Crawfish Producers' Suit Revived Against Southern Natural Gas

By William Vogeler, Esq. on March 30, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A judge erred by not reconsidering a decision based on new evidence crawfishermen discovered in a case against a gas company, a federal appeals court said.

The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed an order denying a motion for reconsideration In re. Louisiana Crawfish Producers. The appellate panel said the trial judge should have considered deposition testimony and other evidence acquired after the defendant's motion for summary judgment.

"There are 'two important judicial imperatives' relating to a motion for reconsideration: '(1) the need to bring litigation to an end; and (2) the need to render just decisions on the basis of all the facts,'" Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod wrote in the unanimous opinion.

Crayfish, Crawdads, and Mud Bugs

More than eighty crawfishermen, part of The Lousiana Crawfish Producers Association-West, sued Southern Natural Gas Co. and others for dredging canals and otherwise spoiling fisheries. More than 300 species of crawfish -- also known as crayfish, crawdads, mountain lobsters, and mudbugs -- live in the area.

Because the case involved marine life and canals, it was styled a maritime tort and proceeded in federal court. Early in the case, however, the defendant caught the plaintiffs in a discovery trap.

The plaintiffs had taken the deposition of a gas company representative, who acknowledged the company's dredging in the area, but the transcript was not ready before the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. Having no triable issue to consider the company's liability, the trial judge granted the defendant's motion.

The plaintiffs filed a motion for reconsideration, but the judge denied it. The judge said the evidence was "plainly available or easily discoverable" before the summary judgment.

Only Eight Days Later

On appeal, the Fifth Circuit disagreed. Among other reasons, the court said the plaintiffs received the transcript only eight days after the hearing and within a 30-day time period for supplemental briefing as set forth in the court's scheduling order.

"Plaintiffs presented new, conclusive evidence in their motion for reconsideration pertaining to Southern Natural that they were justified in not presenting earlier," the judges said.

The court reversed the order and vacated the summary judgment, then sent the case back to the trial court.

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