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Media Alerts - In re Deepwater Horizon - Fifth Circuit
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February 26, 2014
  In re Deepwater Horizon - Fifth Circuit
Headline: Fifth Circuit Rules that State Claims Arising from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Are Blocked by Federal Law.

Area of Law: Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act; Federal Water Pollution Control Act; Oil Pollution Act.

Issues Presented: Whether the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act provides federal district courts subject-matter jurisdiction, and whether the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and the Oil Pollution Act preempt state-law claims arising on the Outer Continental Shelf.

Brief Summary: Eleven Louisiana coastal parishes (Parishes) filed lawsuits, some of which were filed in state court, against BP and other defendants involved in the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The suits were to recover penalties under the Louisiana Wildlife Protection Statute (Wildlife Statute) for the pollution-related loss of aquatic life and wildlife. The suits that were originally filed in state court were removed to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The district court denied the Parishes' motions to remand and then dismissed all of the Parishes' claims as preempted by federal law. Both decisions were challenged in the Parishes' appeal. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit agreed with the district court that the state-law claims were removable pursuant to the jurisdictional provision of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), and it also affirmed the district court's dismissal of the claims as preempted by federal law.

Extended Summary: Eleven Louisiana coastal parishes (Parishes) filed lawsuits, some of which were filed in state court, against BP and other defendants involved in the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The suits were to recover penalties under the Louisiana Wildlife Protection Statute (Wildlife Statute) for the pollution-related loss of aquatic life and wildlife. The suits that were originally filed in state court were removed to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, which denied the Parishes' motions to remand and then dismissed all of the Parishes' claims as preempted by federal law. Both decisions were challenged in the Parishes' appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The Fifth Circuit held that § 23(b)(1) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) gives the federal district courts jurisdiction over cases "in connection with . . . any operation conducted on the outer Continental Shelf which involves exploration, development, or production of the minerals, of the subsoil and seabed of the outer Continental Shelf, or which involves rights to such minerals." The fact that the oil spill occurred because of the defendants' "operations" in exploring for and producing oil on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) cannot be contested. OCSLA § 23(b)(1) requires only a "but-for" connection. It is undeniable that the oil and other contaminants would not have entered into the State of Louisiana's territorial waters "but for" the defendants' drilling and exploration operation. The district court therefore had original federal jurisdiction, and therefore also removal jurisdiction, under OCSLA.

The Fifth Circuit also held that under International Paper Co. v. Ouellette the correct law to apply is that of the location of the point source. In this case, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (aka Clean Water Act, CWA) and its implementing regulations comprehensively govern oil exploration and development on the OCS. Further, the Court concluded that Congress did not reject that interpretation explicitly or by negative implication when it passed the Oil Pollution Act (OPA). Congress intended that the OPA would build upon the CWA to create a single federal law providing cleanup authority, penalties, and liability for oil pollution. In sum, federal law, which is the law of the point source in this case, exclusively applies to the claims generated by the oil spill in any affected state or locality.

Lastly, the Fifth Circuit held that the savings clauses contained in the CWA and OPA do not save a state's laws where the discharge did not occur "within" the state, and hence they have no effect on this case.

For the full opinion, please see:
https://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/o...ub/12/12-30012-CV0.pdf.

Panel: Circuit Judges Jones, Barksdale, and Southwick

Argument Date: 3/5/2013

Date of Issued Opinion: 2/24/2014

Docket Number: No. 12-30012

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Kirsty Davis

Counsel: Stephen B. Murray, Jr., Murray Law Firm, for Plaintiffs-Appellants Plaquemines Parish and Orleans Parish; Peter J. Butler, Jr., Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, L.L.P., for Plaintiff-Appellant St. Bernard Parish; Walter J. Leger, Jr., Leger & Shaw, for Plaintiff-Appellant Lafourche Parish; C. Berwick Duval, II, Duval, Funderburk, Sundbery, Lovell & Watkins, for Plaintiffs-Appellants Terrebonne Parish and Jefferson Parish; Victor L. Marcello, Talbot, Carmouche & Marcello, for Plaintiffs-Appellants St. Charles Parish, St. Mary Parish, and St. Tammany Parish; Philip Francis Cossich, Jr., Cossich, Sumich, Parsiola & Taylor, L.L.C., for Plaintiff-Appellant Cameron Parish; Richard Cartier Godfrey, Kirkland & Ellis, L.L.P., for Defendants-Appellees BP Exploration & Production, Inc., BP Products North America, Inc., BP America, Inc., and British Petroleum, P.L.C.; Donald Everett Godwin, Godwin Lewis, P.C., for Defendant-Appellee Halliburton Energy Services, Inc.; Steven Lynn Roberts, Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, L.L.P., for Defendants-Appellees Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling, L.L.C., Transocean Deepwater, Inc., Transocean Holdings, L.L.C., and Triton Asset Leasing GMBH; Russell S. Post, Beck Redden, L.L.P., for Defendant-Appellee Cameron International Corp.; Allyson Newton Ho, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, L.L.P., for Defendant-Appellee M-I, L.L.C.; Glenn G. Goodier, Jones Walker LLP, for Defendant-Appellee Weatherford US, L.P.; David Bruce Salmons, Bingham McCutchen, L.L.P., for Defendants-Appellees Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Anadarko E&P Co., L.P.; John F. Pritchard, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, L.L.P., for Defendants-Appellees Moex Offshore 2007, L.L.C. and Moex USE Corp.

Author of Opinion: Judge Jones

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Aaron-Andrew P. Bruhl

    Posted By: Aaron Bruhl @ 02/26/2014 01:09 PM     5th Circuit  

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