BP, Transocean, Halliburton and other defendants in hundreds of lawsuits brought in the wake of the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history must litigate those suits in Federal court in Louisiana, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation has decided. Multidistrict litigation is a special federal procedural means of handling a multitude of separate cases which share one or more common factual issues, but are pending in different districts. The process is intended to streamline the discovery of evidence, resolve common issues of fact, avoid duplication of effort, and prevent inconsistent judicial rulings. Once pretrial proceedings are concluded, the separate cases are sent back for trial in the courts where they were originally brought.
In a highly anticipated decision widely regarded as a victory for plaintiffs, the Panel ruled last week that the Eastern District of Louisiana, situated in New Orleans, was the “most appropriate” venue to hear the spill claims. BP sought to have the Panel consolidate the cases in Houston, home to BP’s U.S. headquarters. Other suggested venues included Federal district courts in Miami, Florida, Mobile, Alabama and Gulfport, Mississippi. In voicing its rationale for selecting New Orleans, the Panel explained in its August 10th Transfer Order that “[w]ithout 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.”
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier will preside over the consolidated suits, which include claims for wrongful death on behalf of workers killed in the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig, lost revenue claims by businesses operating in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as claims for remediation of environmental harm. Shareholder suits against BP, seeking recovery for loss of stock value in the wake of the spill, as well as claims brought by employees over losses in company retirement savings plans, will be heard in a separate consolidated action in U.S. District Court in Houston.