LA Flood Board To Continue Appeal In “Big Oil” Lawsuit
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A New Orleans area flood-protection board voted 5-4 Monday against abandoning its appeal of the dismissal of a coastal erosion lawsuit against oil, gas and pipeline companies.
The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East filed suit in 2013. It sought damages over the loss of coastal wetlands that form a natural hurricane buffer for New Orleans.
A federal judge recently ruled that the board had no legal standing to bring the suit and that the energy companies had no legal duty to protect the board from the effects of coastal erosion.
Prior to the vote, board member Joe Hassinger unsuccessfully proposed overriding board president Stephen Estopinal's decision to proceed with an appeal.
"It's somebody else's fight to fight," Hassinger said, pointing to U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown's decision. He said the energy companies the board sued had a high legal bar to reach in persuading the judge to dismiss the case without a trial and they met it.
He also dismissed the dangers of a "poison pill" provision in the board's contract with private lawyers who filed the suit — a provision designed to require payment of potentially millions of dollars in expenses to the lawyers if the board withdraws the suit before it is resolved.
Hassinger, an attorney, argued that even if the lawyers sued for the money and a judge ruled in the lawyers' favor, the judgment could not be legally enforced against the board.
Estopinal said that if Hassinger is correct in arguing that a decision to dismiss a lawsuit is difficult for a defendant to win, there is even more reason to appeal Brown's decision in hopes of having it overturned.
Other board members supporting the suit said it is needed to hold energy companies accountable for a share in the multibillion-dollar cost of restoring the coast.
"Without this lawsuit, we will never get the industry to the table," said board member Wilton Tilly, a longtime supporter of the lawsuit.
Hassinger was joined by board members Jeff Angers, Tyrone Ben, and Kelly McHugh in voting to stop the appeal. All have been appointed to the board by Gov. Bobby Jindal — a staunch opponent of the lawsuit — since it was filed, replacing lawsuit supporters whose terms ended.
Estopinal, Tilly, Paul Kemp, Rick Leuttich and Louis Witte — members off the board when the suit was filed — voted to go ahead with the appeal.
– by AP Reporter Kevin McGill