Thursday, July 12, 2012

Chinese fishermen affected by oil spill file suit in Texas

Chinese fishermen affected by oil spill seek justice through U.S. courts | Ultimate Memorial:
Thirty fishermen whose livelihood from the Bohai Sea have been destroyed by the 2011 ConocoPhillips oil spill have sought legal representation by Louisiana and Texas attorneys.
The move came after the Chinese fishermen learned of the ongoing legal fight by Louisiana and Gulf Coast fishermen affected by the 2010 BP environmental disaster. The group is now headed to U.S. District Court, Southern Division of Texas to seek relief.
The legal team assisting the fishermen is headed by Stuart Smith, Smith Stag LLC of New Orleans, and attorneys Tom and Kelly Bilek of Houston. Proceedings to help the fishermen have been filed despite ConocoPhillips issuing reports claiming no evidence of environmental pollution in the Bohai region.
The complaint for damages and injunctive relief  is lodged against Conoco Phillips - the U.S. owner of Conoco Phillips China.  Dan Harris at China Law Blog points out that this is a jurisdictional stretch (think International Shoe and forum non conveniens).  The operator of the leaking well is a Chinese corporation operating in China.  Harris points out in a July 15, 2012 post that last year the Supreme Court found that due process did not permit a state court to assert jurisdiction over a foreign subsidiary for out of forum conduct unless there was "continuous and systematic" contacts with the forum state.  Goodyear Dunlop v. Brown (2011)

Plaintiffs ask the court to pierce the corporate veil, averring that Chinese courts have failed to accept the cases filed by the fishermen - contrary to Chinese civil procedure law which requires the court to accept or reject the case within seven days of filing.  Conoco will doubtless argue that their subsidiary's settlement with the Chinese government contemplates compensation to harvesters and environmental restoration, so courts here should defer to the remedies available in China. 

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