Suing Chevron: Law, Science, and Contamination in Ecuador and Beyond

Suzana Sawyer
UC Davis

This project traces events that led an Ecuadorian court to render a $9 billion ruling against Chevron for contamination in 2011, and, compelled the US federal courts to delegitimize that ruling in 2016. Chevron’s impressive legal strategies have succeeded in making “corruption” the optic for viewing the contamination case in the US. This framing—with which the US federal court now concurs—obscures the lawsuit’s far-reaching significance for transnational jurisprudence and environmental accountability; regardless of US law, the ruling is enforceable internationally. This book argues that the Ecuadorian litigation (despite its flaws) serves as an instructive socio-legal forum for reckoning near-intractable contamination disputes, and, that Chevron’s counter-lawsuit serves as a sobering spectacle for reckoning the legal enactment of the corporation. Ecuador’s judicial system enabled unique evidentiary procedures for garnering the complex scientific and experiential truths needed to distribute legal responsibility. The US judicial system allowed skilled lawyering and staggering financing to ground the truths of a good-enough narrative that stymied out-litigated Ecuadorians. In a world of multiplying socio-ecological harms, this project brings careful attention to how we reconcile challenging contamination controversies and make sense of formidable corporate challenges.