US District Judge Sends Exxon Class Action Suit Back to State Court

Class action suit filed by landowners near Lake Conway names ExxonMobil and David L. Raulston, maintenance and operations technician for the pipeline in Faulkner County as defendants.
LITTLE ROCK, AR -- U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson has ruled that a lawsuit filed against ExxonMobil must be heard in  Faulkner County Circuit Court.

In an order filed Friday, Wilson remanded the case back to state court after Exxon removed it to federal court, saying one of the defendants was fraudulently joined to the lawsuit and that the other parties are citizens of different states.

A class action suit filed by landowners near Lake Conway in June names ExxonMobil Corporation, ExxonMobil Pipeline Company, Mobile Pipeline Company and David L. Raulston, the maintenance and operations technician for the pipeline in Faulkner County as defendants. Since Raulston lives in Arkansas, the argument was made that the case should take place in state court, even though the rest of the defendants are not citizens of the Natural State.

Exxon claimed the trial should be moved to federal court because Raulston was "fraudulently joined" to the lawsuit, saying he had no involvement in the decisions that ultimately led to the pipeline's rupture, thus rendering his Arkansas citizenship irrelevant.

The plaintiffs argued that Raulston is liable for negligence as the inspector of the pipeline, saying "his failure to adequately inspect and repair the pipeline caused the pipeline's rupture."

In the order, Wilson writes, Based on these allegations, I predict that an Arkansas court would find that Raulston was sufficiently involved in the events surrounding the pipeline’s rupture to be sued for negligence. Since Raulston was responsible for inspecting and repairing the pipeline, I believe an Arkansas court might conclude that he owed a duty to Plaintiffs to exercise ordinary care in inspecting and repairing the pipeline’s electrical equipment. If it’s shown that Raulston failed to exercise ordinary care, and his failure is a proximate cause of Plaintiffs’ damages, he may be liable. Additional discovery may reveal that Raulston cannot be liable. As it stands now, however, there
is a reasonable basis in both fact and law for predicting that Raulston might be liable to Plaintiffs."

This is one of two class action lawsuits filed against ExxonMobil stemming from the March 29 spill in Mayflower.

The United States Government and State of Arkansas also filed a joint lawsuit against the oil giant, which is set for trial June 16, 2014.

To read the order, open the attachment above.
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