5th Circuit deputy clerk: 'Staff error' caused wrong ruling on BP's request to have full court review oil spill settlement

5th Circuit deputy clerk: 'Staff error' caused wrong ruling on BP's request to have full court review oil spill settlement

Credit: AP

This image provided by the U.S. Coast Guard shows fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the off shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon Wednesday April 21, 2010. The Coast Guard by sea and air planned to search overnight for 11 workers missing since a thunderous explosion rocked an oil drilling platform that continued to burn late Wednesday. (AP Photo/US Coast Guard)

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wwltv.com

Posted on February 21, 2014 at 8:42 AM

Updated Saturday, Feb 22 at 5:10 AM

UPDATED (11:34 a.m.)

David Hammer / Eyewitness News
Email: dhammer@wwltv.com | Twitter: @davidhammerWWL

NEW ORLEANS -- A three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals kept alive BP's request to have the full court review its expensive settlement with private businesses affected by its 2010 oil spill.

But only after a whole lot of confusion.

The court filed an order last night in which the panel actually granted a motion by plaintiffs to dismiss BP's request for a rehearing "en banc." But 5th Circuit Deputy Clerk of Court Tom Plunkett said that was simply a clerical error.

"That was accidentally entered by a staff member who hit the wrong button," Plunkett told WWL-TV.

So, this morning, the same panel vacated last night's ruling and also denied the plaintiffs' request to quash BP's rehearing request.

The new ruling says the panel reversed itself "after due consideration." But Plunkett said the panel actually intended to deny the plaintiffs' motion yesterday and only needed to reverse itself because the computer-generated order was incorrect.

Plunkett said the order from last night was computer generated, even though it gives a reason for dismissing BP's request ("for lack of jurisdiction") and although the word "granted" is hand-written.

He said that all three panel members -- Judges James Dennis, Eugene Davis and Emilio Garza -- agreed that BP's request for rehearing should be allowed to continue. The judges did, however, stop short of actually granting BP's request.

BP argued the settlement class should be rejected because of a dispute over how payments were being calculated, but the three appeals judges rejected that. BP is now seeking a rehearing in front of the full roster of 5th Circuit judges.

It's all part of BP's latest effort to scuttle the class-action settlement that they once championed as a way to avoid protracted litigation over the economic damage caused by the largest accidental offshore spill in U.S. history.

BP has another appeal before a separate 5th Circuit panel that has been more successful. That action forced the court-appointed settlement administrator, Patrick Juneau, to rework the way he matches claimants' revenues to expenses in calculating their settlement payments. Juneau turned his new formula over to BP and plaintiffs' lawyers this week for their review, but the details have not been made public yet.

After initially backing the settlement in 2012 and expressly accepting that some claimants would qualify for compensation for losses that were not directly due to the spill, BP reversed course early last year when it realized the deal would cost it at least $1.5 billion more than it originally estimated.

BP set aside $42 billion to pay for the oil spill cleanup; criminal fines; compensation for private and public property damage, economic losses and medical costs; restoring natural resources and for pollution fines. But with big-ticket items like the civil pollution fines and natural resource damage payments still undetermined and private compensation costs ballooning, BP is trying to head off the need to pay more than what it's been telling its shareholders for years.

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