In Houston on Tuesday, May 25, U.S. District Judge Ellison entertained arguments on initial discovery disputes already arising out of the Gulf oil spill litigation. Transocean asked the Court to postpone plaintiffs’ requests for depositions and evidence collection until the November deadline for further plaintiffs to join the suit. Plaintiffs -- some families of workers on the rig at the time of the explosion -- requested to move forward immediately in the discovery process. While Transocean has petitioned the court to consolidate the various lawsuits pending in numerous jurisdictions and limit its exposure to $27 million, or the value of the rig and cargo, under the 1851 Shipowner’s Limitation of Liability Act, Plaintiffs’ argued there would be no such limit if they are able to prove through investigation Transocean’s negligence. Judge Ellison both sympathized with the families and their “horrible personal tragedy” and acknowledged the complexities and issues in this lawsuit. He vowed to proceed cautiously because of the high stakes involved. The judge asked the attorneys to submit their arguments to the court in writing and scheduled two more hearings in June, focusing on whether the suit should remain in Texas and whether depositions should begin immediately.
While a judge should strive to keep proceedings moving forward, without just cause to believe information could be lost if not immediately gathered, Judge Ellison should limit discovery until all known parties are established. There is no doubt these officials and witnesses will be deposed. Each party should be represented at such depositions, and the deponents should not face multiple inquisitions, which invariably would occur when new parties entered the proceedings. The stakes are high and the world is watching. Allowing multiple bites at the proverbial apple and prolonged, duplicative discovery exercises will foster the circus atmosphere that is developing. This judge has the opportunity to help set the tone for the multitude of litigation that will arise out of this disaster. By staying the discovery requests until the parties are established, Judge Ellison will contain one area of this otherwise out-of-control mess.