A hearing Tuesday in a federal district court in Mexico ruled in Sempra Energy's favor but did not end a bitter legal dispute over Sempra's liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility along the North Baja California Pacific Coast and a would-be landowner seeking 250 acres adjacent to the site.

The court refused to suspend the LNG plant's operating permits, but it did order yet another court hearing, which is set for Aug. 5.

Next up is a separate Mexican court proceeding July 28 to rule on the plaintiff's "amparo," which is a Mexican legal filing asking a court to take some action against another party(ies) (see Daily GPI, July 6).

As it did with earlier court rulings in Mexico beginning with a June 17 order, Sempra said a translation of Tuesday's ruling in federal district courts would be posted at www.sempralng.com.

A spokesperson for plaintiff Ramon Eugenio Sanchez Ritchie, told NGI initially that his client sought to close the LNG facility and get his land back because Sempra allegedly committed fraud in developing the project and obtaining the adjacent land as a buffer. The lawsuit originally was filed nearly six years ago by Sanchez Ritchie.

In the court ruling Tuesday, the judge "found that in light of the responses to the June 17 order by [various Mexican regulatory agencies], Mr. Sanchez Ritchie had not submitted sufficient evidence to support his request for a suspension of [Sempra LNG's] permits," a San Diego-based Sempra spokesperson said. "The court therefore denied the request as to those agencies."

However, for agencies that hadn't put responses before the court -- including Mexico's Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE) -- the court Tuesday set a hearing date for Aug. 5 to again consider the Sanchez Ritchie request for "provision suspension" of the LNG terminal permits.

In the meantime, potential outcomes from the July 28 hearing include the judge granting Sanchez Ritchie's request, which could result in the revocation of Costa Azul's operating permits, or denying the amparo, Sempra said. "In either outcome, both parties would have the right to appeal.

"Sempra LNG, unlike Mr. Sanchez Ritchie, purchased the land from the titleholders of the land and has recorded its title to the land. Mr. Sanchez Ritchie never purchased the land and instead seeks to assert an ownership claim by virtue of squatting on the property," Sempra said.

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