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Civil penalty claim against BP to move forward

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A U.S. District judge in Hammond has dismissed two counts against gas company BP Products North America, finding he has jurisdiction to hear the claims but deciding not to do so because of similar action ongoing elsewhere.

But U.S. Judge Philip P. Simon is keeping one count against BP alive, holding that he will decide a claim about the gas company starting construction on its Whiting oil refinery before it had obtained a proper state permit.

The 32-page order issued June 26 comes in the nearly one-year-old case of Natural Resources Defense Council v. BP Products North America, No. 2:08-cv-00204. The citizen environmental group alleges that BP violated the Clean Air Act by allowing too much pollution under the permitting it had received, as well as a claim of not getting the proper permit to modernize its Whiting plant. Part of the suit's request is to have BP fined up to $32,500 per day for construction days and for not having the proper permit.

BP filed a motion to dismiss in January, but Judge Simon decided to hear arguments in April before making a decision. After two months of analyzing the decision, the judge granted in part and denied in part the motion.

The court dismissed Counts I and III, which involve claims that BP had deceived state officials about how much pollution it would emit and, as a result, didn't obtain the proper permits that are needed when triggering federal pollution control requirements. Judge Simon found those claims are identical to the ones filed within the Indiana Department of Environmental Management's Office of Environmental Adjudication (OEA), the agency handling those types of environmental appeals that can then be taken to state court, if necessary.

In its arguments, BP said the federal court doesn't have jurisdiction over these claims because of those similar ones raised within the OEA. In his ruling, the judge analyzed two specific U.S. Supreme Court precedents on whether to use his jurisdiction or not - Burford v. Sun Oil Co., 319 U.S. 315 (1943), and Colorado River Water Conservancy Dist. v. U.S., 424 U.S. 800 (1976). Both provide frameworks for how courts should make abstention decisions, but they differ on how to do so; Burford involves special forums for regulation and adjudication, while Colorado River involves an inquiry about whether other litigation or actions can be considered "parallel."

"While I am satisfied that the Court has jurisdiction, I nevertheless think this case really presents a call to be made by the expert environmental agencies that Indiana has selected for the job," Judge Simon wrote, finding that both abstention precedents apply but that Colorado River is more applicable here.

"In sum, the NRDC's suit and the OEA action are parallel proceedings, and my evaluation of the relevant factors leads me to the strong belief that extraordinary circumstances exist here," he wrote. "Despite the starting balance being 'heavily weighed in favor of the exercise of jurisdiction,' I believe abstention under the Colorado River doctrine is appropriate."

But the judge kept the second count in his court's control, deciding that the statute specifically allows for suits seeking "appropriate civil penalties" and that doesn't conflict with the pending OEA action.

A pre-trial conference is set for Aug. 20 before Magistrate Judge Paul Cherry, according to the federal docket online.

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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