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San Ramon-based Chevron loses suit against Nigerian villagers

Company sought to recoup court costs from those who lost court fight

A federal judge in San Francisco has denied a request by Chevron Corp. of San Ramon to recoup $485,000 in court costs from a group of Nigerian villagers who lost their lawsuit against the oil company.

The matter arose from a lawsuit filed on behalf of 19 Nigerian adults and children seeking to hold the San Ramon-based company responsible for alleged human rights abuses in a violent end to a protest on an offshore oil platform in Nigeria in May 1998.

A federal civil jury in San Francisco in 2008 exonerated Chevron of claims that it was responsible for alleged torture, cruel treatment, assault and wrongful death on the part of Nigerian security forces called to protect the rig from about 150 protestors seeking jobs and environmental reparations.

Lawyers for the villagers have appealed the jury's decision.

Under federal law, the winner of a civil lawsuit can recover certain trial costs from the loser. However, a judge has the discretion to deny such claims in cases where it "would be inappropriate or inequitable to award costs."

A hearing on the matter had been scheduled for today before U.S. District Judge Susan Illston, but on Wednesday, Illston submitted a written brief denying Chevron's request.

"The economic disparity between plaintiffs, who are Nigerian villagers, and defendants, international oil companies, cannot be more stark," wrote Illston.

Illston added that "it is beyond dispute that there is an extreme economic disparity between plaintiffs and defendants," noting that Chevron Corp.'s net income in 2008 was $23.93 billion.

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