The Supreme Court this morning denied BP’s request to keep blocking millions of dollars in claims payments to businesses while the oil giant waits to see if the High Court will hear its argument that hundreds of ineligible claims are being approved.
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Plaintiffs' lawyers cheered the order as a chance to break a long stalemate.
"We're pleased that this denial of BP's request for a stay will allow businesses to continue to receive the compensation they're rightly entitled to according to the objective, transparent formulas agreed to by BP," said the lead class counsel, Steve Herman and Jim Roy, in an emailed statement.
The request from BP gained a lot of attention last month, particularly after WWL-TV broke the news that Justice Antonin Scalia could decide on his own whether to impose the stay while his son, Eugene, is serving as a partner at the law firm handling BP’s appeal. Business claims payments had been blocked for six months while BP appealed lower court decisions, but two weeks ago the block was finally lifted when the 5th Circuit Court of appeals issued a mandate.
BP had been hoping to reinstitute the stay by asking Scalia to recall the mandate. That would have put a halt to payments again while BP waits for the Supreme Court to decide whether to hear the company’s appeal, which claims that the court-appointed claims administrator is misinterpreting the eligibility requirements of BP’s multi-billion-dollar class-action settlement.
"BP looks forward to pursuing review by the US Supreme Court of the Fifth Circuit’s decisions relating to the compensation of claims with no apparent connection to the spill," BP Vice President Geoff Morrell said in an emailed statement. "The company continues to believe that the lifting of the injunction suspending the payment of business economic loss claims will allow hundreds of millions of dollars to be irretrievably scattered to claimants whose losses were not plausibly caused by the Deepwater Horizon accident."
The Reuters news agency broke the news this morning on Twitter that BP’s request for the stay had been denied. An order released subsequently by the Supreme Court shows that the BP application was presented to Justice Scalia and that he referred it to the whole court before it was denied.
There were questions about how Scalia would handle BP's application given his son’s ties to BP. Eugene Scalia’s law firm, Gibson Dunn, is one of the leading Supreme Court litigators in the country. But Justice Scalia does not recuse himself from cases involving the firm because his son has declined to accept his partner’s share of compensation from all Supreme Court cases the firm handles.
The Supreme Court order means that claims administrator Patrick Juneau can keep paying the business claims that had essentially stopped last October when BP appealed the causation standard. Juneau resumed paying claims again on June 2, but only those that had received an eligibility notice before October and had signed a release agreeing not to make any further oil spill claims against BP.
In the last week, Juneau has paid 368 of those claims a total of $22 million. But there are about 30,000 more, worth several billion dollars, that are awaiting processing and payment, according to public statistics on the claims facility's website.
And the wait could still be long for many because of a recent policy stemming from another BP appeal which requires Juneau to recalculate many claims based on different accounting standards.