Effort to Stay Oil Spill Suits Fails Again

posted on:
May 28, 2010

author:
Tresa Baldas

category:
Environmental

The defendants’ push to stay Gulf of Mexico oil spill cases hit another snag in Mobile, Ala. A second federal judge in the Southern District of Alabama on Tuesday denied requests by BP PLC and Halliburton Energy Services Inc. to delay two proposed class actions over economic losses.

U.S. District Judge Kristi DuBose denied stays in Bon Secour Fisheries Inc., et al. v. BP, filed on behalf of a fishery and a seafood processor, and Deupree Outdoor Guide Services Inc. v. BP, filed on behalf of a charter fishing company. She offered no explanation.

DuBose’s decisions came on the same day that her colleague, Chief U.S. District Judge William Steele, also denied a motion to stay an oil spill lawsuit, Billy’s Seafood Inc. v. Transocean Holdings Inc., et al. Steele wrote that a stay would serve only to give the defendants “a three-month reprieve … before being required to answer the allegations brought by plaintiff in the complaint. Such a protected delay appears both unnecessary and unwarranted.”

The defendants want the lawsuits stayed until the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation decides whether to combine the 130-plus federal lawsuits into a multidistrict proceeding.

Rhon Jones of Montgomery, Ala.’s Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, who successfully argued against the stay in the cases before DuBose, is pleased that the Alabama court has three times backed the argument of the plaintiffs’ bar. “We really don’t see any need — whether this ends up in an MDL or not — to slow up the process in these initial filings,” he said.

Jones said the rulings send a message to BP and the other defendants: “You can’t put this off indefinitely. And please don’t tell us that you don’t have the resources to furnish an answer to a complaint. That’s nonsensical.”

But Jones also noted that decisions about stays are “very judge driven. Some judges are saying, ‘You need to go ahead and get this started.’ Others will say, ‘Maybe you should just wait.'”

In the Alabama stay hearings, BP was represented by William Brooks of Birmingham, Ala.’s Lightfoot, Franklin & White, who was unavailable for comment. Halliburton was represented by Joseph Babington of Mobile’s Helmsing, Leach, Herlong, Newman & Rouse, who declined to comment.

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