Louisiana Parishes Suing BP Falter on Appeal
(CN) - The 5th Circuit affirmed dismissal of claims by 11 Louisiana parishes against BP over aquatic and wildlife lost after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Following the catastrophic blowout and explosion in April 2010, a federal judge in Louisiana consolidated thousands of cases against BP and its cohorts.
Among the crowd of plaintiffs in the "litigation frenzy" are 11 parishes seeking to recover penalties under the state's Wildlife Protection Statute, according to the ruling.
Three of the parishes moved to remand their suits, which brought claims only under state law for pollution in state waters and along the coastline, but the federal court denied the motions and dismissed all the parishes' claims as pre-empted by federal law.
A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit agreed last week that BP's properly removed the state-law claims under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA).
The parishes failed to show that the Clean Water and Oil Pollution Acts empower the communities to levy statutory wildlife fines, according to the ruling.
They likewise failed to distance the claims from the oil production operation.
"It is undeniable that 'the oil and other contaminants would not have entered into the state of Louisiana's territorial waters 'but for' [appellees'] drilling and exploration operation," Judge Edith Jones wrote for the panel.
At the time of the dismissal, U.S. Code Section 1441(b) "required that a federal basis for original jurisdiction exist (OCSLA) and that no defendant be a citizen of the forum state," according to the ruling.
It is also true that federal law pre-empts the parishes' claims, the court found.
"The parishes' inconsistent positions reveal a basic flaw," Jones wrote. "The question here is not whether federal law plays a role in remediating the effects of the Macondo well blowout, but how extensive the role is. The parishes cannot prove appellees' responsibility, or respective shares of responsibility, for wildlife injuries without alluding to the blowout's physical source, emissions from a well drilled in the OCS, or its human source, errors or omissions related to the Deepwater Horizon's production activity on the high seas above the OCS. The parishes' pleadings expressly allege, inter alia, that appellees caused the Macondo well oil spill and violated federal regulations in so doing."
The court brushed aside claims by the parishes as to their historic police powers to deter oil pollution in their waters and protect aquatic and wildlife.
"Allowing up to five states along the Gulf Coast to apply their individual laws to discharges arising on the Shelf would foster the legal chaos described by [the Supreme Court's 1987 decision in International Paper Co. v.] Ouellette," Jones wrote. "That three Gulf coast states submitted amicus briefs in this appeal, and all five Gulf Coast states filed suits to recover damages based on particular state laws testifies to the problem.
The judge later added: "In sum, Ouellette forms a controlling backdrop for resolving claims caused by the blowout. Federal law, the law of the point source, exclusively applies to the claims generated by the oil spill in any affected state or locality."