U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier rejected BP’s arguments, including that there are considerable grounds for a difference of opinion on whether the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) provides the right to a jury trial. The decision involves a controlling question of law Judge Barbier said in a brief order. He denied BP’s motion “for essentially the reasons” argued by Alabama.
In its opposition to BP’s bid, Alabama argued that BP did not meet the criteria for interlocutory appeal and that the court should not send an appeal to the Fifth Circuit before ruling on its motion to remand the compensatory trial. There may be future issues requiring interlocutory appeal, the state noted, but those should be decided in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, where the trial will be, the circuit held.
This decision follows Judge Barbier’s ruling in late March rejecting BP’s arguments that Alabama’s claims should be tried by the bench, finding that although the state’s claims under the OPA do not include a jury trial right, that the Seventh Amendment provides for a trial on its claims for removal costs and damages such as lost tax and state department revenues, physical property damage and public service costs. Judge Barbier said in his order:
As a general rule, though subject to several exceptions, civil cases before a federal court sitting in admiralty are tried without a jury. BP’s primary argument is tied to this premise. [But] three courts have held that a jury is available for at least some claims or issues under OPA. This court reaches the same conclusion.
BP had argued in a February 2014 brief that there is no right under the OPA to a jury trial because it is based on an admiralty statute, and courts have repeatedly found that other statutes based in admiralty lack such a right. To allow a jury trial under the OPA, the oil and gas giant said, “would contradict hundreds of years of jurisprudence.”
This is a tremendous victory for the citizens along the Gulf Coast that have been harmed by BP’s actions. With this ruling, residents and businesses along the Gulf Coast will hear the truth about the extent of the damage BP caused the State to suffer and how truly bad BP’s conduct was.
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