Judge: New law fails to stop flood board's 'Big Oil' lawsuit suit



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BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — A state judge in Baton Rouge ruled Monday that Louisiana's Legislature missed its mark when it passed a bill seeking to halt a south Louisiana flood board's lawsuit against dozens of oil, gas and pipeline companies over coastal damage.

The legislation prohibits state agencies and local governments from pursuing such suits. But state District Judge Janice Clark said the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East is neither a state agency nor a local government.

Clark also said that she is likely to rule that the law violates the Louisiana Constitution's separation of powers, but she did not issue a final ruling on the constitutional issues.

The effect of Clark's ruling is unclear because the lawsuit is in federal court where a judge is expected to address similar issues.

"This issue doesn't belong in this court," said Shannon Bates, a spokeswoman for Gov. Bobby Jindal, in a statement late Monday. "These trial lawyers' attempt to find a sympathetic court is their latest effort to keep this frivolous lawsuit alive and waste taxpayer dollars. We believe Act 544 is constitutional and clearly applies to SLFPA-E, and we would appeal any ruling that had the effect of allowing this frivolous lawsuit to go forward."

The SLFPA-E, which oversees New Orleans-area levee boards, filed the lawsuit in 2013, alleging that drilling and dredging activity by more than 90 companies contributed to the loss of coastal wetlands that form a natural hurricane buffer for New Orleans.

The suit was originally filed in state court but was moved to federal court. U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown is set to hear arguments on various motions in the case on Nov. 12.

Jindal and industry supporters, including the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, have harshly criticized the lawsuit as an attack on a vital industry. They won passage of legislation aimed at killing the lawsuit during the 2014 legislative session.

However, Clark said the bill was aimed at state agencies and local governments and that the flood board is neither. "It appears to this court that (the flood protection authority) was designed to be a unique entity, neither fish nor fowl," Clark said, according to an account of Monday's hearing in The New Orleans Advocate (http://bit.ly/10Gzssp ).

Clark gave LOGA and attorneys for the flood board until Friday to submit additional briefs before issuing a final ruling, reported NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune (http://bit.ly/1vJ6G4Q ).

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