May 8, 2024

Munger, Tolles & Olson Secures Landmark Appellate Win for Plains All American Pipeline

Munger, Tolles & Olson secured a landmark appellate victory for Plains All American Pipeline when the California Court of Appeal issued a published opinion upholding a trial court’s decision to deny virtually all restitution claims stemming from a 2015 oil spill in Santa Barbara.

The Court of Appeal’s decision is highly significant because it interprets the statute governing non-probationary restitution in California to cover only a circumscribed group of crime victims—those who are direct objects of the crime and who come forward with individualized claims and proof of loss. That ensures that businesses engaging in conduct that might have wide-ranging indirect economic effects are not subject to enormous restitution liability.

In 2018, Plains was convicted of certain criminal charges and fined $3.3 million. Various claimants, including oil-industry workers and individuals and entities involved in the fishing industry, then asked the trial court to award them restitution for harms allegedly arising from the spill. The trial court largely rejected those claims, awarding only a small amount of restitution to a few individual claimants.

A large group of claimants and the California Attorney General’s office appealed the trial court’s ruling, seeking to revive over $700 million in restitution claims.

In a published opinion, a three-judge panel of the California Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s rejection of virtually all the restitution claims. The Court held that oil workers are not entitled to restitution because they were not harmed by any criminal conduct and because they do not qualify as direct victims under California’s restitution statute. The Court also rejected any “class” fishing-industry claims. In the end, the Court allowed further proceedings in the trial court on only four specific restitution claims brought by identified people or businesses in the fishing industry—claims that in total seek under $300,000.

The MTO appellate team was led by Elaine Goldenberg, who argued the case before the California appellate court, and included Sarah Weiner. The trial-court team included Henry Weissmann, Daniel Levin, Grant Davis-Denny, Jeremy Lawrence and Colin Devine.

About MTO’s Appellate Practice

Munger, Tolles & Olson’s appellate and Supreme Court practice is recognized as among the best in the nation and routinely handles the highest-stakes matters before the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. courts of appeals, and state appellate courts. Our lawyers have secured victories in cases of historic importance and have won ground-breaking appeals around the country on a wide range of subjects, including antitrust, securities, intellectual property, cross-border disputes, and regulatory matters.

Learn more about our appellate practice