Three Mexican states have asked the US Supreme Court to overturn a Fifth Circuit ruling that found the Mexican states lacked standing to sue BP PLC for coastline damage as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. You may recall that we previously reported Judge Barbier found that only Mexican federal officials have standing to assert claims against BP and other named defendants, and this Fifth Circuit decision uphold that finding.
One of the initial primary arguments concerned who actually owned certain islands that were allegedly contaminated with oil because ownership could have arguably conferred standing to sue. The states of Quintana Roo, Tamaulipas and Veracruz argued that based on their constitutions, there was at least a disputed issue of fact as to who owned the islands. The states are also seeking review of the Fifth Circuits’ conclusion on whether federal ownership over the lands means only the Mexican federal government can sue for damages to the affected lands. The Fifth Circuit found that only the Mexican federal government could pursue damages, but the states have argued that an interest protected by law is all that is required to have standing to file suit. Their stated interest is purportedly established by Mexican environmental law which grants the states the power to act “in matters of ecological balance preservation and restoration and environmental protection.”
In making this argument, the states are essentially challenging long-standing maritime precedent established by the Supreme Court in Robins Dry Dock & Repair Co. v. Flint. In that case, the High Court held that a charterer of a ship damaged by a dry dock could not sue the dry dock operator because it did not have a “proprietary interest” in the ship. Robins Dry Dock effectively limits standing to plaintiffs who suffer physical damage to some property in which the plaintiff has a “proprietary interest.” The states also highlighted a conflict with a Ninth Circuit opinion, finding the city of Sausalito’s proprietary interests were not confined to protection of real property.
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