Parish Judge Affirms Denial of Class Certification in Oil Spill Suit

A class action suit occurs when a group of people bring a case together as representatives of an entire class of people who are similarly situated. In order to bring a class action in Louisiana, a judge must certify the class. This means that the class of plaintiffs meets the requirements for their class action to go forward. One of the requirements a class must meet to be certified is that it must have what is known as numerosity. In Louisiana numerosity is defined as meaning that the class is too large for the individual plaintiffs to pursue their claims separately or it is too large for the individual plaintiffs to be joined to the case in a practical manner. The following case illustrates what happens when questions about numerosity arise in a class action.

On May 15, 2009 a vacuum truck owned and operated by Environmental Services, Inc. was driving on Louisiana Highway 27 between Singer and DeQuincy when a valve broke and 300-500 gallons of motor oil leaked out onto the highway. The leak was discovered when the truck arrived in DeQuincy, and the impacted portion of the highway was closed within approximately 15 minutes of the truck’s arrival.

The plaintiffs seeking to certify this class action brought suit alleging that they suffered physical injury due to inhaling the fumes from the spilled motor oil and also alleged that they suffered damage to their vehicles and livestock in their vehicles from driving over the spilled oil. The plaintiffs sought to certify a class that included everyone who drove over the spilled oil before it was cleaned up.

The appeals court stated that while there is no set number required to meet the numerosity requirement, the plaintiffs seeking certification must make a prima facie showing that there is a definable group of class members large enough to make joinder of these parties impracticable. The court further stresses that mere allegations of numerosity, without some further showing, are not enough to meet the requirements for class certificiation.

In this case, he plaintiffs argued that several hundred people drove over the spilled oil before the clean up response, and . The defendants argued that it was not likely that so many people had driven over the oil since the highway was shut down and clean up responses began within 15 minutes of the discovery of the leak. The trial court accepted the defendants’ arguments and refused to certify the class leading to this appeal.

The plaintiffs also argued that the trial court erred in stating that the potential damages in this case were insufficient to rise to the level of a class action and might impact potential parties’ decision to join the class action. The appeals court determined that the trial court’s determination regarding the insufficient numerosity of the class outweighed any concerns regarding the trial court’s statements about potential damages. The appeals court found that the trial court’s statements rose to the level of harmless error at most and was not reversible.

In the end, the appeals court holds that, based on the information provided to the trial court, there was no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s denial of class certification, and affirmed the trial court’s ruling that the plaintiffs failed to make a sufficient showing of numerosity.

Bringing class actions can be very complicated, and it is necessary to have quality legal representation in such cases.

The Berniard Law Firm can provide just such high quality representation in a variety of cases.