The Scholar: St. Mary's Law Review on Race and Social Justice


The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 brought numerous environmental lawsuits in the United States as a result of the destruction of local economies whose livelihood relied on the now damaged ecosystems. Due to negligence by two of the highest-ranking supervisors, BP pled guilty to criminal charges brought against them. Their actions resulted in the deaths of eleven men working on the rig when it exploded, as well as the resulting oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico. This plea resulted in four billion dollars of fines and penalties. However, this case proved that private citizens need a way to voice their complaints, too, when large corporations who are not held accountable by the government create significant environmental problems. Citizen suit litigation is vital in advocating for the voiceless members of the affected ecosystems. Multidistrict litigation arising from citizen lawsuits presents issues in marginalization due to the challenging litigation process and the disadvantage citizens have when facing the financial resources of major corporations. Americans filed civil suits against BP to enforce civil penalties and injunctive relief under the Clean Water Act to ensure the proper cleaning of the Gulf waters. However, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s ruling in favor of BP denying such relief on administrative judicial grounds. For citizen suits to be successful, it is best if they are founded on well-documented, ongoing violations which are presented to the court in a compelling manner tying the injured parties to the injury claimed. Environmental advocates rely on clear mandates expressly included in our federal laws and upheld by the Supreme Court in seeking remedies that protect not just humans, but all living things directly harmed by pollution.

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