Parish of Plaquemines v. Northcoast Oil Co. is yet another remand of yet another of the 43 suits filed in state courts against a legion of oil and gas companies under the Louisiana’s State and Local Coastal Resources Management Act of 1978. The suits arise out of the defendants’ decades-long oil production activities on the Louisiana coast.
So far, the message seems to be: Producers, surrender to the jurisdiction of the state courts and trust in the wisdom of the well-intentioned citizen-jurors of the coastal parishes. You are not likely to find solace in the relative safety of the federal courts.
The decision is long and dense, including a tutorial on prior rulings. The long and short of it is that after being remanded repeatedly upon the failure of a variety of theories of removal jurisdiction, the defendants crafted a new one: World War II era oil production activities, conducted during a time of significant governmental regulation and oversight, allow for federal officer removal.
The removing defendants failed to show that they were acting pursuant to a federal officer’s or agency’s direction. They argued that at the very least they should be treated as federal subcontractors because, even though they had no contracts of their own with the federal government for oil production, at least Gulf Oil Corporation had contracts with refineries who had contracts with the federal government to deliver fuel used in the war effort. But the crude oil production was not under federal direction. The federal district court was not persuaded that the argument satisfied either the acting-under requirement or the related-to requirement for federal officer removal. Both must be satisfied for there to be removal jurisdiction.
Which leads to this query
They don’t teach metaphors in law school, and lawyer-bloggers are well-advised to delete their naval-gazing before publication. That said, here goes anyway: Some species of animals eat their young. Older male, king-of-the-jungle lions, for example, will devour young males in order to eliminate the competition (and to clear the decks for more “quality time” with the ladies). One can rationalize the myriad suits against “Evil Oil” by anti-fossil fuel blue governments on the principle that Evil Oil competes with undependable but virtuous alternative energy, ergo Evil Oil must be destroyed by vexing litigation before hometown juries. I get it.
But in a state in which oil and gas production is so vital to economic prosperity, are these suits also “eating the young”? Will they chase off producers’ exploration dollars in favor of friendlier locales? From my corner of the oil patch, that’s what the legacy contamination suits have done.
On the other hand, coastal deterioration is real. Maybe the millions in potential recoveries will actually be put to work to save the wetlands that also drive prosperity. And maybe, as some believe, the producers have exploited the state like it was a third-world backwater and its time for payback. Here is a podcast from Baton Rouge NPR station WRKF that might answer the questions.
Your musical interlude is one way to look at it.