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Dutch court finds Shell subsidiary liable to Nigerian farmer for oil pollution

The Dutch District Court of The Hague [official website] ruled Wednesday that a subsidiary of Shell [corporate website] could be held liable to one farmer for damages resulting from polluting the Niger Delta region in southern Nigeria. However, the court dismissed four other claims [Reuters report] brought by farmers and fishermen, along with Friends of the Earth Netherlands [advocacy website, in Dutch], against Shell seeking damages for lost income from pollution by oil pipelines and oil spills spanning back to 2004. Shell said the case would not set precedent because the parent company was not held liable, but the ruling could make it possible for other Nigerians to file lawsuits against Shell in the Netherlands. While the court accepted Shell's argument that sabotage caused the spills, it found that Shell should have prevented the sabotage at one of the facilities. Shell has said it would negotiate the amount of damages, but that appeals might postpone the negotiations. Both sides have three months to file an appeal.

In October the four Nigerian residents and an advocacy group told the Dutch court that Shell should be held liable [JURIST report] for damage from oil pollution in the Niger Delta. The suit was the first time a Dutch company has been sued for the alleged misconduct of its foreign subsidiary. Similar pollution lawsuits against Shell are pending in the US and the UK. The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [JURIST report] in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. [SCOTUSblog backgrounder; JURIST news archive] in October. The court heard new arguments on whether three oil companies, including Shell, are immune from US lawsuits under the Alien Tort Statute of 1789 (ATS) [text] for alleged torture and international law violations that took place overseas. The court initially heard arguments last February and then directed the parties to file briefs on a new question [JURIST reports] for this term, which asked if the ATS can ever be used against against non-state citizens for atrocities committed in that state, and under what circumstances. In the UK, 35 Nigerian villages brought a suit against Shell in a London court in March, alleging Shell's slow response in cleaning up two oil spills [JURIST report] in a Nigerian river ruined their livelihoods.

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