January 30, 2023
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Judge denies Plains’ request to delay oil spill lawsuit


A U.S. district judge denied Plains All American Pipeline’s request to put a six-month hold on the class-action lawsuit stemming from the Refugio oil spill.

Judge Philip Gutierrez issued an order on Feb. 25 that denied Plains’ motion because Plains did not make a clear case on how a delay, or stay in legalese, would benefit the case. Also, a stay could damage the putative class members seeking damages, the court said.

Plains has not provided a single case where the court granted a similar stay and established precedent, according to the order.

“Defendants have offered no plausible argument for why that goal (to provide appropriate relief to those injured by oil spills) would be better served by forcing those injured by the Line 901 spill to wait an additional six months, during which they risk prematurely releasing their claims without understanding the scope of their potential recovery,” the order reads.

The plaintiffs argue that many of the workers impacted by the spill are out of a job and could go out of business in the future.

“A delay cannot be justified in the light of the…continuing lack of full compensation to the putative class members,” the plaintiffs wrote.

The Houston-based oil producer has received 411 claims for those who had incurred damages following the May 19 spill caused by Plains All American Pipeline’s heavily corroded Line 901 in Gaviota; 175 had been resolved and 61 were denied as of Dec. 15. Plains said that it is still receiving claims on top of the 175 it still has to process.

Plains argued that those seeking claims are not entitled to “double recovery for the same harm.” The court cited The Oil Pollution Act implemented following the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 that states that short-term damages “shall not preclude recovery by the claimant for damages not reflected in the paid or settled partial claim.”

Keller Rohrback, Cappello & Noel and Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein filed an amended class-action suit on Dec. 15 asserting that Plains is asking the claimants to forfeit the right to file or take part in any other claim in order to receive payment in the interim.

Co-founder of Channel Islands Outfitters Fraser Kersey said he was mislead by a Plains representative when seeking short-term damages, according to the lawsuit.

“He did not tell me that I also had the option of joining the existing class action,” Kersey wrote in the lawsuit.

The hearing for the class-action lawsuit will take place at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 29.

• Contact Alex Kacik at akacik@pacbiztimes.com.