The Northern District of California recently denied a motion for class certification in a case against Chevron Corporation connected to a 2012 explosion at a Nigerian natural gas drilling rig and the environmental impacts of that explosion. The case had an extensive procedural history which saw numerous amended complaints, a series of revisions revising the putative class down from over 65,000 Nigerians to a fraction of that number, and multiple extensions of discovery deadlines and filing deadlines on the motion to certify. The most recent opinion resolved a series of evidentiary disputes and, most importantly, the motion to certify a class action.

The court began by noting persisting problems in the proposed class definition before moving onto the substantive class action requirements under Federal Rule 23. Although there was a typicality concern because the named plaintiff Gbarabe was potentially subject to a unique standing defense, the court declined to ultimately decide the issue because the class certification motion failed on adequacy and superiority grounds.

The court concluded that Gbarabe was an inadequate representative because of serious credibility concerns arising from plaintiff's false statements and inconsistent testimony. Further, the court found class counsel inadequate because of its complete disregard for scheduling orders and demonstrated unfamiliarity with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Additionally, the putative class action failed on superiority grounds under Federal Rule 23(b). Each of the superiority considerations analyzed weighed in favor of Chevron: the significant individual interest in controlling the litigation, the existence of over 70 pre-existing lawsuits in Nigerian courts related to the explosion, the tenuous connections of the underlying facts to the Northern District of California, and the likely difficulty in managing thousands of Nigerian plaintiffs.

For these reasons, the plaintiff failed to meet its burden to justify class certification and the court denied the motion.

Gbarabe v. Chevron Corp. Case No 14-173 (USDC N.D. Cal. Mar. 13, 2017).

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