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Fifth Circuit dismisses lawsuit over energy companies' emissions

By Jessica M. Karmasek | May 17, 2013

NEW ORLEANS (Legal Newsline) -- A federal appeals court this week dismissed repeat claims by a group of Mississippi Gulf Coast residents, who alleged that emissions by energy companies contributed to global warming, which intensified Hurricane Katrina and, in turn, damaged their property.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi dismissed the claims of 11 plaintiffs against more than 30 energy companies -- among them, Duke Energy Corp., Consol Energy Inc., Arch Coal Inc., ExxonMobil Corp. and Shell Oil Co. -- with prejudice.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed, in part, the district court's dismissal.

Before mandate could issue, a majority of the Fifth Circuit's active, unrecused judges voted for rehearing en banc.

After the en banc vote, but before rehearing, an additional judge was recused.

The Fifth Circuit determined it lacked quorum to proceed, and dismissed the appeal.

The plaintiffs filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the U.S. Supreme Court. The nation's high court denied the petition.

The same group of Gulf Coast property owners then filed essentially the same claims against many of the same energy companies in the same district court.

The district court held, among other things, that the doctrine of res judicata barred their claims.

The doctrine prevents the same parties from re-litigating the same issue after a final court decision.

The Fifth Circuit, in its 11-page ruling Tuesday, affirmed the district court's decision on the basis of res judicata.

"At no point was the district court's judgment disturbed," Judge Stephen A. Higginson wrote for the federal appeals court.

"Given that a district court judgment 'is res judicata and entitled to full faith and credit unless and until reversed on appeal,' and that the district court's judgment in Comer I never was reversed or otherwise modified, the judgment was final for the purpose of res judicata."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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