Máxima Acuña case against Newmont Mining remanded

The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia on March 20 revived the case by Máxima Acuña Atalaya de Chaupe and her family against the US-based Newmont Mining Company. The family of subsistence farmers from Peru's Cajamarca region sued Newmont in the United States for abuse at the hands of the company's security forces. A lower court had dismissed the case, saying it should be heard in Peru. The Appeals Court reversed that decision. "Because of this decision, we are excited and full of hope. We have faith that sooner or later, there is going to be justice for us. We have always said we would knock on all the courthouse doors necessary in order to get justice; this brings us one step closer to the day when justice is finally done," said plaintiff Ysidora Chaupe-Acuña, who is represented in the case by EarthRights International.

Máxima Acuña de Chaupe has been fighting for years to save her land and her community. Newmont Mining is determined to destroy both for a massive, open-pit gold mine—which would drain four mountain lakes in an arid farming region. The Chaupe family claims that Newmont security forces have repeatedly harassed and physically abused Máxima and other family members, destroyed her home, and killed her animals, in an attempt to force them off their land to expand their mining operations.

"Newmont knows as well as anyone that the Chaupes will not get a fair hearing in Peru and that the Peruvian courts have already utterly failed to protect them. That is why Newmont wants to send the Chaupes' case to Peru. We welcome the Third Circuit's decision requiring the District Court to rethink the adequacy of the Peruvian courts," said EarthRights International attorney Marissa Vahlsing.

Citing evidence of corruption in Peruvian courts, including the recent state of emergency in the Peruvian judiciary and evidence of past corruption in proceedings involving Newmont, the Third Circuit vacated the District Court of Delaware's decision. The appellate court instructed the lower court to reconsider the evidence of corruption and render a new opinion on whether defendants had proven Peruvian courts would give the Chaupes a fair hearing.

In the fall of 2017, Newmont filed a forum non conveniens motion, arguing that the case should be heard in Peru, not the United States, claiming it is inconvenient for them to litigate the case in Delaware even though that is where they are incorporated. The Chaupe family and their lawyers at EarthRights opposed sending the case to Peru, arguing that the Chaupes are unlikely to get a fair trial given Newmont's corruption of local courts there.

In April 2018, the District Court in Delaware agreed to send the case to Peru,. Notwithstanding the Chaupes' "troubling" allegations of corruption, the court found that Peru was an adequate alternative forum for their case. That decision is now vacated by the Third Circuit ruling. 

The suit, Acuna-Atalaya v. Newmont Mining Corp, seeks to stop a pattern of harassment and physical abuse that the Chaupe family say they have suffered at the hands of security personnel working for Newmont and its corporate affiliates, which the family believes is aimed at usurpation of their plot of land at Tragadero Grande, Cajamarca region. (EarthRights International)

Photo: EarthRights International