Court of Appeal in London ruled on Wednesday that two Nigerian communities could not pursue Royal Dutch Shell in English courts over oil spills in the Niger Delta region.
The split decision upheld a High Court ruling in 2017 that was a setback to attempts to hold British multinationals liable at home for their subsidiaries' actions abroad.
The court rejected the appeal from a law firm, Leigh Day, on behalf of Nigeria's Bille and Ogale communities.
It upheld a ruling that English courts did not have jurisdiction over claims against Shell's Nigerian subsidiary Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC).
SPDC is jointly operated with the Nigerian government
Shell said the court "rightly upheld" the earlier ruling, adding that Nigeria's "well-developed justice system" was the correct place for the claims.
Leigh Day said the two Nigerian communities intended to bring the case to Britain's Supreme Court.
"We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will grant permission to appeal and will come to a different view," Leigh Day partner Daniel Leader said.