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•  court - Legal News


A federal appeals court panel has reaffirmed its ruling that BP is liable for federal Clean Water Act damages stemming from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the latest loss for the oil giant as it fights court decisions that could ultimately bring $18 billion in penalties.

The three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected arguments that there were errors in its June 4 ruling on BP's Clean Water Act liability. The ruling released Wednesday night is not the final say from the court. BP and its minority partner in the Macondo well, Anadarko Petroleum Corp., have a request pending for the full 15-member court to reconsider the issue.

The June order and Wednesday's follow-up were issued by Judges Fortunato Benavides, Carolyn Dineen King and James Dennis. They upheld U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier's ruling holding the well owners are liable.

BP and Anadarko had argued they were not liable because equipment failure on the leased rig Deepwater Horizon caused the April 2010 disaster. An explosion on the rig killed 11 workers and sent millions of gallons of oil spewing into the Gulf in what became the nation's worst offshore oil disaster.

Barbier has also ruled that BP was "grossly negligent" in the disaster. BP has asked Barbier to reconsider that finding, which, if it stands, would be a factor in whether the water act penalties for the company reach an estimated $18 billion.

Under the Clean Water Act, a polluter can be forced to pay from $1,100 to $4,300 per barrel of spilled oil. The higher limit applies if the company is found grossly negligent — as BP was in Barbier's ruling. But penalties can be assessed at lower amounts.

Government experts estimated that 4.2 million barrels spilled into the Gulf. BP has urged Barbier to use an estimate of 2.45 million barrels in calculating any Clean Water Act penalties.

Barbier has scheduled a trial in January to help decide how much BP owes in federal Clean Water Act penalties.



"Today the Oklahoma Supreme Court handed the women of Oklahoma a crucial victory by protecting their constitutional rights and restoring critical options for those seeking safe and legal abortion services," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is supporting efforts to fight the laws.

"Time and time again, courts are seeing that the true motive behind these underhanded and baseless restrictions is to push essential reproductive health care services out of reach for as many women as possible," she said.

A message seeking comment from Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt was not immediately returned. A spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin said the governor was on the road on Election Day and was unsure if she could be reached for comment.

The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit in October on behalf of an Oklahoma doctor who performs nearly half the state's abortions, seeking to block the law requiring admitting privileges law.

The physician, Dr. Larry Burns, said he had applied for admitting privileges at 16 nearby hospitals but had yet to get approval from any facility.

When Burns filed his lawsuit in October, Fallin — who signed the legislation into law in May— said she believed abortion was wrong and that she had been "proud to work with lawmakers in both parties to support legislation that protects the health and lives of both mothers and their unborn children."

Appeals court takes on NSA surveillance case

•  Headline Legal News     updated  2014/11/04 15:35


A conservative gadfly lawyer who has made a career of skewering Democratic administrations is taking his battle against the National Security Agency's telephone surveillance program to a federal appeals court.

Activist attorney Larry Klayman won the first round in December, when U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, a Republican appointee, ruled that the NSA's surveillance program likely runs afoul of the Constitution's ban on unreasonable searches. The government appealed.

In court filings in preparation for Tuesday's argument, the Justice Department told three Republican-nominated appeals judges that collecting the phone data is of overriding and compelling importance to the nation's security.

Former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden revealed the phone data collection effort a year and a half ago, triggering a debate over privacy rights and surveillance.

In New York, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit recently heard arguments in an appeal of a judge's opinion that found the surveillance program legal.

The three appeals judges in the Washington case have generally come down on the government's side on national security issues.

Appeals court in Va. reviewing NC abortion law

•  National News     updated  2014/10/30 11:06


North Carolina's solicitor general on Wednesday urged a federal appeals court to revive a state law that would require abortion providers to show and describe an ultrasound of the fetus to the pregnant woman, even if the patient refuses to look or listen.

John Maddrey told a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the provision adds "relevant, truthful, real-time information" to North Carolina's informed consent law. The state is appealing U.S. District Judge Catharine Eagles' ruling in January that the mandate violates abortion providers' free-speech rights.

North Carolina's solicitor general on Wednesday urged a federal appeals court to revive a state law that would require abortion providers to show and describe an ultrasound of the fetus to the pregnant woman, even if the patient refuses to look or listen.

John Maddrey told a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the provision adds "relevant, truthful, real-time information" to North Carolina's informed consent law. The state is appealing U.S. District Judge Catharine Eagles' ruling in January that the mandate violates abortion providers' free-speech rights.

Court in Va. examines death row isolation policy

•  National News     updated  2014/10/28 14:20


Virginia's practice of automatically holding death row inmates in solitary confinement will be reviewed by a federal appeals court in a case that experts say could have repercussions beyond the state's borders.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema in Alexandria ruled last year that around-the-clock isolation of condemned inmates is so onerous that the Virginia Department of Corrections must assess its necessity on a case-by-case basis. Failure to do so, she said, violates the inmates' due process rights.

The state appealed, arguing that the courts should defer to the judgment of prison officials on safety issues. A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments Tuesday.

The lawsuit was filed by Alfredo Prieto, who was on California's death row for raping and murdering a 15-year-old girl when a DNA sample connected him to the 1988 slayings of George Washington University students Rachel Raver and Warren Fulton III in Reston. He also was sentenced to death in Virginia, where he has spent most of the last six years alone in a 71-square-foot cell at the Sussex I State Prison.

Some capital punishment experts say a victory by Prieto could prompt similar lawsuits by death row inmates elsewhere.

"It gives them a road map," said northern Virginia defense attorney Jonathan Sheldon, who noted that the due process claim succeeded where allegations of cruel and unusual punishment have routinely failed. "It's not that common to challenge conditions of confinement on due process grounds."



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