Dr. Anna Berti Suman – The Formosa case: a new horizon for the acceptance of citizen-sensed evidence in environmental litigation?

Friday 14 May, 10.00 - 11.00am

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In June 2019, a landmark court decision was issued in Texas, where a judge found a petrochemical company liable for violating the United States Clean Water Act. The case – initiated by a civic group – was mostly built on ‘citizen-collected evidence’ involving volunteer observations of plastic pellets in the water over a considerable time span. The contamination could not be proven through existing data held by competent authorities because the company never filed any record of pollution (Formosa ruling, XI.A, at p. 17). 

In contrast to the majority of environmental pollution cases to date, the monitoring and data collection for this case was conducted by local residents that gathered a wealth of evidence of plastic pollution in water. I performed traditional case law and text analysis of the Formosa ruling, complemented by the analysis of surrounding communications and targeted interviews with plaintiffs and the attorneys of the case. I will illustrate how the citizen-collected evidence was admitted and influenced the judge’s ruling. Although the case has some unique features, I will identify possible arguments and lessons learned for other citizen-run monitoring initiatives, to strengthen their voice within environmental litigation. I will close by suggesting an avenue for future research - especially in the European context, where the discussion is still in its infancy.

About Dr. Anna Berti Suman

Dr. Anna Berti Suman is a Dutch Research Council (NWO) ‘Rubicon’ postdoctoral researcher at the Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology, and Society, seconded at the European Commission Joint Research Centre, performing research on the potential of Citizen Sensing for environmental litigation and mediation (The SensJus Project). Anna obtained her PhD in May 2020 on a project aimed at investigating how Citizen Sensing influences the governance of environmental risk and how the practice can be integrated with institutional models of risk governance. Anna has a background in Law from the University of Bologna and Transnational Law from the University of Geneva. Her specializations are International and European Environmental Law, Health Law and Technology, and Participation Studies. Anna has work and research experience in the health sector, on water conflicts and in environmental litigation on extractive industries.

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