Judge Throws Out Pollution Suit Brought by Ecuadorans Against Texaco

New York - A federal judge has dismissed the Ecuadoran Indians' 1993 pollution lawsuit against oil company Texaco Inc., saying the case shouldn't be heard in U.S. courts.

The decision is a blow to the Ecuadoran Indians, who had argued that their government is too dependent on oil revenue to hear the case fairly. The lawsuit accuses Texaco of decades of dumping waste water polluted with toxic chemicals into Ecuador's Amazon rainforest.

Texaco, which had denied the allegations, had long claimed the case belonged in Ecuadoran, not American, courts. In granting the company's motion to dismiss the suit, U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff in Manhattan wrote in a 46-page opinion he was satisfied that the courts of Ecuador can exercise "that modicum of independence and impartiality necessary to an adequate alternative forum."

The plaintiffs include about 100 residents of Ecuador and nearby Peru who brought the suit on behalf of thousands who "have or will suffer property damage, personal injuries and increased risks of disease" as a result of Texaco's oil piping and waste disposal practices.

The Indians had further sought to have the case heard in U.S courts because Ecuador doesn't recognize class-action lawsuits.

But Judge Rakoff noted in his ruling that it was "doubtful" that the cases would qualify for class-action status even if they remained in U.S. courts. He said plaintiff's wide-ranging injury claims, occurring over hundreds of miles and dozens of years, could create a "vastly complicated, if not entirely unmanageable" lawsuit.

An attorney for the Ecuadoran Indians couldn't immediately be reached for comment on whether the plaintiffs would pursue the suit against Texaco in Ecuador or another forum, such as Peru. A Texaco spokesperson also couldn't be reached.

The Ecuadorans' lawsuit had been dismissed, but an appeals court reinstated it 1998.

The plaintiffs lost a bid earlier this year to have Judge Rakoff removed from the case. The Indians claimed the judge was impartial because of his attendance at an all-expense paid seminar at which a former Texaco chief executive spoke. In February, however, a federal appeals court rejected their petition and allowed Judge Rakoff to stay on the case.

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