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Litigation

Oil Spill MDL Judge Dismisses Environmental Claims For Injunctive Relief

NEW ORLEANS - (Mealey's) The federal judge presiding over cases stemming from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on June 16 dismissed claims seeking injunctive relief against BP Plc. and Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling Inc. for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA), Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA) after finding that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the claims (In re Oil Spill by the Oil Rig "Deepwater Horizon" in the Gulf of Mexico, on April 20, 2010, MDL 2179, E.D. La.).

U.S. Judge Carl Barbier of the Eastern District of Louisiana explained that the injunctive relief sought by the plaintiffs in the D1 master complaint would not redress their alleged injuries because oil is no longer being discharged by the Macondo well and because there is no facility from which any release can possibly occur.  Moreover, the judge pointed out that an injury is not redressable because of the ongoing cleanup efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.  The judge further found that the plaintiffs' claims were moot.

"In order to prevail on their claims for injunctive relief, Plaintiffs must demonstrate an ongoing violation of various statutes on which Plaintiffs' claims are for relief is based," Judge Barbier wrote.  "Because the Macondo well is dead and is no longer discharging oil, Plaintiffs' only claims are confined to seeking environmental citizen suit injunctive relief of a prospective nature to stop noncompliance in the form of a continued release of oil.  Thus, the citizen suit claims brought by Plaintiffs are moot, because no future-oriented injunction can provide any meaningful relief for Plaintiffs in terms of stopping discharges that already concluded in mid-July 2010."

Judge Barbier also held that the plaintiffs' claims for injunctive relief for trespass and nuisance under general maritime law would be considered when addressing the motion to dismiss the claims in the D1 master complaint.

Plaintiffs in the D1 master complaint are seeking to prevent BP, BP America Production Co., BP Exploration & Production Inc. and Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling, Transocean Holdings LLC and Transocean Deepwater Inc. from operating an offshore facility in violation of the CWA, CERCLA and EPCRA.  The plaintiffs in the D1 master complaint are not seeking monetary damages.  BP and Transocean moved to dismiss the plaintiffs' environmental claims, arguing that they lack standing because their alleged injuries cannot be redressed.  In order to sustain their claims, Judge Barbier noted that the plaintiffs were required to show that the requested injunctive relief would provide some benefit to the reduction in pollution.

"In this case, no such benefit may be achieved by the Court's injunction," Judge Barbier explained.  "In fact, the injunction at this stage would be useless, as not only is there no ongoing release from the well, but there is also no viable offshore facility from which any release could possibly occur.  The Macondo well is dead, and what remains of the Deepwater Horizon vessel is on the ocean floor, where it capsized and sank in 5,000 feet of water."

The judge also pointed out that it is unclear as to how data collected under the EPCRA can remedy the injuries alleged by the plaintiffs.  Lastly, Judge Barbier held that the plaintiffs could not pursue an ESA claim because there is no ongoing violation.

[Editor's Note:  Full coverage will be in the July 2011 issue of Mealey's Pollution Liability Report.  In the meantime, the order is available at www.mealeysonline.com or by calling the Customer Support Department at 1-800-833-9844.  Document #08-110708-008R.  For all of your legal news needs, please visit www.lexisnexis.com/mealeys.] 

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