Yesterday, a panel of judges decided that hundreds of claims arising out of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill will be consolidated before a New Orleans judge for pretrial proceedings. Litigants in the case filed motions before the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation requesting consolidation in a number of venues, including Louisiana, Alabama, Texas, Florida, Mississippi, and South Carolina.
The oil and gas company defendants favored Houston, where their headquarters are based. BP took their request a step further by requesting a particular Houston judge, Judge Lynn Hughes, a jurist with extensive ties to the oil and gas industry. The fact that the Panel did not accommodate BP’s request is a victory for justice.
Instead, the panel transferred the Mutlidistrict Litigaiton (MDL) to Judge Carl Barbier, of the Eastern District of Louisiana, which includes New Orleans. In the Panel’s written opinion, they explained that “Without 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.”
Judge Barbier is a distinguished jurist and is well respected by practitioners in the area. A review of lawyer evaluations from Judge Barbier’s Federal Judicial Almanac confirm this consensus: “one of the smartest judges in the district,” “balanced,” “a fine trial judge,” “very polite and professional,” and “fair.” Judge Barbier was born in New Orleans, graduated from Southeaster Louisiana University, and Loyola University New Orleans School of Law. Jude Barbier was nominated to the federal bench by President Clinton in 1998. The JPML opinion noted that Judge Barbier has considerable MDL experience, and that he was already handling dozens of cases related to the oil spill. The opinion stated that “We have every confidence that he is well prepared to handle a litigation of this magnitude.”
In addition to all of the claims brought under the Oil Pollution Act (OPA), the panel decided to consolidate wrongful death and personal injury claims into the MDL. Some attorneys had expressed concern over consolidating these claims with claims dealing primarily with economic loss and property damage, as MDL is known to be an extremely time-consuming process that can take years. Despite these concerns, the JPML reasoned that “these actions do overlap factually with the other actions in this docket” and ordered their consolidation.