Barbier reins in Florida real estate developer

Steve Korris Apr. 19, 2011, 3:36am

NEW ORLEANS – U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier rebuked owners of Florida real estate developer St. Joe Company, who tried twice to escape his jurisdiction in litigation over the Deepwater Horizion explosion.

"St. Joe has the right, as does any other litigant, to file appropriate motions or seek relief from the court's pretrial or case management orders," he wrote on April 15.

"But, St. Joe has no right to unilaterally disregard those orders," he wrote.

In his second order against St. Joe in three weeks, Barbier vacated and set aside its voluntary motions to dismiss suits against Halliburton Energy Services and M-I LLC.

St. Joe intended to drop the suits in order to pursue them in Delaware state court, but Barbier had previously ordered them not to do that.

St. Joe doesn't concede the validity of the first order, for it filed notice of appeal to the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans on April 13.

St. Joe, owner of 577,000 acres in Florida's panhandle, separately sued Halliburton and M-I in federal court.

St. Joe sued rig owner Transocean in Delaware state court.

Barbier stayed the Delaware suit on March 25, to protect his trial plan on Transocean's petition for protection under the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851.

St. Joe moved on March 27 to dismiss the suits against Halliburton and M-I, which the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multi District Litigation had transferred to Barbier.

"St. Joe did not seek either consent of the opposing parties or a court order," Barbier wrote.

"Simultaneously, St. Joe filed a new lawsuit in Delaware state court, this time suing both Halliburton and M-I," he wrote.

Defendants removed it to federal court, he wrote, and St. Joe moved to remand.

Barbier wrote that nearly all Deepwater Horizon claims share common fact issues requiring essentially the same discovery with respect to liability.

As a consequence, he organized claims into pleading bundles rather than litigation tracks, Barbier wrote.

He also bifurcated liability and damage phase and established discovery procedures leading to the liability trial. A limitation and liability trial is scheduled next February.

Barbier wrote that pleading bundle B1 includes all private claims for economic loss and property damage, whether under maritime law, the Oil Pollution Act, or state law.

"St. Joe's claims, which purport to assert state law claims for economic loss and property damage, fit precisely within pleading bundle B1," he wrote.

Barbier wrote that the plaintiff steering committee filed a master complaint for the bundle and amended it on Feb. 9.

He wrote that Halliburton and M-I moved to dismiss the master complaint.

He wrote that any plaintiff in a case that falls within the bundle is deemed to be a plaintiff
in the master complaint.

He wrote that he stayed all individual complaints in the bundle until further order.

He wrote that the plaintiff steering committee coordinates all motions, and parties who file motions without its support must include certificates of non-support.

He wrote that in the Fifth Circuit, after a defendant becomes actively engaged, the defendant is entitled to have the case adjudicated.

"[T]he case cannot be terminated without either the defendant's consent, permission of the court, or a dismissal with prejudice to assure the defendants against the renewal of hostilities," he wrote.

"Once St. Joe's cases were transferred to this court, not only were the individual cases stayed, but St. Joe's claims were deemed amended, restated, and superseded by the allegations and claims of the master complaint in pleading bundle B1."

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