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Property owners suing Exxon Mobil failed to prove that they and other landowners along the Pegasus pipeline have enough in common to merit class-action status, the oil company said in its argument against an appeal of a federal judge's decision dismissing the case.


Rudy Webb, et al v. Exxon Mobil Corporation briefing


"The district court did not abuse its discretion in decertifying the class," Exxon Mobil and subsidiaries Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. and Mobil Pipe Line Co. said in an 83-page document filed in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.

"Appellants failed to meet their burden to demonstrate the commonality, typicality and adequacy requirements" under federal civil procedural rules "because the class claims could not be resolved without extensive individual inquiries into the state of the pipeline on each individual landowner's property," Exxon Mobil wrote in the document filed Thursday.

"More specifically, the record demonstrates that the pipeline has been repaired in some sections and completely replaced in others," it added.

Thomas Thrash, an attorney for plaintiffs Arnez and Charletha Harper and Rudy and Betty Webb, said Friday that he and the plaintiffs' other attorneys were confident about their position in their appeal.

"Exxon doesn't raise any new issues," Thrash said in an email.

The Harpers and the Webbs filed the complaint in April 2013 in U.S. District Court in Little Rock in response to an oil spill in Mayflower. The Pegasus pipeline, made in 1947-48, cracked open in the Northwoods subdivision March 29, 2013, and spilled tens of thousands of gallons of thick crude into the neighborhood, drainage ditches and a cove of Lake Conway.

Judge Brian Miller originally granted the lawsuit class-action status on behalf of landowners whose property was crossed by Exxon Mobil's Pegasus pipeline that runs from Corsicana, Texas, to Patoka, Ill. In March, though, Miller reversed his own ruling and dismissed the case. The property owners soon appealed to the 8th Circuit.

In responding to the appeal, Exxon Mobil also argued that Miller was correct to decertify the class because the federal Pipeline Safety Act "precludes the use of state law to impose safety standards upon the operation of an interstate pipeline like the Pegasus Pipeline."

That's exactly what the plaintiffs were trying to do, Exxon Mobil said. They were "demanding repair, replacement, or removal of the pipeline based upon their belief that the pipeline is unsafe."

"This ruling doomed plaintiffs' class certification motion, as well as their individual claims," Exxon Mobil said.

The district court also correctly rejected individual claims because Exxon Mobil had no contractual duty under the land easements to repair and maintain the pipeline, the oil company said.

It also noted that the appellants did not own property damaged by the oil rupture in Mayflower.

"The undisputed proof in this case established that no oil leaked on appellants' property," the company said.

The 650-mile-long segment of the Pegasus pipeline covered in the lawsuit has been shut down since shortly after the Mayflower accident. Only the pipeline's remaining 211-mile stretch, which runs from Corsicana to Nederland, Texas, has resumed service.

State Desk on 01/23/2016

Print Headline: Exxon insists class-action denial correct


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