In re Colonial Pipeline Co – Case Brief Summary (Texas)

In In re Colonial Pipeline Co., 968 S.W.2d 938 (Tex. 1998), 3,275 plaintiffs sued the owners of four pipelines that ruptured and spilled various substances into flood waters along the San Jacinto River. See 968 S.W.2d at 940.

Each pipeline was owned by a different defendant and contained a different substance. See id. In response to discovery requests from the defendants, the plaintiffs failed to provide any information or documents. See 968 S.W.2d at 940-41.

Approximately two years after the litigation commenced, and without discovery responses from the plaintiffs, the trial court ordered that plaintiffs were not required to answer or supplement discovery previously propounded by the defendants. See id.

The court ordered that the defendants could only conduct discovery on a group of ten initial trial plaintiffs. See id. at 941.

Thus, the defendants were precluded from obtaining discovery from 3,265 plaintiffs. See id.

In an original mandamus proceeding, the supreme court found the trial court abused its discretion and conditionally granted the writ of mandamus. See id. at 940.

The court noted that three and a half years had passed since the plaintiffs filed suit, and that years could pass before any discovery on the vast majority of plaintiffs would be available. See id. at 941.

Such a delay in discovery could result in faded memories and lost or corrupted evidence. See id.

More importantly, because the plaintiffs had not provided the defendants with the most basic medical information including descriptions of their alleged injuries, names of treating physicians, or the names of substances that caused the injuries, "each defendant was put in the position of preparing to defend itself against claims that might not involve the substance that was contained in its pipeline." Id. at 942.