The US Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation [official website] on Tuesday selected [order, PDF] US district judge Carl Barbier to hear more than 300 lawsuits filed against British Petroleum (BP) [corporate website] in connection with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] in the Gulf of Mexico. The panel ordered more than 77 actions and 200 additional potentially related actions to be transferred to the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana [official website]. The numerous lawsuits were filed in varying locations including Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana. Counsel for BP previously moved for centralization in the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas [official website], but the panel cited Louisiana as the "most appropriate district" for the litigation due to the close proximity of the oil spill's effects. The judicial panel also addressed the concerns of some parties that a New Orleans location would prevent a level playing field and that a different location would provide for a "neutral judge." In its statement, the panel expressed its "every confidence" that Barbier is prepared to handle the litigation:
When federal judges assume the bench, all take an oath to administer justice in a fair and impartial manner to all parties equally. That oath applies just as much to a multidistrict litigation involving hundreds (or thousands) of actions and scores of parties as it does to a single civil action between one plaintiff and one defendant. Our experience is that transferee judges impartially carry out their duties and make tough decisions time and time again, and that they uniformly do so without engaging in any location-specific favoritism.In addition, the judicial panel transferred three lawsuits [order, PDF] filed by BP shareholders over stock losses to US district judge Keith Ellison in the Southern District of Texas.
Earlier this week, BP and the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced the completion of negotiations over the implementation of a $20 billion fund [JURIST reports] to aid victims of the oil spill. Numerous lawsuits are pending against BP in connection with the spill. In July, a class-action lawsuit [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] was filed against the company in a Louisiana state court alleging that its negligent actions led to the spill and that BP was further negligent in its oversight of the cleanup effort, resulting in volunteers falling ill due to inadequate protective equipment. In June, two lawsuits were filed against BP [JURIST report] alleging violations of the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) [18 USC § 1961 et seq.] statute. The lawsuits allege that BP purposefully defrauded the American public in order to increase company profits. Also in June, Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] announced that the DOJ is reviewing whether any civil or criminal laws were violated [JURIST report] by BP resulting in the oil spill. Holder cited several statutes being examined by government lawyers, including the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 [materials].