Sarah May
November 9, 2023
11:15 pm

SCOTUS denies oil companies' request for stay in $7B coastal erosion case

A group of large oil and gas companies received disappointing news from the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this week when the justices denied their bid for an emergency stay in a $7 billion lawsuit filed by Cameron Parish, Louisiana over claims of coastal erosion, as Reuters reports.

Defendants in the case include BP, Shell, and other well-known names in the energy industry, and their hopes to halt the trial, which is slated to commence in Louisiana state court on Nov. 27, were dashed on Tuesday.

The court's decision came without any explanation from the justices, and the panel did not weigh in on another request from the plaintiffs to consider their venue concerns separately and directly.

At the heart of the defendants' arguments to the high court was the contention that they could not receive a fair and impartial trial in Cameron Parish, given that, in their estimation, all of the potential jurors local to the court would have a financial or personal stake in seeing the companies lose the case.

The potential monetary boon to the locality would, according to the plaintiffs, be particularly hard for potential jurors to resist, given that the parish has yearly tax revenues totaling a mere $20 million, a sum dwarfed by the possible recovery in the case against the oil and gas behemoths.

Underlying the latest battle are the parish's claims that the companies inflicted serious harm to its coastal marshlands as a result of pipeline construction and dredging operations, which ran afoul of Louisiana permitting statues.

The parish -- one of many that have initiated similar lawsuits -- is hoping to prevail in the case and force the firms to pay billions for remediation and storm protection projects to slow or prevent additional erosion.

According to estimates produced by the state of Louisiana, the erosion at issue could subsume upwards of 40% of all land within the parish by 2050.

The high court's decision denying the stay comes on the heels of prior rulings in which the state judge presiding over the matter also declined a request to move the proceedings out of Cameron Parish and of subsequent opinions affirming that outcome, rendered by an appeals court as well as the Louisiana Supreme Court.

In response to the Supreme Court's unwillingness to stay the proceedings, a corporate representative from Shell declared, as the Times-Picayune noted, “We do not believe litigation is the answer to the challenge of coastal erosion in Louisiana.

“It risks delaying collaborative action, misdirecting resources and inhibiting cross-sector work,” the statement went on.

The company added, “This ruling does not change our long-standing commitment to work with coastal communities along Louisiana's coast. We will continue to defend against this unproductive litigation while supporting collaborative efforts on coastal protection and restoration.”

John Carmouche, an attorney from the law firm representing Cameron Parish and several localities in the state in their claims against the oil and gas giants, offered his reaction to the Supreme Court's brief order, saying, “The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is a recognition of the years, the numerous hearings at various levels of the justice system, the hours of building evidence, and the clarity that this case should be heard by the people of Louisiana,” he explained.

Carmouche added, “Clearly, the U.S. Supreme Court is saying, like many federal courts before, that these damages and the evidence thereof belongs before the people damaged, Louisiana citizens in Louisiana courts," and it now looks as though that is precisely where the case in controversy will indeed be heard.

Written By:
Sarah May

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