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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 21 November 2016, the London High Court started hearings on whether the English Courts had jurisdiction over the two communities’ claims against Shell and SPDC. On 26 January 2017, the 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 21 November 2017, the Court of Appeal heard the parties’ arguments. On 14 February 2018, it 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)The case is ongoing.

News

"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 201 
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
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

 

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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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Article
21 November 2017

UK court hears appeal in Shell Nigeria oil spill case

Author: Ahmed Idris, Al Jazeera (Qatar)

The outcome of an appeal hearing against a verdict issued earlier this year in Britain is being eagerly awaited in Nigeria.

Communities in Rivers State are demanding that energy giant Royal Dutch Shell clean up oil spills and pay the associated costs.

But Royal Dutch Shell says the case should be dealt with in Nigeria.

Al Jazeera's Ahmed Idris reports from the Ogale region in Rivers State, Nigeria.

Read the full post here

Article
24 January 2017

Court to decide on whether lawsuit against Shell over oil spills in Niger Delta can be heard in UK

Author: Amnesty International

"UK: Shell ruling could give green light to corporations for abuses abroad", 23 Jan 2017

On Thursday 26 January the UK High Court will rule on whether two Niger Delta communities whose environment and livelihoods were destroyed by oil spills can have their claims against Shell heard in the UK.  The case could set a precedent for holding other UK-based multinationals to account for abuses committed overseas.  “This ruling will have wide-ranging implications for corporations based in the UK that abuse human rights abroad. If the court rules that the communities cannot have their case heard in the UK it would effectively be a green light for UK multinationals to profit from human rights abuses and environmental destruction around the world,” said Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International.  Two separate legal actions have been brought against Shell on behalf of more than 42,000 people from the Ogale and Bille communities in Nigeria’s Rivers State, who live with appalling pollution caused by oil spills.  Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary SPDC argues that the case is outside UK jurisdiction and should be heard in Nigeria. Amnesty International and other organizations have exposed how rural communities affected by oil pollution frequently face insurmountable challenges when trying to take Shell to court in Nigeria.

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Article
10 January 2017

Court to decide if Shell can face trial in UK in lawsuit by communities over oil spill in Nigeria

Author: Karolin Schaps & Libby George, Reuters (UK)

"Shell battles Nigerian communities in high-stakes London lawsuit", 6 Jan 2017

A court in London will decide in coming weeks whether Royal Dutch Shell can face trial in the UK over oil spill allegations in Nigeria, a decision some legal experts predict could attract more cases against multinationals...The High Court will judge whether members from two communities, Bille and Ogale...can sue the Anglo-Dutch company in British courts...Shell says the case should be heard in Nigeria because the matter is “uniquely a Nigerian problem”.  Shell also denies responsibility for the spills...If the High Court rules in favor of the communities, some legal experts say other claimants against British-based multinationals would be emboldened to pursue legal action through the British courts.  Some legal experts also warned that a victory by the communities could encourage unscrupulous residents to let oil spills worsen...as payouts are often linked to the scale of the damage...The Bille and Ogale groups launched their claim just months after Shell agreed a 55 million pound ($68 million) settlement in 2015 with...the Bodo community..."We fully intend to have this (jurisdictional issue) decided by a trial judge, to determine the issue once and for all," said...legal counsel for Shell...

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