New Orleans is selected as site for oil spill litigation


The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation agreed to consolidate the litigation over the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in federal court in New Orleans before Judge Carl J. Barbier.

“Upon careful consideration, we have settled upon the Eastern District of Louisiana as the most appropriate district for this litigation. 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 closest to it,” the panel ruled.

The decision is a victory for the City of New Orleans, which will benefit from the economic activity of having hundreds of disputes over financial responsibility for the oil disaster taking place in the city. It is also a victory for plaintiffs, who will be able to participate in the proceedings without having to travel as far.

The panel of seven federal judges, who met in Boise, Idaho, on July 29, ruled that all claims under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, personal injury and wrongful death actions should be centralized. The panel said that consolidating the legal actions “may also facilitate closer coordination with Kenneth Feinberg’s administration of the BP compensation fund.”

The panel also said that it believed that the “limitation of liability” proceedings brought by rig owner Transocean Ltd. in federal court in Houston is a “potential tag-along action” in this docket, and will be included on a forthcoming conditional transfer order, but the group did not make a definitive ruling on that consideration.

“Although our preliminary assessment is that the action should be included in the centralized proceedings, we do not prejudge the matter…the parties are free to object to the action’s transfer,” the judges wrote.

The panel said that it selected Barbier to oversee the litigation because he has gained considerable experience with consolidated litigation in his 12 years on the federal bench, and is already actively managing dozens of oil disaster cases. “We have every confidence that he is well prepared to handle a litigation of this magnitude,” the judges wrote.

In making their choice, the judges rejected the notion that venues such as New Orleans might not provide a level playing field for all parties and that they should search elsewhere for a ‘neutral’ judge. “With all due respect, we disagree with the premise of this argument. When federal judges assume the bench, all take an oath to administer justice in a fair and impartial manner to all parties equally.”

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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