At least 85 civil lawsuits filed against BP (et al, Halliburton) in the wake of what may become the worst oil and gas spill ever are being vetted in Boise in July.
The suits—according to Business Week, brought by commercial fishermen, shrimpers, seafood processors, property owners and tourism-related businesses harmed by the spill—could be consolidated in a single federal court. BP wants the cases consolidated in Houston, where its Gulf of Mexico operations are headquartered.
But before they can be consolidated, they must go before an obscure legal review called the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. The panel, comprised of seven federal judges, meets six times a year in various cities across the country to consider such consolidations under U.S. Code 1407. On July 29, it meets in the Federal Building in Boise to consider the Deepwater Horizon spill, among other cases.
“Even though people don’t know about it, it’s been around a while,” said the judicial panel's chief deputy clerk, John Nichols. It was created in 1968, in part to help preserve judicial resources for large, widespread legal disputes.
The JPML gained some notoriety last month when it consolidated civil suits against Toyota for damages related to "sudden, unintended acceleration" to the Central District Court in California, where most of the suits had originated. The suits are consolidated for pre-trial issues that involve the same questions of law, but could return to their original jurisdiction for the actual trial.
In Boise, attorneys will duke it out over which federal court along the Gulf Coast will get first stab at the case against BP.