NEW ORLEANS (CN) – The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation has decided to consolidate all Gulf of Mexico oil-spill cases in New Orleans to be heard before U.S. District Judge Carl J. Barbier. “Without discounting the spill’s effects on other states, if there is a geographic and psychological ‘center of gravity’ in this docket, then the Eastern District of Louisiana is the closest to it,” the seven-member panel ruled.
After meeting in Boise, the Judicial Panel rejected claims that New Orleans might not provide a “level playing field for all parties and that [the panel] should search elsewhere for a ‘neutral’ judge” to be sent to New Orleans to hear the cases.
“With all due respect, we disagree with the premise of this argument,” the panel wrote. “When federal judges assume the bench, all take an oath to administer justice in a fair and impartial manner to all parties equally … Our experience is that transferee judges impartially carry out their duties and make tough decisions time and time again, and that they uniformly do so without engaging in any location-specific favoritism.”
The panel wrote that it considered “four motions that collectively encompass 77 actions: 31 actions in the Eastern District of Louisiana, 23 actions in the Southern District of Alabama, ten actions in the Northern District of Florida, eight actions in the Southern District of Mississippi, two actions in the Western District of Louisiana, two actions in the Southern District of Texas, and one action in the Northern District of Alabama”.
The panel, chaired by John G. Heyburn III, summed up the arguments and ruled in a 5-page order, with 15 pages of attachments.
“Considering all of the applicable factors, we have asked Judge Carl J. Barbier to serve as transferee judge,” the panel wrote. “He has had a distinguished career as an attorney and now as a jurist. Moreover, during his twelve years on the bench, Judge Barbier has gained considerable MDL experience, and has already actively managed dozens of cases in the docket. We have every confidence that he is well prepared to handle a litigation of this magnitude.”
The panel found centralizing the more than 300 oil-spill claims already submitted will eliminate repetition of discovery, prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings – including rulings on class certification and other issues, and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel, and the judge.
“Centralization may also facilitate closer coordination with Kenneth Feinberg’s administration of the BP compensation fund,” the panel wrote.
An initial pretrial and discovery conference has been set for Sept. 17.