Levee authority asks judge to rule on constitutionality of law that would scuttle lawsuit

The local Flood Protection Authority asked a federal judge Tuesday for an expedited ruling on the constitutionality of a new state law that seeks to kill its lawsuit against oil and gas companies for damaging coastal wetlands.

The filing comes a day before attorneys for both sides have a status conference on the suit before U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown.

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East filed the historic suit in July 2013, alleging that energy companies had increased its cost of hurricane protection by destroying wetlands that had acted as buffers against storm surge.

There was immediate pushback from key legislators and Gov. Bobby Jindal, who threatened to pass a law to retroactively kill the suit.

The result was Act 544. It limits which government agencies can sue oil and gas companies — and excludes the Flood Protection Authority.

Lawyers for the flood authority claim the law violates several portions of the state constitution:

  • Separation of powers

  • A protection against laws that apply to just one entity

  • The public trust doctrine, which requires protection and conservation of natural resources

  • Two issues related to the passage of the law itself, including a requirement that local bills are advertised in the state’s official journals before the Legislature convenes.

The filing isn’t a surprise. In July, lead plaintiffs attorney Gladstone Jones said he expected the legal fight over the constitutionality of the law to take at least three months. Whoever loses, he said, probably will appeal.

Lawmakers behind the bill have said they carefully crafted the bill to meet the expected legal challenges.

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About Bob Marshall

From 2013 to 2017, Bob Marshall covered environmental issues for The Lens, with a special focus on coastal restoration and wetlands. While at The Times-Picayune, his work chronicling the people, stories and issues of Louisiana’s wetlands was recognized with two Pulitzer Prizes and other awards. In 2012 Marshall was a member of the inaugural class inducted into the Loyola University School of Communications Den of Distinction.

  • Chris McLindon

    The poison pill appears to be playing out exactly as planned. Over $10 million in accrued expenses and the meter is still running. The longer it takes to play out, the more attorney’s make. At some point the levee board should think about saving some of the money for flood protection infrastructure.

  • nickelndime

    City attorneys grow up fast here. Before you know it, they become U.S. District Judges. It’s like “dog” years. And they wonder why most people don’t trust attorneys and the legal system. Cha Ching$$$ $pend dat money. Dere’s more from where dat came from – da public trough!

  • dimdingledon

    An attempt at additional three months pay check for Barry’s-secret-hand-picked trial-attorney. Not a bad gig. Guaranteed millions if the contract is cancelled and billions if is not. However, the SLFPA-E did not cancel the contract, state law did. So the poison pill clause is only applicable if the SLFPA-E cancels the lawsuit. SOL.