As reported by Law360 (subscription), U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez of the Central District of California has issued an order denying an attempt by Plains All American Pipeline to escape liability for the harm its 2015 Refugio State Beach oil spill in Santa Barbara brought to affected property owners after the rupture of one of the company’s onshore pipelines.
The spill occurred when a 10-mile-long, 24-inch-wide Plains oil pipeline ruptured and discharged over 100,000 gallons of crude oil onto land and beaches along the Santa Barbara coastline, destroying properties owned by local residents, businesses and fishers in the community.
As Law360 notes, Judge Gutierrez’ order addresses specifically the subclass of property owners. Judge Gutierrez allowed most of the property class’s claims to proceed, saying they have shown sufficient injury to bring their claims before a jury.
In his assessment, Judge Gutierrez considered the contested issue of whether oil had to directly touch an owner’s property to justify a claim. He determined that “even owners whose property wasn’t touched by oil have enough of a nuisance case that Plains can’t foreclose it.”
“Ultimately, the court concludes that it is up to the jury to determine if plaintiffs’ evidence of the spill of toxic oil on miles of beach rose to the level of nuisance for a ‘reasonable person,’ for the unoiled properties fronting the beach,” he wrote.
The Judge noted that Plains had not persuaded him that owners whose properties were not directly touched by oil could not recover damages for oil contamination. Lieff Cabraser partner Robert J. Nelson, who represents the subclass plaintiffs, commented on the judge’s order, telling Law360, “We are delighted by the court’s ruling and we look forward to trying our claims before a jury.”
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