Where, Oh Where Shall They Sue?

When I was a young law firm associate, we had tobacco, diet drugs, and Jeep rollovers.  These big money-making mass tort cases were known for sucking the life out of young attorneys, who could spend years of their lives in windowless rooms conducting document review tasks that could be performed by highly paid monkeys.  Next year’s class of monkeys will have a whole new nemesis: the Gulf oil spill litigation.

With over 200 federal civil lawsuits already filed, today’s Wall Street Journal outlines the battle shaping up among lawyers over where these cases will be heard, and most importantly, who will hear them.  Arguments on potential consolidation will be heard in one hour next week before a panel of seven judges in Boise, Idaho.  Pay attention, young associates!!  These decisions could determine your future residence, even if you thought you were signing onto a law firm so that you could live in New York.

Plaintiffs include fishermen and injured rig workers; their attorneys, of course, would love to be heard in the Big Easy, where they’re likely to find a sympathetic jury.  Defense attorneys prefer Houston, the self-professed “Oil Capital of the World“, for obvious reasons.  Other suggestions include Lafayette, Louisiana, which is relatively close to witnesses and evidence but whose residents may not be quite as upset with BP as New Orleanians.  Another is to bring an out-of-state judge to New Orleans to hear the case; perhaps unsurprisingly, most federal district judges in NOLA have recused themselves, including one judge with great expertise in mass torts whose son-in-law is a plaintiffs’ attorney in the oil spill litigation.  And of course, the cases might be split between several judges and venues.  For those of you teaching Civil Procedure this fall, I can’t imagine a better set-up to discuss the importance of procedural decisions and the reasons why procedural battles are so hard-fought.

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