University of Pennsylvania Journal of Law and Social Change
In 2011, a year after British Petroleum (BP) 's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, ConocoPhillips's subsidiary in China caused a massive oil spill in the Bohai Sea. A group of fishermen suffered severe property damage as a result of the oil spill. After a failed attempt to have their complaint heard in a Chinese court, the fishermen sued ConocoPhillips in the United States District Court in Houston, Texas. It is very likely that the Houston District Court will deem the Chinese courts the more appropriate forum for this case and grant ConocoPhillips's motion for forum non conveniens dismissal. This article argues that the Chinese courts are neither an available nor an adequate forum for mass tort cases involving environmental damage - particularly when the defendant is a multi-national corporation (MNC). In a forum non conveniens analysis of these cases, a superficial examination of Chinese law as written is insufficient, because the laws on the books in China are often disregarded due to political influence and fear of the negative impact of open trial on economic growth. This article further contends that U.S. courts should allow for a substantial examination of how these laws are implemented when deciding the adequacy of a Chinese forum. Finally, it is in the interest of U.S. courts to impose liability on U.S. corporations that inflict tortious acts in foreign countries.
Chenglin Liu, Escaping Liability via Forum Non Conveniens: Conocophillips's Oil Spill in China, 17 U. Pa. J.L. & Soc. Change 137 (2014).