on Nov 7, 2023
at 6:06 pm
The Supreme Court on Tuesday morning declined to put a Louisiana trial seeking compensation for the “existential threat” posed by coastal land loss on hold while the defendants in the case, a group of oil companies, seek review of a state court decision rejecting their request to transfer the case. The oil companies had argued that they cannot get a fair trial in the court where they are being sued because any awards against them will go to the local government, known as a parish.
The case at the center of the dispute was filed by Cameron Parish, which is located in southwest Louisiana between New Orleans and Houston. Over three-quarters of the parish is made up of coastal marshland, and the parish could lose as much as 40% of its land to rising sea levels over the next 50 years. The lawsuit – one of several filed by parishes against oil companies – contends that the oil companies’ operations in the parish damaged the parish’s wetlands.
The trial in Cameron Parish’s case is slated to start on Nov. 27. After the state courts turned down their motions to transfer the case, three oil companies – BP America, Hilcorp Energy, and Shell Oil – came to the Supreme Court, asking for the trial to be put on hold until the justices could rule on their petition for review of the state courts’ decisions. The oil companies told the justices that unless the Supreme Court intervenes, they will “be forced to defend a trial in a case brought by Cameron Parish, Louisiana, that seeks more than $7 billion in front of a venire of 4,000 residents of the very same Parish, every one of whom has a substantial personal and financial interest in rendering a verdict for their home parish.” “This unprecedented situation,” the oil companies argued, “threatens the clearly established federal due-process rights of these defendants to have their case adjudicated by a neutral, disinterested decisionmaker.”
Cameron Parish urged the justices to allow the trial to go forward as scheduled, explaining that it brought its case under a state coastal management law that requires lawsuits to be brought in the parish where the activity at issue occurred. Under that law, the parish explained, any money that it receives as a result of a lawsuit can only be used to protect its coastline. Therefore, it reasoned, potential jurors in the parish – who cannot themselves bring claims under the law – do not have direct financial interests in the outcome of the case. Moreover, the parish continued, there is no actual evidence that residents of the parish are biased against the oil companies. Indeed, the parish noted, other oil and gas companies “have frequently prevailed in environmental jury trials in smaller Louisiana parishes.” And in any event, the parish added, the state court left open the possibility that the oil companies could challenge the venue again once they have questioned the potential jurors.
In a brief, unsigned order on Tuesday morning, the justices turned down the oil companies’ request, clearing the way for the trial to go ahead as scheduled. There were no recorded dissents.
This article was originally published at Howe on the Court.