Wiwa et al v. Royal Dutch Petroleum et al. Historic Case

At a Glance

Current Status 

On June 8, 2009, the parties agreed to a settlement for all three lawsuits. The settlement provided a total of $15.5 million to compensate the plaintiffs, establish a trust for the benefit of the Ogoni people, and cover some of the legal costs associated with the case.

Date Filed: 

November 8, 1996

Case Description 

Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, Wiwa v. Anderson, and Wiwa v. Shell Petroleum Development Company are three lawsuits filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel from EarthRight International on behalf of relatives of murdered activists who were fighting for human rights and environmental justice in Nigeria. The lawsuits are brought against the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company and Shell Transport and Trading Company (Royal Dutch/Shell); the head of its Nigerian operation, Brian Anderson; and the Nigerian subsidiary itself, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC).

The defendants are charged with complicity in human rights abuses against the Ogoni people in Nigeria, including summary execution, crimes against humanity, torture, inhumane treatment, arbitrary arrest, wrongful death, assault and battery, and infliction of emotional distress. The cases were brought under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) and the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA). The case against Royal Dutch/Shell also alleges that the corporation violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

Royal Dutch/Shell began using land in the Ogoni area of Nigeria for oil production in 1958. Pollution resulting from the oil production has contaminated the local water supply and agricultural land upon which the region's economy is based. Also, Royal Dutch/Shell for decades worked with the Nigerian military regime to suppress any and all demonstrations that were carried out in opposition to the oil company's activities. The oil company and its Nigerian subsidiary provided monetary and logistical support to the Nigerian police and bribed witnesses to produce false testimonies.

In 1995, the company and its subsidiary colluded with the Nigerian government to bring about the arrest and execution of the Ogoni 9. The Ogoni 9 was a group of activists that were hanged on November 10, 1995 after a "trial" before a special military tribunal based on fabricated charges. One of the nine, Ken Saro-Wiwa, was an internationally renowned writer and activist and was the leader of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). He is represented in this case by Ken Wiwa, Mr. Saro-Wiwa's son and the executor of his estate. Mr. Saro-Wiwa was outspoken in condemning Shell for polluting and destroying the Ogoni ecosystem, and he led the struggle for the autonomy of the Ogoni people and for an equitable distribution of Nigeria's oil riches.

Other MOSOP leaders include John Kpuinen, the Deputy President of MOSOP's youth wing, the National Youth Council of Ogoni People (NYCOP), and Dr. Barinem Kiobel, the Honorable Commissioner of the Ministry of Commerce and Tourism and member of the Rivers State Executive Council. These MOSOP activists, along with six others, including Saturday Doobee, Felix Nuate, and Daniel Gbokoo, were known as the Ogoni 9. Human rights groups and political leaders around the world condemned both the executions and the lack of due process that was accorded to the victims in connection with the so-called trial.

Other incidents of torture and detention include that of Owens Wiwa, who was detained for more than a year under false charges to prevent him from protesting. During his detention he was beaten repeatedly. Michael Vizor, then a NYCOP vice-president, was beaten by police in front of his children when he would not confess to a false charge. He also had 400,000 (Naira) in cash and documents stolen from his house during his arrest. He was further tortured and denied medical assistance during his wrongful detention. Another plaintiff, Uebari N-nah, was shot and killed in October 1993 near a Shell flow station at Korokoro, Rivers State, Nigeria.

Other plaintiffs were attacked by troops summoned by Royal Dutch/Shell during a peaceful demonstration against Shell and the Nigerian military regime for bulldozing farmland in Bira Gokana for a pipeline contracted by Willbros West Africa, Inc. Karalolo Kogbara was shot by Nigerian troops while she was speaking out against the bulldozing of her crops. Plaintiff Michael Tema Vizor was arrested, beaten and detained for four days without charge for participating in the same protest.

Case Timeline

June 8, 2009

On the eve of trial, the parties in Wiwa v. Shell agree to a settlement for all three of the lawsuits

June 8, 2009

On the eve of trial, the parties in Wiwa v. Shell agree to a settlement for all three of the lawsuits

June 3, 2009

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals issues a summary order in Wiwa v. SPDC remanding for review of recent evidence and reconsideration of the denial of jurisdictional discovery

June 3, 2009

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals issues a summary order in Wiwa v. SPDC remanding for review of recent evidence and reconsideration of the denial of jurisdictional discovery

April 23, 2009

Judge Wood issues an order on subject matter jurisdiction granting in part and denying in part the Defendants’ motion, and sets trial date for May 26, 2009

April 23, 2009

Judge Wood issues an order on subject matter jurisdiction granting in part and denying in part the Defendants’ motion, and sets trial date for May 26, 2009

The Court dismisses Plaintiffs’ ATS claim based on right to peaceful assembly but otherwise denies Defendants’ motion.

March 16, 2009

CCR and EarthRights International file a Fifth Amended Complaint in Wiwa v. RDP and a Third Amended Complaint in Wiwa v. Anderson.

March 16, 2009

CCR and EarthRights International file a Fifth Amended Complaint in Wiwa v. RDP and a Third Amended Complaint in Wiwa v. Anderson.

January 9, 2009

In Wiwa v. RDP and Wiwa v. Anderson, Plaintiffs file their reply brief on international norms

January 9, 2009

In Wiwa v. RDP and Wiwa v. Anderson, Plaintiffs file their reply brief on international norms

December 2008

In Wiwa v. RDP and Wiwa v. Anderson, Defendants file their response to the brief on international norms

December 2008

In Wiwa v. RDP and Wiwa v. Anderson, Defendants file their response to the brief on international norms

November 21, 2008

In Wiwa v. RDP and Wiwa v. Anderson, Plaintiffs file a brief on international norms

November 21, 2008

In Wiwa v. RDP and Wiwa v. Anderson, Plaintiffs file a brief on international norms

October 7, 2008

Discovery hearing takes places in Wiwa v. RDP and Wiwa v. Anderson, and a trial date is set for February 9, 2009 

October 7, 2008

Discovery hearing takes places in Wiwa v. RDP and Wiwa v. Anderson, and a trial date is set for February 9, 2009 

The judge requests the parties to brief the issue of international norms.

September 9, 2008

Plaintiffs-Appellants file their reply brief with the Second Circuit in Wiwa v. SPDC

September 9, 2008

Plaintiffs-Appellants file their reply brief with the Second Circuit in Wiwa v. SPDC

August 18, 2008

Defendants-Appellees file their brief with the Second Circuit in Wiwa v. SPDC

August 18, 2008

Defendants-Appellees file their brief with the Second Circuit in Wiwa v. SPDC

July 18, 2008

Plaintiffs-Appellants file their opening brief in the Second Circuit in Wiwa v. SPDC

July 18, 2008

Plaintiffs-Appellants file their opening brief in the Second Circuit in Wiwa v. SPDC

April 15, 2008

CCR files an appeal with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Wiwa v. SPDC

April 15, 2008

CCR files an appeal with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Wiwa v. SPDC

March 4, 2008

Judge Wood denies plaintiffs’ additional jurisdictional discovery in Wiwa v. SPDC thereby dismissing that case

March 4, 2008

Judge Wood denies plaintiffs’ additional jurisdictional discovery in Wiwa v. SPDC thereby dismissing that case

October 2, 2007

Plaintiffs file fourth amended complaint filed in Wiwa v. RDP

October 2, 2007

Plaintiffs file fourth amended complaint filed in Wiwa v. RDP

March 31, 2007

Defendant SPDC files a motion to dismiss

March 31, 2007

Defendant SPDC files a motion to dismiss

January 20, 2006

CCR and defendants file briefs on the impact of the ruling in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain

January 20, 2006

CCR and defendants file briefs on the impact of the ruling in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain

January 3, 2006

Judge Wood rules that she would accept further briefing from any of the parties on the impact of the ruling in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain so that the matter would be completely briefed

January 3, 2006

Judge Wood rules that she would accept further briefing from any of the parties on the impact of the ruling in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain so that the matter would be completely briefed

August 15, 2005

Magistrate Judge Pitman rejects defendants' motion to dismiss a related case, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co.

August 15, 2005

Magistrate Judge Pitman rejects defendants' motion to dismiss a related case, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co.

In response, Royal Dutch/Shell files a brief challenging the validity of the claims in Wiwa and claims that the Supreme Court ruling in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain excludes the human rights claims in Wiwa.

May 2004
Discovery in the cases ends
May 2004
Discovery in the cases ends

In May and June, CCR requests discovery conferences on numerous inadequate responses by the defendants, and to contest the defendants' improper discovery requests.

April 2004
An additional case is brought against Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Shell's Nigerian subsidiary
April 2004
An additional case is brought against Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Shell's Nigerian subsidiary
September 12, 2003
The cases against Royal Dutch/Shell and Brian Anderson are amended to include additional plaintiffs.
September 12, 2003
The cases against Royal Dutch/Shell and Brian Anderson are amended to include additional plaintiffs.
February 22, 2002
Royal Dutch/Shell and Mr. Anderson file motions to dismiss the cases, arguing that the plaintiffs do not have a legal basis for their claims
February 22, 2002
Royal Dutch/Shell and Mr. Anderson file motions to dismiss the cases, arguing that the plaintiffs do not have a legal basis for their claims

U.S. District Court Judge Kimba Wood denies the defendants’ motions to dismiss and finds that the plaintiffs are entitled to bring their actions under the ATCA, TVPA, and RICO. The Court also finds that plaintiffs had adequately set forth their case that Royal Dutch knew what its Nigerian subsidiary was doing.

March 26, 2001
The Supreme Court denies the defendant's petition for certiorari
March 26, 2001
The Supreme Court denies the defendant's petition for certiorari
March 2001
The plaintiffs file a lawsuit against Brian Anderson, who had been the Managing Director of Royal Dutch/Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary, while he is in the United States
March 2001
The plaintiffs file a lawsuit against Brian Anderson, who had been the Managing Director of Royal Dutch/Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary, while he is in the United States
September 2000
The defendants petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeal’s decision, arguing that the case should be dismissed because the Alien Tort Claims Act (or Alient Tort Statute) and the Torture Victim Protection Act do not apply to their actions
September 2000
The defendants petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeal’s decision, arguing that the case should be dismissed because the Alien Tort Claims Act (or Alient Tort Statute) and the Torture Victim Protection Act do not apply to their actions
September 14, 2000

The Court of Appeals reverses the district court’s judgment in Wiwa v. RDS dismissing for forum non conveniens, and affirms its exercise of personal jurisdiction over defendants

September 14, 2000

The Court of Appeals reverses the district court’s judgment in Wiwa v. RDS dismissing for forum non conveniens, and affirms its exercise of personal jurisdiction over defendants

The case is remanded back to the district court.

1999

Plaintiffs appeal Judge Wood’s forum non conveniens decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and Defendants cross-appeal regarding the finding of personal jurisdiction

1999

Plaintiffs appeal Judge Wood’s forum non conveniens decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and Defendants cross-appeal regarding the finding of personal jurisdiction

September 30, 1998
Per Judge Magistrate Pitman's recommendation, Judge Wood grants Defendants’ motion to dismiss, and determines that England would be an alternative forum to adjudicate the case (but concludes that personal jurisdiction is appropriate in New York)
September 30, 1998
Per Judge Magistrate Pitman's recommendation, Judge Wood grants Defendants’ motion to dismiss, and determines that England would be an alternative forum to adjudicate the case (but concludes that personal jurisdiction is appropriate in New York)
May 21, 1997

Royal Dutch Petroleum/Shell Transport and Trading file their motion to dismiss on grounds of personal jurisdiction and forum non conveniens.

May 21, 1997

Royal Dutch Petroleum/Shell Transport and Trading file their motion to dismiss on grounds of personal jurisdiction and forum non conveniens.

November 8, 1996

CCR files its original complaint against Royal Dutch Petroleum Company and Shell Transport and Trading Company (Wiwa v. RDP) in the Southern District of New York

November 8, 1996

CCR files its original complaint against Royal Dutch Petroleum Company and Shell Transport and Trading Company (Wiwa v. RDP) in the Southern District of New York