A federal judge in New Orleans has agreed to delay another oil spill lawsuit -- as requested by BP PLC -- while a federal judge in Mobile, Ala., has denied a similar request. The two decisions this week continue the nearly 50-50 split that has emerged on the question whether to stay or not to stay oil spill cases.
To date, 17 stays have been denied and 16 stays have been approved, according to plaintiffs' attorney Daniel Becnel Jr. of Becnel Law Firm in Reserve, La., who has several oil spill cases and has been tracking stay decisions.
In a June 2 order, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman of the Eastern District of Louisiana concluded that a stay in Bill's Oyster House v. BP PLC would best serve the interests of judicial economy.
"The present litigation compels a stay," Feldman wrote. "With at least seventy lawsuits in different districts, the defendants face the burden of litigating in multiple jurisdictions. More importantly, between the various lawyers and judges on the cases, there is a grave potential for conflicting discovery orders."
Feldman held that the hardships of a few months' delay for the plaintiffs is outweighed by the hardships of proceeding with discovery for the defendants and the interests of judicial economy.
In a June 1 order, U.S. Magistrate Judge William Cassady of the Southern District of Alabama denied BP's and Halliburton Energy Services Inc.'s motion to stay proceedings in Shores West Beach Investments LLC v. Transocean Holdings Inc. Cassady did not offer an explanation, stating only that "the motion for stay ... is DENIED without prejudice to the defendants' ability to re-file same after responsive pleadings have been filed."
Becnel, who represents plaintiffs in the Bill's Oyster House case, is preparing to argue against a stay in another case before U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans today.
"It's judicial chaos," Becnel said of the split in stay orders. "It makes no sense to have 30-some judges hear the same motions ... and then split up evenly. That just wastes a lot of lawyers' time."
For more coverage, see The National Law Journal's Gulf Spill Scorecard.