Legal News of the Week: Judge Blocks Chevron Legal Judgment and New Jersey Teen Loses Suit Against Parents

Judges take center stage this week, with three important rulings ranging from a high dollar environmental case to an unusual lawsuit by a wayward New Jersey teenager. 

Chevron Earns Victory over Ecuador in Federal Court

A federal judge in New York has blocked Ecuadorean plaintiffs from using United States courts to collect a $9 billion judgment won against Chevron in 2011.  The ruling is the latest turn in a billion dollar lawsuit that has been in dispute since 2003 when a group of Ecuadorean villagers filed a $19 billion claim against Chevron for damages caused by decades of pollution resulting from oil exploration in the Amazon rain forest.  In 2011, the Ecuadoreans were awarded the full $19 billion, but in November of last year an Ecuadorean court scaled the judgment back to $9.5 billion.

Chevron has repeatedly denied liability for the environmental harm caused, and accused the plaintiff’s attorney, Mr. Steven Donziger, and his litigation team of fraudulently obtaining the 2011 verdict by means of coercion, bribery, money laundering, and other illicit activities.  Yesterday, Judge Lewis Kaplan agreed, and declared that the $9.5 billion judgment would not be enforced by US law.  Determining that Mr. Donzinger had obtained the judgment by “corrupt means,” Kaplan found credence to allegations that the plaintiff’s legal team had submitted fraudulent evidence and offered an Ecuadorean judge $500,000 for a ruling in their favor.

Donzinger denied the allegations, and claimed that Kaplan’s ruling stemmed from personal dislike of him and his Ecuadorean clients.  The plaintiffs intend to appeal the decision, and will pursue Chevron until all avenues have been exhausted.  Lost in the legal back and forth are the Ecuadorean villagers, some of whom have filed a separate lawsuit against Donzinger alleging that he has aggressively tried to collect the judgment, but has failed to ensure that any money that is collected will end up in the hands of the villagers whose suffering led to the suit against Chevron.  The latest turn in the Ecuador v Chevron legal battle presents a significant hurdle to the plaintiff’s recovery, but the case promises more courtroom drama before it comes to a close.

New Jersey Judge Denies Teen’s Lawsuit against Parents

Rachel Canning, 18, filed a lawsuit against her parents, from whom she was recently estranged, demanding that they continue to support her financially despite the fact that she no longer lives at home.  Alleging that she was verbally and physically abused by her mother and father, Ms. Canning claimed that she was forced out of her home by her parents in October.  Sean and Elizabeth Canning responded to the allegations by saying their daughter ran away from home because she was unable to tolerate their rules. 

This week, New Jersey Judge Peter Bogaard denied Rachel’s request for continued financial support, saying that doing so would create the potential for a slippery slope of children being able to sue their parents for financial support without having to follow household rules.  Rejecting arguments from Rachel’s attorney, Tanya Helfand, which claimed the Cannings negligence and abuse forced Rachel’s actions, Judge Bogaard found that the teenager had voluntarily run away from home to escape conflict over her parents’ rules, and as such was not entitled to further financial support. 

The case will continue in April when the Court will once again be asked to examine if Rachel Canning is emancipated by voluntary action, but if Tuesday’s ruling is any indication, it seems like the legal system is not in any hurry to enable teenagers to run away from home without financial consequence.

Ohio Exotic Animal Law Upheld by Federal Judge

In 2011, an Ohio man released over 50 wild animals, including tigers and lions, into the wild from his private menagerie before committing suicide.  The resulting fallout, which included frantic recovery of the potentially dangerous animals, brought intense scrutiny on exotic animal owners by state legislators and resulted in a strict new exotic animal law that bans purchase, sale, or breeding of most unusual and dangerous pets.  Existing owners of exotic animals must file for state-issued permits to keep the animals, and in many cases the permit process requires implanting microchips, and administering anesthesia to older and sick animals.

Exotic animal owners challenged the constitutionality of the law, alleging that the permit process would force them to join organizations they did not support and follow procedures that are unconstitutional.  Judge Julia Gibbons of the US 6th Circuit Court denied the lawsuit, holding that “private possession of exotic animals … poses an unacceptable risk to public safety and animal welfare, and regulations restricting possession of these animals … is both necessary and constitutional.”  Given the nature of exotic animal ownership, it is unlikely that an appeal would result in a different outcome, leaving the Ohio exotic animal law safe from challenge.

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