Author(s): Donald Anton
On July 8, 2014 a group of international law professors filed their second amicus curiae brief in the epic 20 years litigation between indigenous Ecuadorians and Texaco/Chevron over environmental destruction and human rights breaches. This case is collateral to the main action, in that Chevron took preemptive action in U.S. Federal Court in order to try to block the recognition or enforcement of a multi-billion dollar Ecuadorian judgement against Chevron. This is the second time it has been on appeal to the Second Circuit. The first appeal resulted in a reversal of the District Court and its purported worldwide preliminary injunctions was vacated.
In this brief, the amici address important international legal issues associated with the imposition of a worldwide constructive trust by the District Court in it final judgment. In imposing this radical trust for which there is no precedent, the District Court failed to correctly apply principles of international comity and to consider applicable international legal obligations binding on the United States. The amici believe that these failures have resulted in reversible error for the following four reasons.
First, the District Court’s worldwide equitable constructive trust is inconsistent with the Court’s decision in Chevron v. Naranjo, 667 F.3d 232 (2d Cir. 2011) because the impermissible extraterritorial impact of the constructive trust is identical to the impact of the preliminary injunction previously vacated by this Court. Second, the District Court erred in ordering relief that offends international comity. The District Court impermissibly attempts to impose its own terms of exclusive relief in the form of a constructive trust on every other court in the world. It seeks to dictate to the courts of the world what will happen if they recognize and enforce the underlying Ecuadorian judgment. This is an affront to: i) foreign courts that order the Ecuadorian judgment to be recognized and enforced; ii) foreign courts that cannot or would not pronounce on the systemic fitness of a foreign judiciary; and iii) foreign courts that must or might prefer to order different relief. Third, the District Court’s constructive trust cannot be enforced outside of the United States and is therefore an exercise in futility. Because equity will not do a vain or useless thing, the District Court should be reversed. Fourth, the District Court’s extraterritorial constructive trust breaches the international legal obligation of the United States not to intervene in the domestic and external affairs of other states. The extraterritorial application of the constructive trust directly intrudes in to the administration of Ecuadorian justice both internally and externally in places where its judgment might be recognized and enforced.