From: Cain Burdeau, Associated Press
Published November 5, 2004 12:00 AM

Oyster Fishers Ask Louisiana High Court to Reconsider Ruling

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana — Louisiana oyster fishers have asked the state Supreme Court to restore a $1.3 billion judgment awarded to them for a coastal restoration project that the oyster fishers say damaged their grounds.

The high court threw out the award last month, saying the oyster fishers were not legally entitled to the money.

In Wednesday's filing, the oyster fishers argued that the high court based that ruling not on evidence that was presented during trial but on new evidence introduced by lawyers for the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources during the appellate stages.

Appellate courts are bound to make judgments on the evidence brought out during trial, lawyers said.

Andrew Wilson, a lawyer for the state, countered that "this is an unanimous decision in which the Louisiana Supreme Court noted that the plaintiffs failed to prove any damages and that the reward was exorbitant."

The 130 oyster fishers, who leased water bottoms in Breton Sound, sued the state after a 1991 freshwater diversion program channeled some Mississippi River water and sediment into the sound, destroying their oyster beds.

A Plaquemines Parish jury awarded the oyster fishers $1.3 billion in 2000, but the high court reversed that decision Oct. 19, saying that all but 12 of the oyster fishers' leases renounced any legal claim to damages from such projects.

The plaintiffs who had the 12 leases without such clauses waited too long to sue, the court ruled.

John Lovett, a Loyola University professor, said the Supreme Court can review evidence that was rejected by the trial judge. New affidavits, depositions, and documents that were not previously introduced at trial cannot be inserted into the case at the appellate level, he said.

Separately, another group of oyster fishers suing the state over the Caernarvon freshwater diversion amended its lawsuit.

A state appeals court struck down the $661 million court judgments the group won and ordered a new trial.

Now those farmers say they should be treated the same as oyster farmers who were paid compensation for the Davis Pond diversion project on the west bank of the Mississippi River. The Davis Pond oyster farmers shared about $4.5 million.

The oyster farmers' rights to equal protection have been violated, according to the suit.

Source: Associated Press

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