LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A federal class-action lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corporation over a 2013 crude oil spill in central Arkansas has been dismissed by a federal judge, who acknowledged in his ruling that his decision seems unfair.
U.S. District Judge Brian Miller on Tuesday dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled.
Miller said in a 22-page ruling that he was incorrect in granting class-action status in the case and concluded that the easement contracts Exxon Mobil held with the property owners do not require the company to maintain the pipeline.
Miller said his task was to decide between two options, neither of which seem desirable.
“If Exxon’s position prevails, the message to easement grantors is that they are helpless in attempting to avoid a pipeline oil spill, and have no rights until after the oil starts spewing from the pipeline. And, this does not seem fair,” Miller wrote.
“On the other hand, if plaintiffs’ position prevails, easement grantors would essentially be able to hold pipeline easement holders hostage, threatening them with lawsuits or contract rescission every time the easement grantors possess any notion that the companies are not meeting the easement grantors’ personal safety standards. And, this appears to be neither fair nor commercially acceptable.”
Miller agreed with Exxon Mobil, which argued that Arkansas law interprets the easement contracts “as the mere granting of a right of way, without any affirmative duty to maintain or repair.” He also noted a lack of similarities among class members, which likely would have included thousands of people in Arkansas, Texas, Illinois and Missouri, writing that an oil leak in Illinois “would have no practical effect on a landowner in Texas.”
Exxon Mobil spokesman Christian Flathman said in an email to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the company is “pleased with the Court’s ruling today and believe it properly applied the law to the facts of this case.”
Tom Thrash, an attorney for the two couples who filed the lawsuit, told The Associated Press Wednesday that he could appeal.
“We’re disappointed in the ruling and we just really haven’t had a chance to analyze it,” Thrash said. “An appeal is certainly a possibility.”
The 850-mile-long Pegasus pipeline runs from Texas to Illinois and was closed shortly after the oil spill. A just more than 200-mile segment of the pipeline in Texas has been restarted.
The pipeline ruptured March 29, 2013, in Mayflower, spilling more than 200,000 gallons of crude oil in the town about 25 miles northwest of Little Rock.