The law firms Lieff Cabraser and Robertson & Associates, LLP announce the filing of a federal class action lawsuit in the Central District of California on behalf of Davey’s Locker Sportfishing, Inc.; Blue Pacific Fisheries; Ivar Southern and Linda Southern; Newport Landing Sportfishing, Inc.; San Pedro Bait Co.; Donald C. Brockman, individually and as trustee of the Donald C. Brockman Trust and Heidi M. Jacques, individually and as trustee of the Heidi M. Brockman Trust; Gregory Hexberg, individually and as trustee of The Gregory C. and Deborah L. Hexberg Family Trust, individually and on behalf of others similarly situated, against Amplify Energy Corporation, Beta Operating Company, and San Pedro Bay Pipeline Company over the October 2021 pipeline rupture and resulting catastrophic oil spill that dumped up to 131,000 gallons of highly toxic crude oil. The spill killed fish and wildlife, forced the closure of fishing blocks and harbors, and soiled world-famous Southern California beaches and beachfront communities.
As of a result of the spill, 23 miles of formerly pristine California coastline, from Huntington Beach to Dana Point, were restricted to the public as the oil spill engulfed beaches, protected wetlands, and harbors. Tar balls likely related to the spill also began washing up on San Diego’s beaches.
As stated in the complaint, “On the evening of Friday, October 1, 2021, an offshore pipeline, owned and operated by Defendants, ruptured. For Defendants, a major oil spill was only a matter of time: federal agencies have cited Defendants for over 125 safety and maintenance violations since 1980, including an oil spill. Of these violations, 72 were so severe that drilling had to be stopped and the problem fixed before operations could be resumed. The most recent safety warning was issued on September 29, 2021, just days before the spill.”
What makes this failure and spill so disastrous is that this pipeline runs under the Pacific Ocean through a precious maritime ecosystem and nearby heavily populated Orange County.
“It is appalling that this spill by Amplify and its partners occurred in the face of more than 125 prior safety and maintenance violations,” stated Lieff Cabraser partner Lexi J. Hazam, who represents the plaintiffs. “These formerly pristine waters are home to hundreds of sensitive animal species, including whales sea and sea turtles, as well as schools of commercial fish and shellfish that serve as the backbone for the local commercial fishing, sports fishing and whale watching industries.” These industries will suffer harms for months if not longer, as the toxic oil fouls the local ecosystems and fisheries.
These industries were not the only victims of this disaster. Property owners and lessees along the coast saw gallons of toxic crude oil wash onto their beaches, fouling their properties and the water that they swim in, and tarnishing the sands and beach activities they enjoy.
“I grew up in Newport and Laguna Beach, where I learned to surf and fish as a teenager,” stated Robertson & Associates partner Alexander “Trey” Robertson IV, who also represents the plaintiffs. “Anyone who has lived here understands how special it is, and has a deep connection to the ocean and beaches. To think that this oil spill could have been averted is deeply disturbing and I look forward to helping hold the responsible parties accountable for this horrific environmental disaster.”
“It is perhaps most disturbing that Amplify and the other co-defendants could have averted this monstrous spill,” noted Lieff Cabraser partner Robert J. Nelson, another attorney on the plaintiffs’ team. “Their failure to maintain and monitor the pipeline led to its rupture. Moreover, their failure to discover their own leak for many hours turned what could have been a containable rupture into an unmitigated environmental disaster.”
The Complaint goes on to note that Amplify and its partners “either lacked or ignored the basic industry-standard safety equipment that would have recognized the telltale signs of a spill: a decrease in the pressure of the pipeline and a change in the flow rate of oil. As recently as 2016, Defendants claimed that their safety system would detect a spill of this magnitude in a matter of minutes. Instead, local residents, fishermen, and other entities were the first to learn of the spill and notify authorities after smelling toxic oil and seeing a massive oil sheen on the water.”
Indeed, as the Complaint continues, “Because Defendants failed to detect the spill, they also failed to stop pumping copious amounts of oil through the ruptured pipeline, and failed to close valves that could have prevented oil from escaping. Defendants did not notify the authorities until over 15 hours after the spill began—and only after consulting the company’s risk management firm—impeding clean-up efforts and violating Defendants’ own policies. In short, because of Defendants’ incompetence and callous disregard of industry-standard safety measures, the disaster engulfing Southern California continues to unfold.”
The Complaint states claims for strict liability under the Lempert-Keene-Seastrand Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act, strict liability for ultra-hazardous activity, violation of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, negligence, public nuisance, negligent interference with prospective economic advantage, trespass, and continuing private nuisance, and seeks all recoverable compensatory, statutory, and other damages, including remediation costs, as well as injunctive relief.
“It is clear that spills like this will continue to occur and devastate beaches, marine preserves, homes, businesses, and our coastal environments as a whole,” added Lexi Hazam, “unless plaintiffs like those bringing this lawsuit are able to use the civil justice system to redress the consequences of oil companies’ disregard for safety and continued cavalier and destructive behavior.”
The complaint includes class representatives who fish commercially for lobster, squid, rock crab, groundfish, and baitfish, as well as sport fishing and whale watching charters. Representatives of Plaintiff Davey’s Locker Sportfishing had this to say about the spill:
“For decades, Newport Landing and Davey’s Locker (est. 1958) have been providing sport fishing, whale watching and harbor cruises to residents and visitors to southern California. In sharing our love of the ocean and the life therein with so many hundreds of thousands of people, all of us at Newport Landing and Davey’s Locker take very seriously our role in helping to protect and sustain the local marine environment. We have been deeply saddened and frankly, sickened, to see the impact of the recent oil spill on our pristine coastal waters. Newport Harbor was shut down while some of our boats were out of the harbor, and it required frantic negotiations with the U.S. Coast Guard just to get our passengers back to the dock in lieu of being ferried somewhere north. Local fishing and whale watching has also ceased; however, the impact on our business pales in comparison to the impact this pollution has had and may continue to have on local sea life.
Although we are hopeful that fishing and whale watching will be permitted again in the near future, there is no way to know the long term impact this man-made disaster will have on our business, as well as on all the other businesses and coastal property owners who have seen their beautiful coastal environment turned into a noxious, oil-soaked nightmare. We hope that by joining together in this lawsuit, all of us affected can both recover our financial losses as well as helping to ensure that something like this never happens again.”
Learn more about the 2021 Huntington Beach oil pipeline rupture and spill and the class action lawsuit.
About Lieff Cabraser
Lieff Cabraser has a long history of successfully championing the rights of those injured or who have lost property and businesses as a result of oil spills and other environmental disasters. Over the last 45 years, we have assisted our clients in recovering over $124 billion in verdicts and settlements. Our firm helped lead litigation against BP over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil spill, successfully representing property owners, business owners, wage earners, and other harmed parties. Lieff Cabraser was also appointed by the court to lead litigation on behalf of homeowners and fishers who suffered economic injuries relating to 2015 Plains pipeline oil spill in Santa Barbara, and also helps lead the class action case on behalf of property owners and lessees who suffered losses from the 2015-2016 Porter Ranch gas leak in Southern California. Firm partner Lexi Hazam is also Court-appointed Co-Lead Counsel for Individual Plaintiffs in the Thomas and Woolsey Fire litigations against Southern California Edison arising from the colossal wildfires its equipment caused in recent years, in which thousands of victims whose homes and businesses were destroyed or damaged have recovered approximately $1 billion to date.
About Robertson & Associates, LLP
For more than 35 years, Alex “Trey” Robertson, IV has represented homeowners, celebrities and Fortune 500 companies navigate the “fog of litigation” in high stakes consumer multi-district class actions, mass torts and high-profile litigation. Relying upon his background in the engineering construction industry, Trey has demonstrated an ability to quickly grasp complex engineering and technical issues. Called a “closer” by one chief judge in a very large national case, Trey has developed a reputation of coming up with creative solutions to settle cases believed to be “un-settleable.” Trey currently serves as the Court-appointed Co-Lead Counsel for approximately 7,000 Individual Plaintiffs who are suing Southern California Edison Company (SCE) in the Woolsey Fire Case (JCCP No. 5000). Trey also serves on the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee in the Southern California Fire Case (JCCP No. 4965), in which he represents approximately 700 victims of the Thomas Fire and Montecito Debris Flow.
Lexi J. Hazam
Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP
Alexander “Trey” Robertson, IV
Robertson & Associates, LLP