RISE St. James - The Fight to Protect Burial Sites of Enslaved People

At a Glance

Date Filed: 

December 18, 2019

Current Status 

On June 18, 2020 the court upheld the temporary restraining order against Formosa it had granted on June 17 in order to allow access to a cemetery for formerly enslaved Black community members. Formosa's emergency appeal was denied.

Co-Counsel 

Bill Quigley

Client(s) 

RISE St. James

Case Description 

RISE St. James, a faith-based grass-roots organization formed to advocate for racial and environmental justice in St. James, Louisiana, learned in November 2019 that graves of people enslaved on former plantations had been discovered in an area in their community slated for a massive plastics facility. 

The facility that Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics group is seeking to build would be the largest in North America and would double the level of toxic emissions in St. James Parish, which is already among the highest in the country. On behalf of RISE, CCR has submitted public records requests to the Louisiana Division of Archaeology seeking more information about the sites, and comments to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality urging the agency to deny air permits sought by the company. CCR also submitted on behalf of RISE a request to the St. James Parish Council to rescind its land use grant on the grounds that the company did not disclose the cemeteries while it's land use application was pending with the Council. Despite RISE St. James’s consistent public engagement on this issue and significance of these burial grounds for many of its members and people in the community, Formosa did not inform them of the situation.  Emails obtained through public records requests reveal that Formosa representatives have discussed removing some graves if found because reconfiguring their construction plans would be a "difficult option."   

On January 6, 2020, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality issued the permits sought by Formosa, which cleared the way for the company to begin construction on the site.

On behalf of RISE, the Center for Constitutional Rights enlisted the expertise of the independent archaeologist who first discovered the sites to assess the previous site investigations undertaken by Formosa's archaeological consultants and to do a broader analysis of the entire project area. They put the results of their findings in a report submitted to the Louisiana Division of Archaeology. They found that there are possibly as many as five additional cemeteries on the site, and that Formosa's consultants looked in the wrong location each time they investigated for graves on the site of the former Acadia Plantation.

Case Timeline

June 18, 2020
Court upholds TRO, Formosa appeals
June 18, 2020
Court upholds TRO, Formosa appeals
After hearing arguments, the judge upholds the temporary restraining order he had issued, and Formosa Plastics takes an emergency appeal to stop the Juneteenth prayer event.
June 18, 2020
Appellate court denies Formosa appeal
June 18, 2020
Appellate court denies Formosa appeal
Court denies Formosa's appeal to stop RISE St. James from accessing burial site.
June 18, 2020
RISE St. James files opposition to Formosa's motion to dissolve temporary restraining order
June 18, 2020
RISE St. James files opposition to Formosa's motion to dissolve temporary restraining order
June 16, 2020
Court grants RISE St. James temporary restraining order
June 16, 2020
Court grants RISE St. James temporary restraining order
June 15, 2020
Black leaders call on Louisiana governor to support Rise St. James's demand for moratorium on petrochemical industry
June 15, 2020
Black leaders call on Louisiana governor to support Rise St. James's demand for moratorium on petrochemical industry
Public letter from Black leaders to Governor Edwards.
June 15, 2020
RISE St. James petitions court for temporary restraining order to gain access to cemetery for Juneteenth prayer service
June 15, 2020
RISE St. James petitions court for temporary restraining order to gain access to cemetery for Juneteenth prayer service
May 25, 2020
CCR submits comments on behalf of RISE St. James regarding the proposed transmission line in St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, and St. James parishes
May 25, 2020
CCR submits comments on behalf of RISE St. James regarding the proposed transmission line in St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, and St. James parishes
March 11, 2020
New expert report finds five additional possible cemeteries on Formosa site
March 11, 2020
New expert report finds five additional possible cemeteries on Formosa site
On behalf of RISE St. James, the Center for Constitutional Rights submits a new expert report to St. James Parish Council and responds to Formosa Plastics letter.
January 22, 2020
EarthJustice submits supplemental letter to St. James Parish Council on behalf of RISE St. James and Louisiana Bucket Brigade
January 22, 2020
EarthJustice submits supplemental letter to St. James Parish Council on behalf of RISE St. James and Louisiana Bucket Brigade
EarthJustice submits supplemental letter to St. James Parish Council on behalf of RISE St. James and Louisiana Bucket Brigade.
December 23, 2019
CCR and EarthJustice submit letters to St. James Parish Council on behalf of RISE St. James and Louisiana Bucket Brigade
December 23, 2019
CCR and EarthJustice submit letters to St. James Parish Council on behalf of RISE St. James and Louisiana Bucket Brigade
Letters submitted by RISE St. James on behalf of CCR and EarthJustice
December 18, 2019
CCR files comments on behalf of RISE St. James
December 18, 2019
CCR files comments on behalf of RISE St. James
On behalf of RISE St. James, CCR files comments with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, along with supporting attachments.