Chevron Corp., facing a $19 billion damage award in an environmental case in Ecuador, can subpoena information about the e-mail accounts of the plaintiffs’ lawyers and their contacts, a U.S. judge ruled.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins in San Francisco today refused to block some subpoenas in Chevron’s lawsuit against Steven Donziger, the lead U.S. legal adviser for the Ecuador plaintiffs. The oil company alleges that Donziger and others improperly influenced a court expert in a case in Lago Agrio, Ecuador, and committed fraud to win the judgment.
The company’s racketeering suit against Donziger is pending in federal court in Manhattan. While Chevron already has tens of thousands of Donziger’s e-mails, it has subpoenaed Internet service providers for information sent to Donziger’s Gmail account and related e-mail accounts, according to today’s ruling. Information about Donziger’s accounts from 2003 to 2011 must be produced, Cousins ruled.
Karen Hinton, a spokeswoman for Donziger, had no immediate comment on the decision.
Cousins also ruled that Chevron’s subpoenas don’t infringe the free-speech rights of the targeted activists, although he limited the amount of information the company is entitled to. Chevron isn’t seeking e-mail content, only identifying information associated with subscribers and usage, he said.
A provincial judge in Ecuador awarded the damages against Chevron in 2011 in a lawsuit brought by villagers who said the company was responsible for toxic pollution from oil drilling by Texaco Inc., which Chevron acquired in 2001. Chevron, the world’s fourth-largest oil company, says it cleaned up its portion of the region and was released by the Ecuadorean government from future damage claims.
The company, based in San Ramon, California, has no assets in Ecuador. The plaintiffs have gone to court in Canada, Brazil and Argentina to seize Chevron funds.
The case is Chevron v. Donziger, 12-cv-80237, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).