Several local oil and gas companies recently received a setback by two federal judges in an ongoing environmental lawsuit filed by Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes. Finding that the claims asserted by the plaintiff-parishes were based in Louisiana law and involved at least one Louisiana-based oil company, U.S. District Court Judges Lance Africk and Ivan Lemelle remanded the lawsuits from federal court back to state court. Filed in November 2013, the defendant oil companies immediately had the lawsuits removed, or switched, to federal court where they hoped to have the dispute resolved. Oftentimes, large and foreign corporations will seek to have their disputes decided in federal court, where judges aren’t elected by State citizens and, thus, will likely be more sympathetic. State court also usually hosts a much more “local” jury which large, foreign corporations fear may risk having the case decided on inappropriately considered evidence. For these reasons, among many others, the defendant oil companies fought hard to keep these lawsuits in federal court. But, as Judges Africk and Lemelle ruled, there just wasn’t enough to satisfy federal jurisdictional requirements.
The lawsuits themselves, filed by Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes, are seeking relief from the courts for environmental damages allegedly caused by the defendant oil companies’ construction of canals through fragile wetlands. Because these lawsuits, and many others like it, arise from facts and circumstances that occurred as long as multiple decades ago, they’re often referred to as “legacy lawsuits.”
Despite the judges’ rulings, a spokesman for Shell, Chevron, and BP, who are all defendants in the lawsuit, maintain that this lawsuit properly belongs in federal court because it involves “important federal issues dealing with navigable waterways and oil, gas and pipeline operations directly affecting mineral production from the Outer Continental Shelf of the United States.”
In each lawsuit, Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes are seeking repairs for the alleged environmental damages, or, in the absence of such repairs, for monetary damages.