BATON ROUGE – An appeals court presiding over a lawsuit that claims dozens of oil companies are responsible for damage to Louisiana’s coast line recently heard oral arguments in the case, but has yet to hand down a ruling in the case.
Attorneys for the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East argued a U.S. district court judge erred in a number of areas when dismissing the claim against 97 different defendants, which consisted of oil, gas and pipeline companies that operated in the state.
Judge Nanette Joinette Brown ruled in February 2015 the authority failed to prove there was any state law under which the defendants could be found liable for damage to the coastline, and therefore pay for the clean up.
She further ruled the defendants had no duty to the authority under Louisiana law.
The SLFPA-E immediately filed an appeal against the ruling.
This lawsuit is the most high profile of a number filed against oil and gas companies, including ones by individual parishes. It began in state court in 2013, but was later removed to federal court by the defendants.
A trade group representing many of the oil and gas companies, the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, said today it does not know when the appeals court will hand down its judgment.
But the association is adamant this lawsuit, and others, have no merit.
“The SLFPA-E lawsuit pursues a far-reaching theory that the oil and gas industry is solely responsible for coastal erosion,” the LMOGA’s Brent Golleher told the Louisiana Record. “The lawsuit alleges the oil and gas industry broke the law. They can’t tell you what law, but they pursue it regardless. All the activity they point to was permitted and approved by the proper regulatory authority.”
In documents filed on appeal, the authority alleged each of the oil, gas and pipeline defendants caused the loss of coastal lands in a defined “buffer zone” operated and maintained by the authority, therefore increasing the likelihood of storm surges.
The authority, the documents state, is charged with operating and maintaining a flood and hurricane protection system that guards millions of people and billions of dollars in property.
In a separate but related case, a state appeals court in Baton Rouge ruled that former Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell was within his rights approving the flood protection authority’s hiring of an outside law firm to sue the oil, gas and pipeline companies.
The 1st Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of a challenge by the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, which objected to Caldwell’s approval of the law firm hiring. The law firm represented the authority in the federal case against the energy-related companies.
The oil and gas group argued the authority must be represented by the attorney general's office, a claim dismissed by the lower court and upheld on appeal. The attorney general represents the levee authority only when called upon to do so, the appeals court affirmed Feb. 18.
The court also agreed there was "real necessity" for the suit, dismissing the argument that there was no need to file the suit.