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BP reparations lawsuit remanded to Mississippi state court

A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi [official website] Tuesday remanded to state court [order, PDF] the Mississippi attorney general's lawsuit against the administrator of the British Petroleum (BP) [corporate website] $20 billion Deepwater Horizon oil spill [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] reparations fund, the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) [official website]. Seeking to enforce an earlier subpoena for access to reparations claims filed by coastal residents, Attorney General Jim Hood [official website] filed the lawsuit in Hinds County Chancery Court in July, claiming to be "conducting an investigation into whether [GCCF's] procedures for processing claims constitute fair and/or deceptive trade practices in violation of the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act (MCPA)." The fund's administrator, Washington lawyer Kenneth Feinberg [WP profile], had the case removed to federal court, claiming that original jurisdiction lay with that court by virtue of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) [Cornell LII materials]. District Judge Carlton Reeves concluded that, firstly, Hood's petition does not amount to a "civil action" as the term is used in the federal removal statute, and therefore GCCF was not entitled to remove the case to federal court, and, secondly, that the operation of "developing and publishing standards for recoverable claims" from the Deepwater Horizon spill did not constitute an "operation conducted on the outer Continental Shelf" as required by OCSLA and so OCSLA cannot apply as a proper basis for federal jurisdiction. Reeves addressed only the issue of jurisdiction, and the original question of whether the subpoena at the core of Hood's petition is lawful under the MCPA is "another question altogether" to be decided in state court.

Calls for criminal and civil actions have been mounting against BP, as evidence of the oil giant's lack of proper compliance with regulations has come to light. In July the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana [official website] dismissed consolidated racketeering claims against BP [JURIST report] in connection with the spill brought under the US Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) [text] act. In February, Hood asked the district court to order the GCCF to fulfill its legal obligations to aid victims of the spill and to remedy inadequate claims mechanisms [JURIST report]. The GCCF began processing claims in August 2010 following the completion of negotiations [JURIST reports] between BP and the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website]. Former Alabama Attorney General Troy King filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] in August of last year against BP for damages to the state's coast and economy, claiming that the oil giant has failed in its efforts to accept responsibility for the oil spill. In July 2010 a class action lawsuit [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. One month prior, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] announced that the DOJ would review whether any criminal or civil laws were violated [JURIST report] by BP.

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