U.S. Federal Court Imposes Sanctions Against Lawyer Who Brought Ecuador Lawsuit Against Chevron
Follows August Ruling That Cancer Claims Were Fabricated
SAN RAMON, Calif., October 18, 2007 - The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has imposed sanctions against three attorneys, including Cristobal Bonifaz, for fabricated cancer claims against Chevron. Bonifaz is the architect of the ongoing litigation against Chevron in Ecuador. The lawsuits relate to Texaco Petroleum Company's former operations in the country.
The sanctions against the lawyers, which include a $45,000 fine, follow an August ruling by the same Court dismissing three personal injury claims against Chevron because they were knowingly false. One never had been diagnosed with breast cancer, as alleged. The second falsely claimed that her son had leukemia. The third admitted that he had no injuries, contrary to his allegations in the complaint.
In his ruling imposing the sanctions, Judge William Alsup declared that the cancer claims brought by three attorneys, Cristobal Bonifaz, Terry Collingsworth and Paul Hoffman, "were baseless and made without reasonable and competent inquiry."
"The sad fact is that counsel's haste to sue and lassitude in investigation imposed a real and unnecessary burden on defendants, our judicial systems and, truth be told, the three plaintiffs, who never even realized litigation would be brought in their name in the United States," wrote Judge Alsup in his order.
In describing the conduct of attorneys Bonifaz, Collingsworth and Hoffman, Judge Alsup wrote, "Counsel were obligated to investigate first and sue second, not the other way around. Counsel cannot avoid Rule 11 sanctions 'by operating under the guise of a pure heart and an empty head.' Had counsel conducted a reasonable investigation, they would have easily discovered the baselessness of these cancer claims."
Judge Alsup called Cristobal Bonifaz "the lead and the moving force" behind the lawsuit filed against Chevron in April, 2006 on behalf of nine Ecuadorians. Four of those plaintiffs eventually dropped out of the lawsuit. With the dismissal of three of the other claims, only two remain.
"This order finds that Attorney Bonifaz was the primary lawyer at fault and bears the most responsibility for the team's deficient performance. But Attorneys Collingsworth and Hoffman likewise signed pleadings without reasonable and competent investigation. The totality of all their inquiry was so minimal as to be unreasonable and incompetent," wrote Judge Alsup. Collingsworth was also for a time representing Petroecuador in its defense against Chevron's arbitration claim seeking indemnification for any rulings against the company.
The California case is the third in a series of lawsuits brought by Bonifaz since 1993. Judge Alsup declared in a prior ruling that "This is not the first evidence of possible misconduct by plaintiffs' counsel in this case. It is clear to the Court that this case was manufactured by plaintiffs' counsel for reasons other than to seek a recovery on these plaintiffs' behalf. This litigation is likely a smaller piece of some larger scheme against defendants."
To read Judge Alsup's ruling, please view http://www.texaco.com/sitelets/ecuador/docs/orderimposingsanctionsen.pdf.
For additional information on this litigation, please visit http://www.texaco.com/sitelets/ecuador/en/.
Published: October 2007