Judge urged to vacate oil-suit order

In new filing, plaintiffs say Exxon suppressed evidence

A federal judge should vacate his order dismissing a class-action lawsuit against Exxon Mobil because the oil giant suppressed evidence involving interference with property owned by plaintiffs, attorneys contend in a new filing.

In March, Judge Brian Miller, ruling in U.S. District Court in Little Rock, dismissed the lawsuit filed in response to a March 2013 oil spill in Mayflower on behalf of landowners whose property is physically crossed by Exxon Mobil's Pegasus pipeline from Corsicana, Texas, to Patoka, Ill.

In a document filed Monday night, plaintiffs' attorneys argue that Miller's March 17 order "should be vacated because" of "new material evidence" that they say "would probably result in a different outcome."

The attorneys say that evidence -- filed under seal Tuesday -- "reveals Exxon has engaged in uniform, unreasonable behavior that encompasses the entire pipeline."

In arguments asking the judge to alter or amend his order, attorneys for the original plaintiffs -- Arnez and Charletha Harper and Rudy and Betty Webb -- contend that Exxon Mobil had withheld documents until after it filed a successful motion for summary judgment.

Even then, the plaintiffs say, Exxon Mobil "produced corrupted data containing documents" in an unusable form.

"Exxon's timing of its discovery production after filing its motion for summary judgment placed Plaintiffs in an extremely, unfair position for complete resolution of the case," the plaintiffs added. "This unfair prejudice is heightened by Exxon's production of approximately one million pages of discovery materials, after Exxon filed its Motion for Summary Judgment.

"Since those documents were within Exxon's exclusive control, Exxon should have produced these documents prior to filing its motion for summary judgment," they said.

Asked about the plaintiffs' new filing, Exxon Mobil spokesman Christian Flathman said Tuesday, "We agree with the judge's original order and will respond as appropriate through the court."

The plaintiffs also contend Exxon Mobil "is not entitled to federal preemption [under the Pipeline Safety Act] for violation of private easement terms and covenants, especially where landowners' property is being contaminated."

As evidence, they cite a 1980 letter in which a federal pipeline regulatory official wrote that state or local measures should fully protect landowner and developer rights.

The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that position, the attorneys say.

They further argue that the new evidence necessitates that the federal judge re-examine his decision in March to decertify the lawsuit class, which included landowners in Arkansas, Texas, Missouri and Illinois.

The Pegasus pipeline cracked open on March 29, 2013, and spilled an estimated 210,000 gallons of heavy crude into Mayflower's Northwoods subdivision, drainage ditches and a cove of Lake Conway.

The lawsuit applied to the pipeline's 650-mile northern section, which has been shut down since the accident and which includes the Mayflower segment. The pipeline's remaining 211-mile portion runs from Corsicana, Texas, to Nederland, Texas, and has resumed service.

State Desk on 04/15/2015

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