In wake of BP spill, AG Hood pleads for rules change

John O'Brien Jun. 2, 2010, 1:16pm


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood urged members of the House Judiciary Committee to keep lawsuits, including a potential one over the BP oil spill, out of federal court Thursday.

Hood testified that things will run smoother in state courts, claiming that "corporate wrongdoers" will use stalling tactics in a federal venue. Hood also proposed a few legislative changes during his testimony.

"When companies are allowed to remove to federal court every action brought against them in state court, as is routinely practiced, it causes a breakdown in the system due to overloaded federal dockets," Hood said.

"When it is a state itself who is the plaintiff party in interest, this encroachment on state sovereignty is a particular insult."

Hood filed a lawsuit against five insurance companies weeks after 2005's Hurricane Katrina. The BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig exploded off the Louisiana coast April 20, killing 11 workers, and the cause of an underwater leak has yet to be plugged.

Hood wants legislation that would prohibit any action initiated by a state to be removed to federal court.

"It has become far too commonplace for defendants to seek removal of actions instituted by a state on the basis that the action implicates federal issues," he said.

Hood also wants federal courts to impose penalties on defendants who file "frivolous notices of removal," and encourages legislation that keeps federal courts from enjoining state court actions if the federal court determines it is necessary.

Lastly, Hood says states shouldn't have to grant limited liability exemptions to vessel owners. Transocean Ltd., the owner of the rig, has filed a petition that seeks to cap its liability at $26 million for the spill.

Hood is one of five Gulf State attorneys general, including Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, taking part in a task force to establish a claims process for those affected by the spill.

"Endorsement of the procedure by the state attorneys general would encourage greater participation in it, thereby reducing the need for future prolonged litigation," he said, adding that there must not be a cap on individual payments and each claimant must be able to pursue legal action in the future.

"BP individually has informally made these commitments to us," Hood said.

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