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A federal judge last month ruled that a suit alleging human-rights violations against Exxon can be heard in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. But until last week, that ruling had been under seal. The decision is a victory for the plaintiffs in a rare case that seeks to hold a U.S. company responsible for action rooted abroad. Eleven villagers from Aceh, Indonesia, say Exxon should be held liable for alleged violent crimes by Indonesian guards assigned to protect an Exxon facility. Judge Louis Oberdorfer ruled the court is the proper jurisdiction for the complaint, first filed in 2001. Oberdorfer has yet to rule on a motion for summary judgment or set a trial date. The villagers, represented by several attorneys at Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, are seeking unspecified damages. Much of the case remains under seal. Exxon attorneys, including Alex Oh of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, urged the judge to redact his ruling, saying correspondence in the opinion is confidential under a protective order. She later declined to comment on the ruling. The opinion includes e-mails between Exxon executives who discuss, among other things, the “complete breakdown of law and order” in Indonesia. Cohen, Milstein’s Michael Hausfeld heralded Oberdorfer’s Aug. 11 decision to unseal his opinion. “I think it’s important for the public interest because it reveals the inner-workings of a major public corporation in an area of the world with human-rights concerns,” Hausfeld says. “It raises the public issue of responsibility and accountability of American companies operating abroad with respect to human rights.”

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