NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge has sent a Plaquemines Parish lawsuit against 19 oil and gas companies back to state court for trial.
U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey's ruling sets the stage for the return of 27 others suits to state courts in Plaquemines and Jefferson parishes, NOLA.com ' The Times-Picayune (http://bit.ly/12mRfFd ) reports.
The lawsuits all ask the court to make the companies repair or pay for damages from canals dredged decades ago through fragile wetlands — some date from before 1940 — and from toxic wastes put in unlined pits near drilling sites.
Other federal judges put the other lawsuits on hold to wait for Zainey's ruling, which was posted Tuesday in the court's electronic filing system.
Zainey ruled Monday that defendants had not proved they met federal court requirements for moving the case out of state court.
The lawsuits, narrowly tailored to take advantage of the parishes' special authority under state law to regulate wetlands within their borders as part of a coastal zone, were filed in November 2013 in state courts. Defendants immediately removed them to federal court.
"The citizens of Plaquemines Parish should be very pleased with Judge Zainey's ruling," said Victor Marcello, an attorney with Talbot, Marcello & Carmouche of Baton Rouge, who is representing the parish. "His detailed opinion shows that he carefully considered all of the arguments raised by the defendants."
Total Petrochemicals & Refining USA Inc. and other defendants argued that the parish should have filed 1,018 suits — one for each alleged violation. That would be senseless, Zainey wrote.
"The parish explains that what is at issue in this case is the cumulative effect of defendants' historical oil and gas operations, and those cumulative impacts must be considered when trying to fashion a restoration remedy," he wrote.
Plaquemines tried to group the permit violations by companies and by the oil and gas fields in which they occurred. That may not be practical, and the trial judge may decide it would make more sense to try some of the claims separately, Zainey wrote.
Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com