chandler v Cape plc being the strongest precedent yet.  However, the Court of Appeal disregarded principles established in this case...[I]t is not the active engagement of a parent company in the abuse, but its failure to act to prevent it when it could that results in serious harm.  Unfortunately, the Court of Appeal chose to backtrack on this important point.

The view expressed by the Court of Appeal that a parent company duty of care may only arise in cases of active control or enforcement would promote a “hands off” approach to the human rights impacts of subsidiaries...Should it stand, the Court of Appeal’s ruling would have the exact opposite effect of discouraging parent companies from concerning themselves with, and taking action to avoid, the adverse human rights impacts of their subsidiaries...

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Article
9 July 2018

UK: Supreme Court defers decision on application for permission to appeal in lawsuit brought by Nigerian communities against Shell over oil spill impacts

Author: Registrar of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom

"Okpabi and others (Appellants) v Royal Shell Plc and another (Respondents)", 9 July 2018

The Appeal Panel has decided that consideration of this application should be deferred until judgment has been given in the Vedanta Resources PLC and another (Appellants) v Lungowe and others (Respondents).

Download the full document here

Article
1 May 2018

Court of Appeal Decision Threatens to Close Route to Justice

Author: William Meade, CORE Coalition (UK)

...CORE and 45 civil society organisations...wrote to urge the UK Supreme Court to allow two Nigerian fishing communities to appeal against a ruling that oil giant Shell cannot be held responsible for pipeline spills that have devastated the environment in the Niger Delta.  In February the Court of Appeal ruled (in Okpabi v Shell) that UK-based Royal Dutch Shell (RDS) was not responsible for oil pollution caused by its Nigerian subsidiary...The decision...is likely to have a chilling effect on similar cases...The...ruling must be reconsidered in the Supreme Court...At the Appeal Court hearing, the Claimants showed that RDS knew about the oil spills and the poor condition of the pipelines and infrastructure, but did nothing about it.  Despite this, the Court ruled that there was not enough proof that RDS managers had any control over Shell Nigeria...Bringing a claim in the UK against the parent company...offers one of the only routes to justice.  Yet unless the ruling in Okpabi v Shell is overturned in the Supreme Court, the decision threatens to make it near impossible to bring such cases...[T]he high evidential bar the Court imposed on the claimants to prove RDS control over its subsidiary will likely be carried over into future judgments...The Court also decided that international standards on corporate responsibility...are irrelevant to determining whether RDS had a responsibility to those affected by the pollution...This will create a perverse incentive for global companies not to improve respect for human rights and the environment throughout their business...

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Article
30 April 2018

UK Supreme Court should allow 40.000 Nigerian villagers appeal a ruling that leaves victims of Shell's oil spills without remedy, civil society demands

Author: European Coalition for Corporate Justice

On Friday 27 April, ECCJ, CORE and 45 other civil society organisations from all over the world called on the UK Supreme Court to allow 40,000 people from two Nigerian fishing communities to appeal against a ruling that oil giant Shell cannot be held responsible for pipeline spills that have devastated the environment in the Niger Delta.  The letter sent to the members of the Supreme Court on Friday refers to the decision adopted by the UK Court of Appeal last February concerning the case Okpabi vs Royal Dutch Shell.  The ruling stated that the Anglo-Dutch parent company Royal Dutch Shell (RDS) was not responsible for pollution caused by its Nigerian subsidiary during decades of oil exploitation in the Niger Delta.  If this ruling is allowed to stand, thousands in the Niger Delta will be left without remedy and an important route for justice for those harmed by the overseas operations of UK-based multinationals would be severely restricted.  The letter to the Supreme Court urges the Court justices to grant the application for permission to appeal and hear the case...

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Article
15 February 2018

UK Court of Appeal Rules Royal Dutch Shell Not Liable for Nigeria Oil Spills

Author: CORE Coalition

In a ruling handed down this morning, the Court of Appeal found that London-based Royal Dutch Shell is not responsible for oil pollution in the Niger Delta by its Nigerian subsidiary. The Court rejected an appeal brought by the Ogale and Bille communities against an earlier decision that a claim against the London-based parent company had no prospect of success and that, therefore, the claim against Shell Nigeria could not proceed. CORE’s Director Marilyn Croser commented, “The ruling is a gift to irresponsible multinationals, sending the message that they can abuse human rights and wreck the environment with total impunity. The brave decision to take their legal fight to the Supreme Court puts the Niger Delta communities in the vanguard of the global struggle for corporate accountability.” Marilyn Croser said, “The judgment threatens to close down a vital route to justice available through legal action in the UK. We now need legislative reform to introduce a requirement for companies to carry out human rights due diligence throughout their operations, both to help prevent abusive corporate practices and to improve accountability when such practices occur.”

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Article
14 February 2018

Appeal court rules Nigerians cannot pursue Shell spill claim in England

Author: Reuters

The Court of Appeal in London ruled on Wednesday that two Nigerian communities cannot pursue Royal Dutch Shell in English courts over oil spills in Nigeria’s Delta region. The split decision upheld a High Court ruling last year that was a setback to attempts to hold British multinationals liable at home for their subsidiaries’ actions abroad. Shell said the court “rightly upheld” the earlier ruling, and said Nigeria’s “well-developed justice system” was the correct place for the claims. Its subsidiary SPDC has also denied responsibility for the spills, which it says were due to sabotage and illegal refining. One of the three senior High Court judges, the Rt. Hon. Lord Justice Sales, disagreed with the majority ruling, writing that the communities have “a good arguable claim that (Shell) assumed a material degree of responsibility in relation to the management of the pipeline and facilities” operated by SPDC. Leigh Day said the two Nigerian communities intended to bring the case to Britain’s Supreme Court...King Okpabi, the ruler of the Ogale community, said the English courts were the only hope, and that they “cannot get justice” in Nigeria

 

Read the full post here

Article
21 November 2017

Court of Appeal to hear Nigerian villagers' pollution claims against Shell

Author: Leigh Day

Today the Court of Appeal will hear an appeal on behalf of over 40,000 villagers from the Ogale and Bille communities from the Niger Delta in the latest stage of their legal battle against the oil giant Shell.

The villagers claim that they have been severely impacted by years of oil pollution from pipelines owned by Shell and that both the London based parent company, Royal Dutch Shell Plc., and its Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, are responsible for the pollution. 

...Shell resists the villagers’ claims, arguing that the parent company has no responsibility for the pollution and that the claims should be heard in Nigeria rather than the UK.

...[A]ccording to law firm Leigh Day which is representing the communities, the High Court Judgment wrongly struck out the claims at an early stage in the litigation before all the relevant evidence was before the Court.  

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