Occidental lawsuit should stay in U.S.: appeals court

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Occidental Petroleum Corp must defend a lawsuit in the United States accusing the fourth largest U.S. oil company of polluting the Peruvian rainforest for nearly 30 years, a federal appeals court ruled on Monday.

The proposed class action was filed on behalf of members of indigenous Achuar communities. They accuse Occidental of discharging millions of gallons of toxic oil byproducts into waterways in the northern Peruvian rainforest, according to the ruling from the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Occidental had convinced a lower court that the case should be litigated in Peru. But the 9th Circuit disagreed, ruling that the case be heard in Occidental’s hometown of Los Angeles.

Plaintiff lawyers on Monday called the ruling a “major victory” for the rights of indigenous peoples.

“Oxy will now face justice in the U.S. federal courts, rather than in a Peruvian legal system that has never compensated indigenous groups for environmental contamination,” Marco Simons, legal director of EarthRights International, said in a statement.

Occidental said it has “empathy” for the issues raised by the Achuar people, but that there are “no credible data” indicating negative health impacts resulting from Oxy’s operations.

The company transferred its interests in the area over 10 years ago, it said in a statement.

“Occidental believes that the U.S. courts are not the appropriate forum to litigate these Peruvian claims, and will continue to advocate that position,” the company said.

The case in the 9th Circuit is Carijano v. Occidental Petroleum, 08-56187.

Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Richard Chang