Lieff Cabraser Civil Justice Blog

Class Action Lawsuit filed in Refugio Santa Barbara Oil Spill

Class Action Lawsuit Filed in Refugio Santa Barbara Oil Spill

Keller Rohrback LLP and Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP, which represented those affected by the Exxon Valdez oil spill, have filed a class action lawsuit against Plains All American Pipeline, L.P. (NYSE:PAA) and Plains Pipeline, L.P., stemming from the Refugio State Beach oil spill in Santa Barbara.

The class action complaint, filed on behalf of fishers, fish buyers, and other affected businesses, alleges the Texas-based companies negligently operated the 10-mile-long, 24-inch-wide oil pipeline, Line 901, causing a rupture that discharged over 100,000 gallons of crude oil onto beaches and into the Pacific Ocean, creating a slick that stretched for miles, contaminating several State Marine Conservation Areas along the way, and forcing the closure of beaches, fishing grounds, and shellfish operations.

In Santa Barbara, those environmental impacts translate to profound economic impacts. In the short term, the oil from Defendants’ ruptured pipeline closed fishing grounds and shellfish areas, and caused many canceled reservations from tourists who otherwise would be spending their money on hotels, restaurants, kayaking or surf trips, and fishing charters, the complaint says.

“Santa Barbara values and relies on clean beaches and clean oceans,” said Matthew Preusch, an attorney in Keller Rohrback’s Santa Barbara office. “This spill threatens that.”

The complaint was filed on behalf of Keith Andrews, Tiffani Andrews, Sarah Rathbone, Josh Chancer, Joseph Viens, Cort Pierson, and Weihai Zhueng.

Keith and Tiffani Andrews fish for a variety of species, but their primary source of income is trawling for sea cucumbers in the waters off of Refugio State Beach. The Andrews fish for sea cucumbers almost exclusively in the waters that were closed because of the oil spill. That now tainted area is the best habitat for sea cucumbers.

Sarah Rathbone is the owner and sole member of Community Seafood LLC. Community Seafood is a boat to table business: it buys fresh fish from local fishermen and delivers it directly to consumers, who purchase weekly or bi-weekly shares. The week following that spill, Ms. Rathbone did not deliver any shares to her customers due to concerns over oil contamination. Those roughly 350 cancelled shares led to lost revenue of over $6,500 for Community Seafood and Ms. Rathbone.

Josh Chancer is a history teacher at Pacifica High School in Oxnard. In order to augment his public school salary, Mr. Chancer is a commercial fisherman during the summer months. For Mr. Chancer, the timing and location of Plains’ oil spill could not have been worse: it happened in precisely the waters he routinely fishes at precisely the time he routinely fishes.

Joseph Viens owns several ATMs at state parks and beaches along the Gaviota Coast. He makes money from these ATMs by charging people a small service fee to withdraw cash. When Plains spilled oil from its pipeline at Refugio State Beach, Mr. Viens’s business ground to a halt.

Cort Pierson is a fisherman who works on a variety of fishing boats that sail from Santa Barbara, most recently as an urchin diver. The oil spill closed one of the most productive sea urchin fishing grounds in the entire region, and the area in which, but for the oil spill, Mr. Pierson would have been fishing for weeks.

Weihai Zhueng purchases sea cucumbers every day from several different fishing boats during the sea cucumber season in Santa Barbara. As a result of the oil spill and the resulting fishing grounds closure, Mr. Zhueng has found there are fewer sea cucumbers for him to buy, and Mr. Zhueng’s past buyers and potential buyers are already asking Mr. Zhueng about the quality and safety of sea cucumbers caught here.

Robert J. Nelson

“The purpose of this lawsuit is to repair the damage done to local fisherman and businesses, and to hold Plains accountable for all the harm it has wrought on the Santa Barbara community,” said Robert Nelson, a partner in Lieff Cabraser’s San Francisco office.

Plains is no stranger to oil spills. The company has accumulated 175 safety and maintenance infractions since 2006. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration shows Plains’ rate of incidents per mile of pipe is more than three times the national average.

In short, Plains has an ugly tradition of operating pipelines that fail. The communities through which it transports oil suffer the consequences, the complaint alleges.

Keller Rohrback, with offices in Seattle, Phoenix, New York, and Santa Barbara, serves as lead and co-lead counsel in class actions throughout the country. The firm’s Complex Litigation Group is proud to offer its expertise to clients nationwide, and our trial lawyers have obtained judgments and settlements on behalf of clients in excess of seven billion dollars.

Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP is a sixty-plus attorney law firm with offices in San Francisco, New York and Nashville. It is among the largest law firms in the United States that only represent plaintiffs. Since its founding in 1972, Lieff Cabraser has litigated and resolved hundreds of class action lawsuits and thousands of individual cases.

The two firms previously filed cases related to the spill on behalf of Stace Cheverez and affected fisherman, and Mark Hicks, the owner of local tour company Captain Jack’s.

This release may be considered attorney advertising in some areas. Please note that prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.