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Coastal lawsuits aim to grab money, not restore land

See below for LLAW Executive Director Melissa Landry’s column about coastal lawsuits and the greed, instead of environmental concerns, that motivates them. The column originally ran in the Louisiana Record.

Gladstone Jones, a high-powered New Orleans personal injury lawyer, quietly filed several lawsuits on behalf of private property owners – mostly large, out-of-state landowners – against energy companies in Plaquemines and Jefferson parishes late last year.

These lawsuits, filed in the 24th and 25th Judicial District Courts last month, are not Jones’ first attempt to make money off of the hot-button issue. Jones is the same attorney hired by the South Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E), which filed similar litigation targeting many of the same defendants for the same types of damages back in 2013. According to the New York Times, Jones expected the SLFPA-E lawsuit to net “many billions of dollars. Many, many billions of dollars.”

After the Louisiana Legislature passed a bill to kill the SLFPA-E lawsuit, which is now pending in state and federal courts, the new private landowner lawsuits give Jones the proverbial second bite at the apple.

But Jones is not the only attorney going after the forbidden fruit. John Carmouche, with the firm Talbot, Carmouche & Marcello, which has also made millions suing Louisiana’s energy producers, filed lawsuits on behalf of different entities – Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes – targeting many of the same defendants and seeking similar damages (known as the “Parish Coastal Lawsuits”). These trial lawyers are clearly in a race to the courthouse to see who can drum up lawsuits and collect their fees the fastest.

Previously, these two personal injury lawyers seemed content to stay out of each other’s way. But the new private landowner lawsuits are clearly part of Jones’s strategy to edge out Carmouche and ultimately control the debate over coastal litigation by dominating as many cases as possible. The allegations are so similar that, in some parts of his lawsuits, Jones did not bother writing his own allegations; he simply referenced the Carmouche petition. In other parts he even has the same typographical errors as the Carmouche petition, which appear to be copied and pasted. On the substantive side of things, neither lawsuit identifies any specific land loss caused by energy exploration activities; they merely provide a comprehensive list of oil wells and other permitted projects undertaken in the area by the defendants.

While we are used to seeing this “copycat” tactic in legacy litigation, the damages usually pertain to different properties. What is most troubling about the competing litigation filed in Plaquemines and Jefferson parishes is that Jones and Carmouche rely on similar legal theories and seek similar types of damages on the same property. Legally, it appears both lawsuits cannot ultimately be successful. Even the case that started the legacy lawsuit business, Corbello v. Iowa Production, recognizes the injustice of double payment. Corbello, 2002-0826 ( La. 02/25/03), 850 So. 2d 686, 714 (discussing a credit to offset any double payments for the same damages).

The bottom line: some may see these two cases as local governments versus private landowner, but the true competition is Jones v. Carmouche in a fight over what they surely hope will be millions of dollars in legal fees.

Tell us what you think on Twitter @ReformLouisiana #JusticeorGreed.

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