The Justice Department today entered the litigation fray over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, suing a division of the oil giant BP PLC and eight other defendants for alleged safety and occupational violations.
The suit filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana comes amid an ongoing criminal investigation of the oil spill, which followed an explosion and fire in April that killed 11 workers.
The suit [.pdf] thrusts the government into the sometimes challenging world of parallel criminal and civil proceedings. The Justice Department also said in the complaint it reserves the right to conduct administrative proceedings against the defendants.
“It is difficult to have parallel proceedings going on at the same time,” said Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., addressing reporters this afternoon at Main Justice. “We need to be careful to make sure that we don’t do anything that violates any of the rules that we have to follow on the criminal side while at the same time proceeding on the civil side. It’s been a little tricky.”
Defendants in the suit include BP Exploration and Production Inc., Transocean Deepwater Inc. and Anadarko Exploration & Production L.P. “We intend to prove that these defendants are responsible for government removal costs, economic losses and environmental damages without limitation,” Holder said in a statement today.
The filing of the 27-page complaint, which alleges BP and other corporations failed to keep the oil well under control before the April 20 explosion, will become part of the multidistrict litigation pending before Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans, who was tapped in August to preside over private wrongful death, environmental and economic damages actions against BP.
Assistant Attorney General Tony West said government lawyers will coordinate centralized discovery with the plaintiffs’ attorneys handling 77 actions and more than 200 potential tag-along cases. Halliburton Co. is a defendant in some of the private cases; the government did not name Halliburton in today’s suit.
West said the government’s coordination effort “really promotes the best interest of justice and it promotes judicial efficiency.”