Alame & & Ors v Royal Dutch Shell Plc & Anor  EWHC 989 (TCC) is is a preliminary case-management order in yet another case where Nigerian claimants are suing Shell for environmental pollution in the Niger Delta.
The claims arise out of oil spills that have occurred from oil pipelines and associated infrastructure operated in the vicinity of communities in Rivers State in the Niger Delta, causing environmental damage. The Claimants’ case is that the Defendants failed to prevent, mitigate or remediate the oil contamination and they are liable to compensate the Claimants in respect of harm suffered by affected individuals and communities. The Defendants’ case is that the major sources of oil pollution are crude oil theft (bunkering) and related oil spills, artisanal refining and oil spills from assets controlled and operated by third parties, matters for which they are not responsible and, in any event, do not give rise to any liability under Nigerian Law.
The claims against the First Defendant, Royal Dutch Shell plc (“RDS”), a UK domiciled company and parent company of the Shell group, are based on common law negligence. The claims against the Second Defendant pipeline operator, The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (“SPDC”), a Nigerian registered company and subsidiary of RDS, are based on statutory breaches, common law negligence, nuisance, the classic rule in Rylands v Fletcher and trespass.
The Defendants deny liability for the pollution caused. In particular, it is pleaded that Nigerian public policy and law prescribes that oil operators are not liable to pay compensation in respect of any oil spill caused by illegal third party interference and that there is an exclusive and comprehensive statutory compensation scheme in respect of oil spills from oil pipelines and ancillary infrastructure. Further, the alleged breaches of statutory duty, negligence, nuisance and other tortious liability are denied. The alleged loss and damage is denied. The losses are too remote and/or constitute pure economic loss. It is denied that the Claimants are entitled to the relief sought. In respect of the Ogale Individuals Claim, it is asserted that a number of the claims are statute-barred.
Jurisdiction it seems, following Okpabi, is not disputed.
The judge has ordered claimants to clarify now in their pleadings, whether through the group statements of case or in the questionnaires and/or pleadings that will be attached to the group registers, the nature of the case to be advanced at trial. In other words they have been instructed to do far more factual (in terms of linking facts to individual claimants etc) material homework before the case can proceed to trial. It is the detail involved in this kind of preparatory work that makes a jurisdiction attractive, or not, for mass claims of this kind and it is generally accepted that the English GLO is not the most encouraging instrument for same.