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Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co.

November 16, 2009

ESTHER KIOBEL, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ROYAL DUTCH PETROLEUM COMPANY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wood, U.S.D.J.

OPINION AND ORDER

This action is the last remaining in a set of four related actions involving allegations of human rights violations in Nigeria in the 1990s by various Royal Dutch/Shell entities.*fn1

Currently before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration, pursuant to Local Rule 6.3, of the Court's March 4, 2008 Order, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., No. 02 Civ. 7618, 2008 WL 591869 (S.D.N.Y. March 4, 2008), dismissing Defendant Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria ("SPDC" or "Defendant") from the action for lack of personal jurisdiction.

On June 3, 2009, the Second Circuit issued a Summary Order vacating the Court's decision in an appeal brought by plaintiffs in one of the related actions where SPDC was also named as a defendant. Wiwa v. Shell Petroleum Development Corp., No. 08 Civ. 1803, 2009 WL 1560197 (2d Cir. June 3, 2009).

For the reasons discussed below, the Court GRANTS Plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration. Upon reconsideration, the Court denies Defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction without prejudice, and grants leave to refile at the conclusion of limited jurisdictional discovery.

BACKGROUND

The facts and underlying procedural history of this case are set forth in the Court's prior orders, familiarity with which is assumed. They are summarized here only to the extent they are relevant.

Plaintiffs filed this putative class action on September 30, 2002 (the "Kiobel action"), which was consolidated for discovery and other pre-trial purposes with the prior related Wiwa actions.*fn2 On April 6, 2004, Wiwa Plaintiffs commenced a separate action against SPDC ("Wiwa III"), and on May 17, 2004 Kiobel Plaintiffs added SPDC as a defendant in this action.*fn3 SPDC is a foreign corporation, organized under the laws of Nigeria, primarily engaged in the exploration, production, and sale of Nigerian oil and natural gas. See Kiobel, 2008 WL 591869 at *1. In November 2004, Defendant SPDC filed, in both actions, a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and a motion to preclude any further jurisdictional discovery.*fn4

In its March 8, 2008 Order, the Court granted SPDC's motion. The Court found that Plaintiffs failed "to establish a prima facie case of sufficient minimum contacts" with the forum - here the United States - for the Court to exercise jurisdiction over SPDC. 2008 WL 591869 at *10. The Court also found that Plaintiffs' jurisdictional allegations were "too vague and conclusory" to warrant further jurisdictional discovery. Id. In making these findings, the Court relied on the fact that Plaintiffs "[had] access to the extensive discovery taken in connection with the prior related actions, including discovery from SPDC." Id. at *2.

On April 16, 2008, the Wiwa III Plaintiffs appealed the Court's March 4, 2008 Order. The March 4, 2008 Order was a final ruling in Wiwa III (as it dismissed the sole defendant), but the Order dismissing SPDC from the Kiobel Amended Complaint was not a final ruling, and, therefore, was not ripe for appeal.

On June 3, 2009, the Second Circuit vacated this Court's March 4, 2008 Order. The Second Circuit concluded that it was "clear error" for this Court to find that "discovery conducted in the related actions encompassed the issue of personal jurisdiction over SPDC."*fn5 2009 WL 1560197 at *2. As a result, this Court erred when it required Plaintiffs to "include an averment of facts" to support its prima facie case of jurisdiction - the standard courts apply only after discovery has been conducted. See infra Section II.A.3. Plaintiffs also submitted, in their motion to supplement the record on appeal, several documents obtained in discovery after the Court's decision on SPDC's motion to dismiss (the "newly produced documents") that Plaintiffs contend further support their jurisdictional allegations.*fn6

On remand, in Wiwa III, this Court was instructed to consider the relevance of the documents at issue, and to decide:

[W]hether continuing discovery in the related cases has now been sufficient [1] for [plaintiffs] to adequately allege personal jurisdiction over SPDC, [2] to show that [plaintiffs] are sufficiently unlikely to be able to establish jurisdiction, so as to justify dismissal once more or [3] to allow further jurisdictional discovery. Id. at *3. On June 8, 2009, five days later, the three Wiwa actions settled.

Kiobel Plaintiffs now move for reconsideration of the Court's March 8, 2008 Order, which also dismissed SPDC as a defendant from the Kiobel Amended Complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction.

DISCUSSION

I. Motion to Reconsider the Court's March ...


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