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Panel rejects appeal in global warming/Katrina lawsuit

MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST — A federal appeals panel has upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a group of Mississippi Gulf Coast residents and landowners who alleged that emissions by energy companies contributed to global warming, which intensified Hurricane Katrina, which, in turn, damaged their property.

In the lawsuit, the landowners sought compensatory and punitive damages against 32 companies and the Tennessee Valley Authority. The companies had argued that global warming was not attributable only to them but resulted from the emissions of greenhouse gases from millions of sources dating back to the Industrial Revolution.

The case has taken a circuitous route through the federal courts before winding up yesterday before a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

The landowners sued in September of 2005, about a month after Katrina. U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. in Gulfport dismissed the lawsuit in 2007 with prejudice, meaning it could not be filed again.

A 5th Circuit panel in October of 2009 reinstated part of the lawsuit. The companies appealed and 5th Circuit agreed to a hearing before the full court. Before a hearing could be held, the 5th Circuit found it didn’t have a quorum — or majority — of judges available to hear the companies’ appeal after many of them recused themselves.

The 5th Circuit dismissed the appeal and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case shortly thereafter.

The same group of Gulf Coast residents and property owners filed in May of 2011 what they conceded in court records were essentially several of the same arguments against many of the same energy companies in the same Mississippi district court. The district court in March of 2012 ruled that, among other things, that the doctrine of res judicata barred their claims.

The doctrine of res judicata prevents the same parties from re-litigating the same issue after a final court decision.

Yesterday, the three-judge upheld the Mississippi judge’s decision. The panel said it would not let landowners renew an appeal in what was the same case.

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