Litgiation Articles

Eastern District of Louisiana and Southern District of Texas each land piece of oil spill MDL

August 11, 2010, 8:55 am

Originally posted By Brenda Jeffreys - Texas Lawyer - August 10, 2010

The Eastern District of Louisiana and the Southern District of Texas each landed a piece of the MDL action related to the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. The Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ruled today in In Re: Oil Spill By the Oil Rig “Deepwater Horizon” in the Gulf of Mexico, on April 20, 2010, that U.S. District Judge Carl J. Barbier of New Orleans will preside over the MDL that will cover wrongful death, personal injury, and property and other economic damages litigation. In a separate order, the panel assigned the MDL that covers spill-related securities litigation against BP, In Re: BP p.l.c. Securities Litigation, to U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison of Houston. As to the Louisiana MDL, in an order written by panel chairman John G. Heyburn II, the seven-judge panel found the Eastern District of Louisiana is the “most appropriate” district for the MDL, even though all the defendants and some plaintiffs asked the panel to assign the MDL to a judge in the Southern District of Texas. (Plaintiffs also sought centralization in the Northern District of Alabama, the Southern District of Alabama, the Middle District of Florida, the Northern District of Florida, the Southern District of Florida, the Western District of Louisiana, the Southern District of Mississippi or the District of South Carolina.) “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,” Heyburn wrote. He wrote that Barbier has MDL experience and already is managing dozens of suits stemming from the oil rig explosion. “We have every confidence that he is well prepared to handle a litigation of this magnitude,” Hayburn wrote. The order transfers 46 suits filed in other federal districts into the Eastern District of Louisiana; currently 31 Deepwater Horizon actions are pending in the district. The order affects two suits filed in the Southern District of Texas: National Vietnamese American Fisherman Emergency Association, et al. v. BP, PLC and Ben Nelson, et al. v. Transocean Ltd., et al. Hayburn noted that a suit filed by Transocean to limit its liability will be transferred conditionally from the Southern District of Texas as a part of the transfer order. Separately, the panel transferred to Ellison’s court three securities suits filed so far, one from the Central District of California and two from the Western District of Louisiana. The panel found that the Southern District of Texas is the “most appropriate transferee district” for the securities suits and noted that it’s “not a particularly important factor” that none of the securities suits already filed were filed in the Southern District of Texas. The panel wrote that Ellison has “outstanding credentials” and “he possesses both the time and judicial experience to steer the litigation on a prudent course.” An attorney for BP who argued before the MDL panel to transfer all Deepwater Horizon litigation to Houston, Andrew Langan, a partner in Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago, did not immediately return a telephone message. BP owns the right to produce and save the oil. Donald Godwin, chairman and CEO of Godwin Ronquillo in Dallas who represents defendant Halliburton Corp. of Houston, says, “We will be prepared to appear before Judge Barbier in New Orleans. . . . We are awaiting instructions from Judge Barbier as to what we do next.” Halliburton was involved in cementing the well and provided mud services for the drilling of the well. In an e-mailed statement, Transocean Ltd. says: “Transocean has reviewed the JPML’s decision regarding the multidistrict litigation venue, and we are supportive of the decision. The purpose of multidistrict litigation is to consolidate, coordinate, and streamline related litigation filed in different federal forums, while promoting coordination with state litigation. We look forward to this ruling doing just that and, accordingly, we will continue to address the issues in their appropriate venues.” Mark Lanier, a plaintiffs' attorney who also argued for a Houston location, says he “couldn’t be more pleased, all things considered” because he believes Barbier and Ellison are well qualified to handle the MDLs. A written statement from Brent Coon & Associates of Beaumont, a firm that represents plaintiffs in spill-related litigation, says Barbier is an “outstanding jurist” and “we look forward to working with this court.”



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