A precursor of what’s coming in dribs and drabs as John Bel Edwards’ cabal of plaintiff attorneys cajole local governments into trying to sue the oil industry for the loss of coastal wetlands happened – loudly – today. The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East, spearheaded by Tulane professor and historical writer John Barry, cooked up a case blaming canals cut through the marshes decades ago for the loss of the marshes back when Bobby Jindal was governor. That case, the first of the state’s coastal lawsuits, has never shown much promise in court, and yet it inspired something of a feeding frenzy among the plaintiff lawyer community.
Edwards capitalized on that feeding frenzy by hiring his cabal of plaintiff-lawyer all-stars, headed by Taylor Townsend, the Natchitoches-based trial lawyer and former state legislator who, conveniently enough, chairs the governor’s political action committee. The strategy has been to recruit as many local governments in parishes on or near the coast as possible to file these lawsuits, with the cabal then set to provide legal services to those plaintiffs according to fee agreements which look a whole heck of a lot like contingency agreements but aren’t – we swear! – because that would be illegal.
All of which came about because of the SLFPA-E lawsuit, the first of the coastal lawsuits, and it’s now deader than Elvis.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to revive a Louisiana flood protection board’s lawsuit seeking to make oil, gas and pipeline companies pay for decades of damage to coastal wetlands.
The suit drew fierce opposition from the energy industry and many in state government when it was filed in 2013 by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East. The suit said the industry’s dredging of canals in coastal drilling areas contributed to loss of wetlands that form a hurricane buffer for New Orleans, meaning more work and expense for the board in protecting and maintaining levees.
A federal district judge’s 2015 ruling held that federal and state law provided no avenue by which the board could bring the suit. A federal appeals court in New Orleans agreed, leading to the board’s request for Supreme Court Review. The request was denied without comment, except to note, without explanation, that Justice Samuel Alito, took no part in the matter.
What’s left is a host of cases Edwards’ cabal has ginned up in state courts, some of which are in front of judges who might well cook up reasons to find for the plaintiffs. But even at the state level there’s a problem – because nothing these oil companies have done was illegal; in fact, all of it was done pursuant to permits issued by the state.
Essentially, these lawsuits are claiming that the government has the right to, post facto, declare as illegal or tortious that which it already permitted because of damage which may or may not be real but was most certainly not foreseeable either by the permittor or permittee. There is no legal theory under the sun which would allow this.
And the cabal knows it.
Which is why this entire exercise has been about one thing – attempting to pressure the oil companies into coughing up a big chunk of change as a settlement of these coastal lawsuits so that Edwards’ cabal can pocket millions of dollars in legal fees and be paid back for all the money donated to the governor’s campaigns.
And they’re running into a brick wall called reality. Because the oil companies have pretty good lawyers, and those lawyers are pretty adamant about not settling any of these cases. Which means having to win in court.
Now that federal court is closed off to any recovery with respect to these coastal lawsuits, we’re about to find out how many state court judges are corrupt enough to ignore the Fifth Circuit and the Supreme Court. Even in a judicial hellhole like Louisiana is, it’s still a pretty heavy-duty ask.
But in case you tend to sympathy for Townsend and the other lawyers in Edwards’ cabal, save it. The real victims of this farce are Louisiana’s families negatively affected by the loss of oil and gas jobs as this is the last state in the world an oil company wants to do business in.