Justice institutions in Espírito Santo and Minas Gerais have spoken out in the largest lawsuit in the Rio Doce Case, known as the R$155 billion Public Civil Action, filed in 2016 against the companies Vale, Samarco and BHP, responsible for the collapse of the Fundão dam that affected communities in Espírito Santo and Minas Gerais in 2015. 
With the new movement in the case, on October 16, 2023, the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office (MPF), the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Minas Gerais (MPMG), the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Espírito Santo (MPES), the Public Defender’s Office of the State of Minas Gerais (DPE/MG), the Public Defender’s Office of the State of Espírito Santo (DPE/ES) and the Public Defender’s Office of the Union (DPU) are asking for the case to be tried immediately, as there is already enough evidence to hold the companies responsible. Among the damages that have already been proven and for which the companies should be condemned are collective environmental moral damage and social damage. According to the IJs, “environmental damage is a bivalent expression, which encompasses both the idea of an undesirable change in the environment, which affects the community, and the extent of its effects on people’s health and interests”  (characterized by the deprivation of environmental services for present and future generations), condemning the companies to around R$100 billion.  

The IJs’ request for condemnation of the companies for social damage, in turn, aims to “protect/prevent/discourage acts […] that affect society as a whole, in an immediate lowering of the population’s standard of living. And this is evidenced by the loss of working conditions, source of income, devaluation of real estate, the collective feeling of insecurity, which brings a decrease in social tranquility or a breach of trust.”  The amounts relating to social damage were not defined in the petition, but should follow the same parameters as environmental moral damage, to be assessed by the judge in the case. They are:  

  • Economic capacity of the defendant companies: Vale and BHP, even after the disaster, are still the two largest mining companies in the world;  

  • Size of area and population affected: 49 municipalities (In the state of Minas Gerais, the municipalities are: Aimorés, Alpercata, Barra Longa, Belo Oriente, Bom Jesus do Galho, Bugre, Caratinga, Conselheiro Pena, Coronel Fabriciano, Córrego Novo, Dionísio, Fernandes Tourinho, Galiléia, Governador Valadares, Iapu, Ipaba, Ipatinga, Itueta, Mariana, Marliéria, Naque, Ouro Preto, Periquito, Pingo D’Água, Ponte Nova, Raul Soares, Resplendor, Rio Casca, Rio Doce, Santa Cruz do Escalvado, Santana do Paraíso, São Domingos do Prata, São José do Goiabal, São Pedro dos Ferros, Sem-Peixe, Sobrália, Timóteo, Tumiritinga. In the state of Espírito Santo, the municipalities are: Anchieta, Aracruz, Baixo Guandu, Colatina, Conceição da Barra, Fundão, Linhares, Marilândia, São Mateus, Serra and Sooretama) and a population of approximately 2 million four hundred and fifty thousand people;  

  • Vale’s recidivism in the Brumadinho case in 2019. 

The request reinforces the recognition of homogeneous individual damages, so that those affected are entitled to individual compensation. However, it is important to note that achieving these individual rights involves the process of collective organization in the groups of those affected.  
For the judge in charge of the case, Vinícius Cobucci, as the Novel (Simplified Indemnity System) was not a judicial system for paying compensation, but rather an extrajudicial platform, managed by the Renova Foundation and without the procedural guarantees provided by the Brazilian justice system, which must now be guaranteed with the due judicial condemnation. 

When dealing with collective damages, the institutions mention the questioning of the effectiveness of Brazilian justice as a damage: “The Rio Doce Case has had an extreme impact on the Brazilian, Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo communities, affecting even the national justice system and exposing an imperative for protection that is being observed and discussed internationally.” 

Although there have been reparation measures and programs in the Rio Doce Basin and the marine, coastal and estuarine region of Espírito Santo, mainly through actions planned and carried out by the Renova Foundation, these measures were based on solutions negotiated between the public authorities and the companies. If Judge Vinicius Cobucci accepts the requests made by the Justice Institutions, the Brazilian courts can officially hold the polluting companies responsible. 

However, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Ombudsman’s Office have stated that the request is for a generic sentence, which will only determine the terms of the companies’ liability, leaving room for the concrete reparation measures to be dealt with in a future agreement between the parties – probably in the renegotiation process that is currently underway.  

Adai’s Technical Office for those affected is following the process to ensure that the people are informed.    

See the full decision at: Decision for Moral Damage  and Rio Doce: MPES and institutions ask for condemnation of companies for collective moral damage of R$ 100 billion – Public Prosecutor’s Office of the State of Espírito Santo