Hearing Date Set in Refugio Oil Spill Criminal Case, Class Action Advances

The criminal case against Plains All-American Pipeline regarding the 2015 Refugio Oil Spill will next be in court in November for a trial call date, according to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.

A county Grand Jury indicted the company on 46 criminal counts one year after the May 19, 2015, spill, in which a 24-inch Plains crude oil pipeline ruptured and spilled 123,228 gallons onto the coastline and into the ocean near Refugio State Beach on the Gaviota Coast.

Superior Court proceedings thus far have included closed hearings regarding Grand Jury testimony, and a motion by Plains attorneys to move the trial out of Santa Barbara County, which was denied.

Some motions are still awaiting rulings and the possible trial schedule will likely be looked at again at the Nov. 2 hearing.

On a separate track, a class-action lawsuit against Plains has moved forward with certification for the subclass of fisher and fish-industry people, which includes those affected by the fishery closures during the oil spill clean-up.

Lead plaintiffs include companies and individuals who fish for sea cucumbers, shrimp, halibut, rock crab, black cod, squid and California spiny lobster, as well as those who purchase seafood along the Central Coast for processing or retail sale.

Photo: Noozhawk

Attorneys for plaintiffs in the case, including Santa Barbara-based Cappello & Noël, are working to get the other three subgroups class certified by a federal judge, including oceanfront property owners, the business tourism industry, and the oil industry.

The District Court judge consolidated the class-action suits into one case.

The timeline of the civil class-action suit is not impeded or helped by the progress of the criminal case, said Leila Noël of Cappello & Noël. Noël and Barry Cappello are among the lead counsel on the class-action suit.

Noël said the attorneys hope and expect the other plaintiff subclasses will be certified as well, after a  new motion is submitted and another hearing is held.

Cappello & Noël specifically is working with several experts for the plaintiffs, including one who is doing ocean-flow modeling of where the spilled oil went, and a real property expert looking at affected land owners, she said.

U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez’s ruling “certifies the following class to pursue this class action: Persons or entities who owned or worked on a vessel that landed seafood within the California Department of Fish & Wildlife fishing blocks 651 to 657, 664 to 671, 681 to 683, as well as persons or entities who owned or worked on a vessel that landed ground fish, including but not limited to sablefish, halibut and rockfish, in fishing blocks 631 to 633, 637 to 639, 643 to 645, 658 to 659, and 684 to 690, between May 19, 2010 and May 19, 2015 and were in operation as of May 19, 2015, as well as those persons and businesses who purchased and re-sold commercial seafood so landed, at the retail or wholesale level, that were in operation as of May 19, 2015.”

The court also appointed lead counsel for fisheries plaintiffs in this case, including Robert J. Nelson of the firm Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein, LLP; Lynn Sarko and Juli Farris of Keller Rohrback L.L.P.; A. Barry Cappello of the firm Cappello & Noël; and William M. Audet of Audet & Partners.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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