In Germany v. ConocoPhillips Co., 2007-1145 (La. App. 3 Cir. 3/5/08), — So. 2d –, the Third Circuit upheld the trial court’s ruling that under Act 312 a single trial of all issues should be held prior to referring a case to the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (“LDNR”) for the development of a remediation plan.
In Germany, the plaintiff landowners sued four oil and gas corporations for the remediation of property allegedly damaged by oil and gas operations. ConocoPhillips filed a motion in limine arguing that under Act 312 (codified as La. R.S. 30:29) trial must proceed in three stages. ConocoPhillips argued that the three stages involve: first, a trial to determine whether environmental damage occurred, and if so, the party/parties liable for such damage; second, a referral to LDNR to develop a remediation plan; and third, a trial where the court enters a judgment regarding the remediation plan and determines whether there are any damages incurred by Plaintiff not addressed in the remediation plan. If any unaddressed damages exist, then another trial is to be held on those claims. The Plaintiffs argued that Act 312 does not call for such a bifurcation of the issues and both the trial court and Court of Appeal agreed.
The Court of Appeal based its decision, in part, on the decision of the Louisiana Court of Appeal for the Fourth Circuit in Duplantier Family Partnership v. BP Amoco, 07-293 (La. App. 4 Cir. 5/16/07), 955 So. 2d 763, writs denied, 07-1241, 07-1265, 07-1271 (La. 9/28/07), 964 So. 2d 367, 368. In Duplantier, the Fourth Circuit held that “all claims, both tort and contractual, should be considered at the same time in order to determine the full extent of damages owed to the property owner.” It also stated that “one trial of all issues” serves the interests of judicial efficiency, was the “most plausible interpretation of the statute,” and noted that the bifurcation of trials requires the consent of the parties under Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure articles 1562 and 1736. The Third Circuit in Germany agreed with the court’s reasoning in Duplantier and held that the trial court must resolve all the issues in the matter before it is referred to the LDNR.
For another case involving the same issue of a bifurcated trial under Act 312, see Bernard v. BP America Production Company, 2007-1249 (La. App. 3 Cir. 4/2/08), — So. 2d –.