(CN) – The 5th Circuit ruled that the claims of thousands of Baton Rouge residents who said they were injured in a 1994 fire at Exxon Corp.’s chemical plant in Louisiana will stay in federal court.
The federal appeals court in New Orleans denied a motion to remand the 25 consolidated cases brought by 16,000 people allegedly injured in the three-day fire at Exxon’s plant in Baton Rouge. With one exception, all lawsuits were filed in Louisiana state court; the other was filed in Harris County, Texas.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs challenged a 2007 take-nothing judgment and fought to have the cases heard in state court.
Exxon opposed the move, saying the amount in controversy met the requirement for diversity jurisdiction. As a second justification for removal, Exxon claimed that Louisiana defendants had been improperly joined in order to ruin diversity jurisdiction.
Defendants included Texas-based Exxon; Dresser Industries and Masonelian International, two Delaware companies headquartered in Texas; and Louisiana-based Desselle-Maggard Corp.
When mock trials in 2006 and a jury trial on liability in 2007 found for the oil company, the district court entered a take-nothing judgment.
The plaintiffs appealed, but only on whether the district court had subject-matter jurisdiction.
The court ruled that complete diversity jurisdiction existed in the complaint, because the Louisiana defendants had been improperly joined to the case to try to keep it in state court. Judge Barksdale added that it is “facially apparent” that the amount in controversy exceeds the $50,000 threshold for federal jurisdiction.