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New Orleans Gets Oil Spill MDL; MDL Panel Transfers 77 Suits To Judge Barbier

Courtesy of HB Litigation Conference's Oil Spill Litigation & Insurance Coverage Report

New Orleans as been selected as the site of the oil spill litigation, according to an order issued Aug. 10, 2010, by the Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, which transferred 77 lawsuits to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana before U.S. Judge Carl J. Barbier (In Re: Oil Spill by the Oil Rig "Deepwater Horizon" in The Gulf of Mexico, on April 20, 2010, MDL No. 2179).

The panel added that, in addition to the 77 cases, it has been notified that more than 200 additional lawsuits are pending.

"Those actions and any other related actions are potential tag-alongs," the panel said.

According to the five-page transfer order -  MDL-2179-Transfer_Order - signed by MDL Chairman John G. Heyburn II:

"The actions before the Panel indisputably share factual issues concerning the cause (or causes) of the Deepwater Horizon explosion/fire and the role, if any, that each defendant played in it. Centralization under Section 1407 will eliminate duplicative discovery, prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings, including rulings on class certification and other issues, and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel, and the judiciary. Centralization may also facilitate closer coordination with Kenneth Feinberg's administration of the BP compensation fund. In all these respects, centralization will serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses and promote the more just and efficient conduct of these cases, taken as a whole.

"We also conclude that it makes sense to include the personal injury/wrongful death actions in the MDL. These actions do overlap factually with the other actions in this docket, and, indeed, plaintiffs in two of the three constituent personal injury/wrongful death actions specifically argue in favor of such inclusion, as do responding defendants. While these actions will require some amount of individualized discovery, in other respects they overlap with those that pursue only economic damage claims. The transferee judge has broad discretion to employ any number of pretrial techniques - such as establishing separate discovery and/or motion tracks - to address any differences among the cases and efficiently manage the various aspects of this litigation. See, e.g., In re Lehman Brothers Holdings, Inc., Securities & Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) Litigation, 598 F.Supp.2d 1362, 1364 (J.P.M.L. 2009).

"Similarly, we do not find any strong reasons for separate treatment of claims brought under the OPA [Oil Pollution Act]. In our judgment, carving out the OPA claims would only complicate matters, and denying centralization altogether is not a viable option. To the extent that non-compliance with the OPA's presentment requirement becomes an issue, failure to include OPA claims in centralized proceedings would raise the prospect of multiple inconsistent rulings on that issue. See In re: National Arbitration Forum Antitrust Litigation, 682 F.Supp.2d 1343, 1345 (J.P.M.L. 2010).

"Finally, the limitation proceeding brought by certain Transocean entities and currently pending in the Southern District of Texas is a potential tag-along action in this docket, and will be included on a forthcoming conditional transfer order (CTO). Although our preliminary assessment is that the action should be included in the centralized proceedings, we do not prejudge the matter. Once the CTO issues, the parties are free to object to the action's transfer.  See Rule 7.4, R.P.J.P.M.L., 199 F.R.D. at 435-36."

The securities class actions alleging that BP and its executives misled investors about safety measures have been transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas and assigned to U.S. Judge Keith P. Ellison.

HB Litigation Conferences has two upcoming events on the Gulf oil spill.  Its Oil in the Gulf: Litigation & Insurance Coverage Conference will be held Nov. 4 and 5 in Miami.  Its Coverage Chaos Erupting from the Gulf Oil Spill teleconference will be held Aug. 18 from 2-3:40 p.m. ET.