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In re Chevron U.S.A., Inc.

ELR Citation: 27 ELR 21060
Nos. 97-20042, 109 F.3d 1016/(5th Cir., 03/26/1997)

The court rejects a district court trial plan that provided for a unitary trial on general liability and causation in a mass tort case against an oil company that owned a crude oil storage waste pit on which plaintiff-appellees' homes were built. The trial plan provided for a bellwether group of 30 claimants and allowed each side to select 15 plaintiffs. The court holds that the selected 30 cases merely provide a sample of the best and worst cases and are not calculated to represent the group of 3,000 claimants. Thus, the results that would be obtained from a trial lack the requisite level of representativeness so that the results could permit a court to draw sufficiently reliable inferences about the whole. The court holds that before a trial court may utilize results from a bellwether trial for a purpose that extends beyond the individual cases tried, it must, before any extrapolation, find that the cases tried are representative of the larger group of cases or claims from which they are selected. The court then holds that both procedural and substantive due process dictate that when a unitary trial is conducted where common issues, issues of general liability, or issues of causation are coupled with a sample of individual claims or cases, the sample must be one that is randomly selected and statistically significant.

Counsel for Petitioner
Richard O. Faulk
Gardere, Wynne, Sewell & Riggs
333 Clay Ave., Ste. 800, Houston TX 77002
(713) 308-5500

Counsel for Respondent
John M. O'Quinn
O'Quinn, Kerensky, McAninch & Laminack
2300 Lyric Center
440 Louisiana, Houston TX 77002
(713) 223-1000

Before JONES, DeMOSS, and PARKER, Circuit Judges.