Case against oil companies shifts focus to SB469

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East must contend with SB469, recently signed into law by Governor Bobby Jindal, if it hopes to continue in its quest to hold oil and gas companies accountable for damage to wetlands. Supposedly, the new law strips the SLFPA-E of its authority to sue the companies. A former chair of the levee board, though, suggested that the law might be challenged in at least two ways.

First, the former chair highlighted a short phrase in the law. SB469 prohibits local government entities from suing for coastal zone damages related to oil, but “local government entity” is a precisely defined term that, according to the former chair, does not fit the SLFPA-E. Therefore, he said, the law may not actually prohibit the organization from suing.

The former chair also noted that the path that the law took through the legislature calls its validity into question. After versions of the bill were defeated in the Senate Judiciary A Committee, for example, it moved to the Natural Resources Committee, which passed it. The bill also changed authors and titles during the process. The bill’s authors also apparently failed to adequately inform the public of the hearing after the move to the Natural Resources Committee. Even those in attendance at the hearing were unable to review the bill, and failure to provide copies of the bill at the hearing may have been a violation of open meetings and notice requirements.

Lawyers for the SLFPA-E are expected to ask a U.S. District Court judge for a ruling on the constitutionality of SB469. Companies may be held accountable in civil court for damages caused by a defective or dangerous product or by negligent or dangerous business practices. In such an action, an attorney could help injured parties seek compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering or other damages.

Source: Nola Defender, “Into the Breach”, Christopher Staudinger, July 27, 2014

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