Defending California’s Largest Environmental Crimes Trial

In what is thought to be the largest environmental crimes trial in California history, Munger, Tolles & Olson prevented a conviction for knowing misconduct before a Santa Barbara jury.

The firm’s lawyers successfully defended Plains All American Pipeline with respect to its pipeline that leaked crude oil in May 2015 near Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County.

Plains achieved pretrial dismissals, acquittals or deadlocks on 37 of the 46 counts. On Sept. 7, 2018, the jury convicted on nine counts, of which eight were misdemeanors – seven of which were strict liability. Plains plans to appeal.

Over the course of the four-month trial, more than 50 witnesses testified before the court. An expert witness from the independent consultant DNV-GL testified that she found “nothing substandard in Plains’ efforts to prevent a spill” and corroborated the defense’s assertion that the miscalculation of the metal wall loss on the pipeline was one of the few primary causes of the oil spill.

The evidence also showed that the pipeline had been independently inspected in 2012 and again in 2015, and both inspections significantly miscalculated the percentage of metal wall loss at the location where the pipeline ruptured, causing the 2015 oil spill. The defense argued that had Plains been provided with accurate results of the test prior to the spill, the rupture would not have happened.

Leading the defense and representing Plains All American Pipeline, LP was Munger, Tolles & Olson, working alongside Bird Marella Boxer Wolpert Nessim Drooks Lincenberg & Rhow and Fell, Marking, Abkin, Montgomery, Granet & Raney.

Led by Luis Li, the Munger, Tolles & Olson team included Daniel B. Levin, Melinda LeMoine, Grant A. Davis-Denny, Jordan X. Navarette, Adele M. El-Khouri, Colin Devine and Christopher M. Lynch.