Judge sinks Hood's water suit

John O'Brien Feb. 5, 2008, 1:58pm



ABERDEEN, Miss. - A federal judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit that was filed by the State of Mississippi and was being handled by a campaign contributor to state Attorney General Jim Hood.

Judge Glen Davidson of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi said his court was not the proper venue for the case, which accuses the City of Memphis of diverting millions of gallons of water a day away from Mississippi.

Don Barrett gave $5,000 to Hood's 2003 campaign and was on board with the suit when it was filed in 2005, along with attorneys from Daniel, Coker, Horton & Bell in Oxford, Miss., and attorney George B. Ready.

Davidson said the suit should include the State of Tennessee and be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"After hearing oral argument and receiving briefs regarding the court's jurisdiction over this matter, the court rules that the State of Tennessee is a necessary and indispensable party to this action pursuant to Rule 19 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure," Davidson wrote.

"This court, however, is not empowered to join Tennessee as a party to this action because original and exclusive jurisdiction of disputes between States resides with the United States Supreme Court..."

The complaint, also filed against the Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division, says Memphis is the largest city in the world that relies on artesian well water.

"(A)pproximately one-third of the City of Memphis' artesian water supply, or about 60 million gallons per day, comes from high-quality aquifer groundwater unreasonably and unlawfully diverted and withdrawn by MLGW from underneath lands situated exclusively within the State of Mississippi, and belong to the State and the overlying residential, commercial, agricultural and municipal owners of these groundwater resources..." the complaint says.

The State sought repayment for water it believes was unfairly taken since 1985 -- an estimated $1 billion, according to a report by The Associated Press.

Attorneys for Memphis argued the complaint did not show any actual injury that had taken place.

"Plaintiff avers that injunctive relief is necessary because Defendants' conduct would otherwise continue 'until the groundwater quantities and qualities are jeopardized or damaged,'" their motion to dismiss says.

"The inescapable corollary to this allegation is that Mississippi's groundwater quantities and qualities are not yet jeopardized or damaged."

Barrett, who told the AP that the State would appeal, is also currently leading the Katrina Litigation Group, formerly known as the Scruggs Katrina Group.

Several firms make up the KLG, though the Scruggs Law Firm dropped out after nationally known plaintiffs attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs was indicted with four others on federal charges that they attempted to bribe a state court judge in a dispute over at least $26.5 million in attorneys fees earned in Hurricane Katrina suits.

State Farm Insurance Cos. wants all KLG firms disqualified from all Katrina cases and has also sued Hood, claiming he has been using the threat of reopening a criminal investigation into its claims-handling practices to force civil settlements.

Scruggs and Hood are linked in Katrina litigation by a pair of sisters who copied several thousand confidential documents from State Farm while working at a company that was partnered with State Farm. A federal judge ordered the return of those documents to the companies, but Scruggs gave them to Hood and was indicted for contempt.

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State of Tennessee
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Knoxville, TN 37924

State of Mississippi
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Jackson, MS 39201

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