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In re Deepwater Horizon

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

April 29, 2019

In re: Deepwater Horizon
v.
BP EXPLORATION & PRODUCTION, INCORPORATED; BP AMERICA PRODUCTION COMPANY; BP, P.L.C.; TRANSOCEAN, LIMITED; TRANSOCEAN OFFSHORE, INCORPORATED; TRANSOCEAN DEEPWATER, INCORPORATED; TRANSOCEAN HOLDINGS, INCORPORATED; ANADARKO PETROLEUM CORPORATION COMPANY; ANADARKO E&P ONSHORE, L.L.C., formerly known as Anadarko E&P Company, L.P.; MOEX OFFSHORE 2007, L.L.C.; MOEX USA CORPORATION; MITSUI OIL EXPLORATION COMPANY, LIMITED; MITSUI & COMPANY, LIMITED; HALLIBURTON ENERGY SERVICES, INCORPORATED; CAMERON INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION, agent of Cooper Cameron Corporation; TRITON ASSET LEASING, Defendants - Appellees SARAH GRAHAM; MAX MURRAY; RICHARD WOOD; JOHN BURRUS, Plaintiffs - Appellants KIMBERLY DEAGANO, Individually and on behalf of minor, Dereck J. Deagano; TED DEAGANO, JR.; KEITH KEAGHEY, Plaintiffs - Appellants
v.
BP EXPLORATION & PRODUCTION, INCORPORATED; BP AMERICA PRODUCTION COMPANY; BP, P.L.C.; TRANSOCEAN, LIMITED; TRANSOCEAN OFFSHORE, INCORPORATED; TRANSOCEAN DEEPWATER, INCORPORATED; TRANSOCEAN HOLDINGS, INCORPORATED; ANADARKO PETROLEUM CORPORATION COMPANY; ANADARKO E&P ONSHORE, L.L.C., formerly known as Anadarko E&P Company, L.P.; MOEX OFFSHORE 2007, L.L.C.; MOEX USA CORPORATION; MITSUI OIL EXPLORATION COMPANY, LIMITED; MITSUI & COMPANY, LIMITED; HALLIBURTON ENERGY SERVICES, INCORPORATED; CAMERON INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION, agent of Cooper Cameron Corporation; TRITON ASSET LEASING, Defendants - Appellees JAMES BRYANT; HENRY JENKINS; STEVEN BURKE; WILLIE RICHARDSON; NATHAN S. SOUTHERN; MARION G. BAREFOOT; BARON BUSKELL; JOHNNIE CLOPTON; TOMMY TRIPP, Plaintiffs - Appellants
v.
BP EXPLORATION & PRODUCTION, INCORPORATED; BP AMERICA PRODUCTION COMPANY; BP, P.L.C.; TRANSOCEAN, LIMITED; TRANSOCEAN OFFSHORE, INCORPORATED; TRANSOCEAN DEEPWATER, INCORPORATED; TRANSOCEAN HOLDINGS, INCORPORATED; TRITON ASSET LEASING; ANADARKO PETROLEUM CORPORATION COMPANY; ANADARKO E&P ONSHORE, L.L.C., formerly known as Anadarko E&P Company, L.P.; MOEX OFFSHORE 2007, L.L.C.; MOEX USA CORPORATION; MITSUI OIL EXPLORATION COMPANY, LIMITED; MITSUI & COMPANY, LIMITED; HALLIBURTON ENERGY SERVICES, INCORPORATED; CAMERON INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION, agent of Cooper Cameron Corporation, Defendants - Appellees THOMAS S. ABOOD; LATASHA ACOO; JOHN H. ADAMS; MICHELLE AKKAN; MUSTAFFA AKKAN, ET AL, Plaintiffs - Appellants
v.
PLANT PERFORMANCE SERVICES, L.L.C., doing business as P2S; FLUOR ENTERPRISES, INCORPORATED; BP EXPLORATION & PRODUCTION, INCORPORATED; BP AMERICA PRODUCTION COMPANY; BP, P.L.C.; O'BRIEN'S RESPONSE MANAGEMENT, L.L.C., formerly known as O'Brien's Response Management, Incorporated, Defendants - Appellees MICHAEL ABNEY; CARA ALDRICH; GARRY AMMAR; DAVID BANKS; SONAMEKIA BANKS; ET AL, Plaintiffs - Appellants
v.
PLANT PERFORMANCE SERVICES, L.L.C., doing business as P2S; FLUOR ENTERPRISES, INCORPORATED; BP EXPLORATION & PRODUCTION, INCORPORATED; BP AMERICA PRODUCTION COMPANY; BP, P.L.C.; O'BRIEN'S RESPONSE MANAGEMENT, L.L.C., formerly known as O'Brien's Response Management, Incorporated, Defendants - Appellees

          Appeals from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

          Before ELROD, WILLETT, and DUNCAN, Circuit Judges.

          STUART KYLE DUNCAN, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         "This case presents another in the line of cases related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill." In re Deepwater Horizon (Barrera), 907 F.3d 232, 233 (5th Cir. 2018). The more than eight hundred appellants, who assert various contract and tort claims arising out of the oil clean-up, are divided into two groups: the "Lindsay Appellants" and the "D'Amico Appellants." Both groups separately appeal their with-prejudice dismissals for failure to follow the district court's order requiring they file individual complaints. The district court unquestionably had authority to issue the order as a sensible means of managing multi-district litigation we have described as "epic." In re Deepwater Horizon (Seacor Holdings), 819 F.3d 190, 197 (5th Cir. 2016). And the district court unquestionably has authority to dismiss parties' claims with prejudice for disobeying its docket management orders. At the same time, however, to justify wielding dismissal-with-prejudice as a sanction, our precedents demand "a clear record of delay or contumacious conduct." Barrera, 907 F.3d at 235 (internal quotations omitted). We fail to find that clear record as to one of the two groups before us, the D'Amico Appellants.

         We therefore affirm the district court's judgment as to the Lindsay Appellants. As to the D'Amico Appellants, however, we reverse and remand.

         I.

         A.

         As part of its herculean efforts overseeing MDL 2179, the district court created eight "pleading bundles" for various categories of cases and claims. See, e.g., Ctr. for Biological Diversity, Inc. v. BP Am. Prod. Co., 704 F.3d 413, 419 (5th Cir. 2013) (explaining court's use of "'pleading bundles' into . . . which claims of similar nature would be placed for the purpose of filing a master complaint, answers, and any Rule 12 motions"). The two sets of claims we address in this appeal fall into the "B3" bundle, which "include[s] all claims related to post-explosion Clean-Up, Medical Monitoring, and Post-April 20 Personal Injury Claims." As with other categories, claims in the B3 bundle were initially managed through a "master complaint," which plaintiffs could join simply by filing a "short form joinder." See, e.g., In re Deepwater Horizon, 745 F.3d 157, 162 (5th Cir. 2014) (discussing use of master complaint for "pleading bundle 'C'" concerning government claims). Alternatively, plaintiffs who filed individual B3-type lawsuits were deemed part of the B3 bundle, even if they had not filed short-form joinders.

         On February 22, 2017, the district court issued pretrial order 63 ("PTO 63"), dismissing the B3 master complaint and conveying additional instructions to B3 plaintiffs. First, any B3 plaintiff who had filed an individual complaint-defined as "a single-plaintiff complaint without class allegations"-was instructed to complete a sworn statement, which was to be filed and served in the individual lawsuit by April 12, 2017. Failure to do so would result in a complaint being "dismissed with prejudice without further notice." Second, any B3 plaintiff who had only filed a short-form joinder, or was "part of a complaint with more than one plaintiff or a class action," was instructed to file and serve an individual lawsuit, also by April 12, 2017. Failure to do so would similarly result in claims being "dismissed with prejudice without further notice." Finally, the order explained that this second category does not include "complaints that contain related parties, such as a husband and wife or co-owners of a business"-those would instead be considered "individual complaints" under the first category.

         B.

         The Lindsay Appellants comprise hundreds of workers hired by Plant Performance Services, LLP and its parent corporation (collectively, "P2S") to perform clean-up work in the aftermath of the oil spill. After being allegedly "fired . . . through no fault of their own," the Lindsay Appellants filed two multi-plaintiff lawsuits against P2S in Florida, with over eight hundred plaintiffs in total. They also asserted "a third party beneficiary theory" against various BP entities, who had contracted with P2S to provide clean-up services. These two cases were transferred to MDL 2179 in April and May 2013 based on the claims asserted against BP.

         On the April 12, 2017 deadline set by PTO 63, the Lindsay Appellants filed motions for relief from PTO 63. The district court denied relief, but "granted [the Lindsay Appellants] an extension up to and including May 3, 2017 to comply with PTO 63." The Lindsay Appellants, however, submitted no additional filings by the extended deadline. Per the district court's instruction, BP provided the court a list of plaintiffs BP understood to have complied with PTO 63. The Lindsay Appellants did not appear on that list, and the court dismissed their claims with prejudice on July 18, 2017. They filed post-judgment motions under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 59(e) and 60, claiming that P2S-the main target of their lawsuit-was not "a party to the MDL" and that based on communications with the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee ("PSC"), they believed their claims were not part of the B3 bundle. The district court denied those motions, and the Lindsay Appellants sought our review.

         C.

         The D'Amico Appellants are a group of seventeen people who allege personal injuries from exposure to the spilled oil and the chemicals used along the Gulf Coast to disperse that oil. They originally brought two suits in the Eastern District of Louisiana and one in the Northern District of Florida. The Florida case was transferred to MDL 2179 in May 2013. After issuance of PTO 63, the D'Amico Appellants sought advice from the PSC on how it applied to their claims. After conferring with the PSC, they believed that their three lawsuits qualified as "individual lawsuits" under the order and that they were thus required only to file sworn statements. They filed the required statements before the April 12, 2017 deadline. Subsequently, the D'Amico Appellants appeared on BP's court-ordered list of plaintiffs with deficient submissions. On July 18, 2017, the district court dismissed the D'Amico Appellants' claims with prejudice for failing to file individual lawsuits. In subsequent Rule 59(e) motions, ...


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