(CN) - A lawsuit on behalf of 47 Ecuadoreans trying to seize Chevron Corp.'s Canadian assets as part of their effort to collect on a multibillion-dollar judgment against the energy giant can continue, the Court of Appeal for Ontario ruled.
The decision overturns a ruling in May by Ontario Superior Court Justice David Brown, who found that the company had no assets in Canada.
In 2011, an Ecuadorian court found the oil giant liable for polluting the Lago Agrio region of Ecuador.
"In these circumstances, the Ecuadorian plaintiffs do not deserve to have their entire case fail on the basis of an argument against their position that was not even made, and to which they did not have the opportunity to respond," the three-panel appeals court ruled.
"Even before the Ecuadorian judgment was released, Chevron, speaking through a spokesman, stated that Chevron intended to contest the judgment if Chevron lost. He said: 'We're going to fight this until hell freezes over. And then we'll fight it out on the ice," according to the ruling.
"Chevron's wish is granted. After all these years, the Ecuadorian plaintiffs deserve to have the recognition and enforcement of the Ecuadorian judgment heard on the merits in an appropriate jurisdiction. At this juncture, Ontario is that jurisdiction," the judges wrote.
Chevron said in a statement that it is evaluating its next steps, which include a possible appeal. A spokesman downplayed the decision, saying that it "affords no substantive relief and merely allows the action to go forward."
"If the Ecuadorian plaintiffs truly believe in the validity of the Ecuadorian judgment, they should seek enforcement in the United States, where Chevron Corp. resides, rather than targeting assets of the company's subsidiaries that are not parties to the Ecuadorian litigation," Chevron said in a statement.
Chevron filed suit in the federal court in Manhattan, arguing that the judgment was a product of fraud and that the judge who issued the order was part of a bribery scheme spearheaded by one of the lead attorneys, Steven Donziger.
Donziger has maintained he did nothing wrong. A spokesman for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs on Tuesday called the latest court's decision a "stunning reversal of fortune."