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U.S. District Judge Charles Legge on Friday threw out the last remaining legal roadblocks to an unusual human rights suit brought against Chevron Corp. The suit, brought on U.S. soil by Nigerian citizens for abuses allegedly committed in Nigeria, claims a Chevron subsidiary aided government forces there in suppressing unrest with deadly force. But Legge sounded a warning to plaintiffs’ lawyers, saying his procedural rulings tossing several of Chevron’s motions to dismiss meant they must now prove their case, Bowoto v. Chevron, 99-2506, on the merits. In late 1998, Nigerian forces reclaimed an oil platform from environmental protesters after they were flown in on helicopters belonging to a Chevron subsidiary, Chevron Nigeria Ltd. One was killed. In early 1999, Nigerian forces raided the villages of Opia and Ikenjan, spraying gunfire. Although the troops were transported aboard CNL boats, the company says their pilots did so only at gunpoint. Those two incidents form the foundation of the claims, brought under a little-known statute called the Alien Tort Claim Act. Recent case law has held that a U.S. company can be sued in American courts for human rights abuses committed overseas on its behalf and with its approval. Legge also allowed discovery in the case to proceed. The facts are hotly contested and plaintiffs are demanding a jury trial. Legge also rejected a defense motion to bump Chevron from the case against its subsidiary, CNL. It is Chevron’s Market Street headquarters which provides Northern District jurisdiction. “We’re very pleased with the ruling. We’re very happy that our clients will be able to go forward,” said Jenny Green, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. The parties are due back in Legge’s courtroom June 16.

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