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Media Alerts - Center for Biological Diversity v. BP America Production Co. - Fifth Circuit
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January 10, 2013
  Center for Biological Diversity v. BP America Production Co. - Fifth Circuit
Headline: Fifth Circuit Dismisses as Moot Most of Environmental Group's Claims in Deepwater Horizon Litigation

Area of Law: Environmental; federal jurisdiction

Issue Presented: Whether claims for injunctive relief brought under the citizen-suit provisions of several environmental statutes (CERCLA, CWA, and EPCRA) were moot after the district court took judicial notice of the capping of the Macondo well site.

Brief Summary: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana's decision to dismiss as moot most of the Center for Biological Diversity's claims for injunctive relief related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010. The district court took judicial notice of the fact that no more pollutants were being released into the Gulf of Mexico. Based on this finding, the plaintiff lacked standing because an injunction would not redress any injury - BP had already ceased operations at the Macondo well site at the direction of the federal government. However, the Fifth Circuit determined that the plaintiff's claim that the defendants had not complied with their duty to report substances already released into the Gulf was not moot. The Court therefore reversed the district court and ordered additional proceedings on this reporting issue.

Significance: This case concerns which claims can be pursued in the ongoing multidistrict litigation concerning the massive oil spill that occurred at the Macondo well site in the Gulf of Mexico. The case suggests limitations on the availability of further injunctive relief, but it does not address monetary relief.

Extended Summary: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that most of the Center for Biological Diversity's claims for injunctive relief were moot because the district court took judicial notice of the fact that no further pollutants could come from the Macondo well, which BP had capped at the direction of the federal government. The Fifth Circuit ruled that the capping of the well was a judicially noticeable fact and that the Center had an opportunity to challenge the finding but opted not to do so.

Without the prospect of further pollutant discharges, the Fifth Circuit deemed injunctive relief aimed at stopping statutory violations and reporting future discharges to be unnecessary to preventing further injury. The court also ruled that the Center could not save the case from mootness by seeking civil penalties, because the Center had demanded a final judgment from the district court in order to appeal the ruling on injunctive relief, thereby forfeiting its request for those penalties.

Finally, the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court on the issue of reporting substances already released into the Gulf, finding that claim not moot. Specifically, the Court determined that having all of the relevant information in one easily accessible, central location was the purpose of the CERCLA and EPCRA disclosure provisions. Although at least some of the relevant information was available at various places on the Internet, the Court determined that the current record did not conclusively demonstrate that all statutorily required disclosures had been made. Accordingly, the Court ordered additional proceedings on this reporting issue.

For the full opinion, please see: ftp://opinions.ca5.uscourts.go...9/12-30136-CV0.wpd.pdf

Panel: Chief Judge Stewart and Circuit Judges King and Owen.

Argument Date: 12/4/12

Date of Issued Opinion: 1/9/2013

Docket Number: No. 12-30136

Decided: Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings

Case Alert Author: Ward Goolsby

Counsel: Charles M. Tebbutt for Plaintiff-Appellant Center for Biological Diversity; Richard Cartier Godfrey, Kirkland & Ellis, L.L.P., for Defendant-Appellee BP; Steven Lynn Roberts, Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, L.L.P., for Defendant-Appellee Transocean.

Author of Opinion: Judge King

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Aaron-Andrew P. Bruhl

    Posted By: Aaron Bruhl @ 01/10/2013 11:09 AM     5th Circuit  

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