LA - BP, Shell, Hilcorp ask U.S. Supreme Court to halt Cameron Parish coastal erosion suit
BP, Shell and Hilcorp oil companies have asked U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Jr. to block the start of a state court lawsuit filed by Cameron Parish seeking compensation for coastal damages, arguing that parish jurors are likely to be swayed by the $7 billion being sought.
The Cameron lawsuit is one of dozens filed by Louisiana parishes against major oil companies over coastal damage. It is the first expected to go to trial.
The parishes point to the energy companies' extensive network of canals cut through wetlands for oil-and-gas production, which have worsened the state's land loss crisis, among other issues. The companies say they abided by all laws and requirements at the time while providing essential energy supplies.
In the emergency motion filed Oct. 17, the companies argued that all 4,000 residents of Cameron Parish eligible to be jurors in the case have “a substantial personal and financial interest in rendering a verdict for their home parish.”
They said that was because "any award will go to restore land loss in the parish and — according to the parish itself — will be used to create jobs, economic opportunities, and higher property values for residents."
"Thus, applicants cannot obtain a fair and impartial trial without a change of venue, and this court’s immediate action is needed to ensure a civil trial of this magnitude comports with due process," the filing said.
The parish has annual tax revenues of only $20 million, the filing said, comparing that to the $7 billion in compensation the suit is attempting to recover.
The filing says the oil companies have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule the state courts and assign the case to a court in another parish. It calls for a halt to all proceedings until the Supreme Court acts on that request.
As an alternative to that stay request, the companies asked that the Supreme Court approve an expedited schedule for hearing arguments on the requests. That would give Louisiana seven days to file responses so the full Supreme Court could consider the requests before the trial begins.
Alito handles such requests for cases that fall within the boundaries of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The emergency stay request follows decisions by the state judge hearing the case denying the companies’ request to move the trial to another parish, and the upholding of that decision by an appeals court and the Louisiana Supreme Court.
In an April 19 ruling from the bench, 38th Judicial District Court Judge Penelope Richard denied the change of venue motion, finding that the companies had failed to show they cannot obtain a fair trial in Cameron.
She said whether or not fair and impartial jurors can be seated in the trial can only be determined during the jury selection process.