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Parish of Jefferson v. Exxon Mobil Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

June 11, 2018


         SECTION: “G” (5)



         Currently pending before the Court is a “Motion to Stay Pending MDL Determination” filed by Defendants Chevron U.S.A. Inc., Chevron U.S.A. Holdings Inc., ExxonMobil Corporation, and The Louisiana Land and Exploration Company, LLC (collectively, “Moving Defendants”).[1]Having considered the motion, the memoranda in support and opposition, the record, and the applicable law, the Court will exercise its discretion to stay this matter pending decision by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (the “MDL Panel”).

         I. Background

         This case is one of several filed by Jefferson Parish against various defendants for alleged violations of permits issued pursuant to the State and Local Coastal Resources Management Act of 1978 (“SLCRMA”).[2] The Parishes of Plaquemines, Cameron, Vermillion, and St. Bernard filed similar lawsuits (collectively, “Parish Oil and Gas Cases”).[3] Plaintiff Jefferson Parish filed a petition in the 24th Judicial District Court for the Parish of Jefferson on November 11, 2013, wherein it seeks damages and other relief for violations of SLCRMA and the state and local regulations, guidelines, ordinances, and orders promulgated thereunder (collectively, the “CZM Laws”).[4] The Parish disavowed any other type of claim, cause of action, or legal theory potentially cognizable on the facts alleged, including any that could form the basis for jurisdiction in a federal court.[5] On December 18, 2013, four Defendants removed the case to this Court, alleging the following bases for original jurisdiction in federal court: (1) diversity jurisdiction; (2) Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (“OCSLA”); and (3) general maritime law.[6] Plaintiff filed a motion to remand.[7] On July 7, 2015, this Court granted Plaintiff's motion to remand and remanded the case to state court.[8]

         On May 23, 2018, Defendants Chevron U.S.A. Inc., Chevron U.S.A. Holdings Inc., ExxonMobil Corporation, and The Louisiana Land and Exploration Company, LLC (collectively, “Removing Defendants”) removed the case for a second time to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1367, 1441, and 1446.[9] Removing Defendants argue that federal jurisdiction is now clear because of Plaintiff's recently filed expert report, which Removing Defendants purport reveals for the first time that Plaintiff's claims relate to activities undertaken before the SLCRMA was effective and when Defendants were instead subject to extensive and exclusive federal direction, control, and regulation.[10] Removing Defendants assert that Plaintiff's “claims (1) implicate wartime and national emergency activities undertaken at the direction of federal officers, and (2) necessarily require resolution of substantial, disputed questions of federal law.”[11]

         On May 29, 2018, Removing Defendants filed a “Motion for Coordinated Pretrial Proceedings Pursuant to 12 U.S.C. § 1407” with the MDL Panel, arguing that the Parish Oil and Gas Cases should be transferred to the Eastern District of Louisiana for coordinated pretrial proceedings.[12] In support of their motion, Removing Defendants argued that the cases contain the same cause of action, nearly identical allegations, and the same requested relief.[13] Pursuant to MDL Panel rules, the parties will be given a full opportunity to brief the question of transfer, and the MDL Panel will consider the matter at its bimonthly hearing session.[14]

         On May 30, 2018, Moving Defendants filed a “Motion to Stay Pending MDL Determination” in this Court, asserting that this matter should be stayed pending decision of the MDL Panel on whether to consolidate the Parish Oil and Gas Cases.[15] On June 5, 2018, Plaintiff Jefferson Parish filed an opposition to the motion to stay.[16] On June 7, 2018, Removing Defendants filed a reply brief in further support of the motion to stay.[17]

         II. Parties' Arguments

         A. Moving Defendants' Arguments in Support

         In support of the motion, Moving Defendants argue that the Court should stay this case until after the MDL Panel rules on the pending motion to coordinate pretrial proceedings in this case and the other Parish Oil and Gas Cases.[18] Moving Defendants assert that it would be inefficient for the parties to engage in additional pretrial work before the MDL Panel makes it decision as, according to Moving Defendants, multiple judges should not have to duplicate their efforts and risk making inconsistent rulings when these cases may be transferred to a single judge.[19] Moving Defendants also contend that Plaintiffs will not be prejudiced or suffer hardship from this stay as Moving Defendants argue that whatever delay Plaintiffs may experience will be “slight.”[20] Further, Moving Defendants claim that if the case is not stayed, the waste of judicial resources would be substantial as courts would need to familiarize themselves with a complex case that may ultimately be heard by another judge.[21]

         B. Jefferson Parish's Arguments In Opposition[22]

         In opposition, Jefferson Parish asserts that the Court should deny the Moving Defendants' motion to stay.[23] While Jefferson Parish admits that courts in “typical cases” routinely grant motions to stay pending MDL determinations, Jefferson Parish argues that this case is not typical.[24]Jefferson Parish notes that there is no pending MDL, only a request to create one; asserts that the parties are “deeply into the discovery process” for some of the cases; and contends that the initial removals were deemed to be without merit.[25] Last, Plaintiffs contend that the facts with respect to the merits of removal vary from case to case, so according to Plaintiffs, there would be no gain in judicial efficiency by staying this action.[26]

         Jefferson Parish also asserts that the removal of these cases by Removing Defendants is a delaying tactic.[27] The Parish argues that Removing Defendants are stalling in hopes of delaying any substantive consideration of the issues until after the gubernatorial elections, in the hope that a new governor who does not support the Parishes in these lawsuits will be elected.[28]

         C. Moving Defendants' Arguments in Further Support of the Motion To Stay

         In the reply, Moving Defendants reassert that the law supports the granting of a stay, arguing that any granted stay would “be brief, promote efficiency, avoid inconsistent rulings, and leave Plaintiffs unharmed.”[29] Moving Defendants argue that Jefferson Parish has failed to show that Plaintiffs would suffer any prejudice if the motion to stay was granted and urges the Court not to consider the “hypothetical harm” of the effect of a future gubernatorial election.[30] Moving Defendants also claim that any stay would be brief, as the decision of the MDL Panel on coordination of pretrial proceedings would likely come before the question of remand was even fully briefed.[31] Moving Defendants also reassert their argument that the denial of the motion to stay would waste judicial resources and that the Court should not have to familiarize itself with the intricacies of this case when it could ultimately be decided by another judge.[32]

         Last, Moving Defendants argue that the Court should ignore Jefferson Parish's arguments relating to the merits of the removal, contending that it has nothing to do with the motion to stay. However, Moving Defendants still contests Jefferson Parish's arguments regarding the merits of removal and asserts that removal is timely.[33]

         II. Law and Analysis

         In Landis v. North American Co., the Supreme Court recognized that “the power to stay proceedings is incidental to the power inherent in every court to control the disposition of the causes on its docket with economy of time and effort for itself, for counsel, and for litigants.”[34]The Supreme Court noted that “how this can best be done calls for the exercise of judgment, which must weigh competing interests and maintain an even balance.”[35] Therefore, a district court has “discretionary power to stay proceedings before it in ...

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