Judge Carl Barbier has dismissed claims brought by three Mexican states blaming BP PLC for property and economic damages suffered in the wake of the April 2010 oil spill. Judge Barbier ruled that only Mexican federal officials have standing to assert these claims. The governments of Quintana Roo, Tamaulipas and Veracruz, all of which border the Gulf of Mexico, can’t pursue damages under general maritime law because they lack proprietary interest in the waters, shores and wildlife damaged by the oil, Judge Barbier said. He ruled that as owner of the aquatic territory, seafloor and shores at issue, the Mexican federal government has the exclusive power to bring the type of claims asserted by the three states.
The states had argued that the term “Mexican nation” as used in their country’s constitution includes the states and the federal government, but Judge Barbier said that interpretation conflicts with other laws stating that waters of the territorial sea, inland marine waters and maritime beaches are under the federal government’s jurisdiction and are “inalienable, imprescriptable and unseizable.” The judge noted that the Mexican Supreme Court reached a similar conclusion when it found that “the nation cannot be mistaken for a state” and that state officials cannot represent the federal government. Judge Barbier said in his order:
The Mexican states are creatures of Mexican law. If Mexican law determines that only the Mexican federal government may bring the sort of action the Mexican states assert here, then neither the Mexican states nor this court may ignore this.
Quintana Roo and Tamaulipas also argued that the federal government transferred certain coastal land rights to them through administrative agreements, but Judge Barbier said the states misrepresented the language of those documents. The agreements only grant the states the right to use the land and exploit its assets and do not go so far as to transfer ownership, according to the ruling. The three Mexican states filed separate suits in September 2010 in a Texas federal court, saying they were owed damages for harm to their fishing, commercial shipping and tourism industries. Veracruz said many residents rely on a clean Gulf and safe navigable waters for their livelihoods and that the state would be hurt by lost fees, taxes and revenues. It alleged that the risks of offshore drilling were well known to the defendants and that they knew work on Deepwater Horizon was especially hazardous, but failed to take the appropriate measures to prevent an accident.
The complaints filed by Tamaulipas and Quintana Roo were similar, except that Quintana Roo – the home of Cancun and Cozumel – focused especially on potential harm to its tourist destinations. The three complaints were consolidated with the multidistrict litigation in November 2010.
Sources: Sean McLernon and Law360.com
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