NEW ORLEANS -- Local chambers of commerce rebelled against their parent organization and a maligned claims administrator stood up for himself in new briefs filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in the BP oil spill case.
As the high court decides which cases to hear this year, groups with interest in BP's appeal of its multibillion-dollar oil spill claims settlement have been weighing in.
BP wants the Supreme Court to overturn rulings by U.S District Judge Carl Barbier and the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, upholding its 2012 settlement and the way claims administrator Patrick Juneau has been approving certain claims.
BP argues that Juneau has misinterpreted the agreement to include some business claimants who were not injured by the oil spill, whose losses were due to other factors. But the lower courts have found that BP expressly agreed to pay "false positives" if those claims met a test under which the oil spill was presumed to have caused the losses as long as the claimant was located in specific zones and its revenues fell and recovered specific amounts at specific times.
Late Friday, Juneau, the claims administrator BP wants to remove, filed a "friend-of-the-court brief" that purports not to take a side, but essentially says BP's appeal is unfounded and distorts the true record of the case.
"As BP told this Court in its Petition, the Claims Administrator ... acknowledged that 'he had paid claims "for losses that a reasonable observer might conclude were not in any way related to the Oil Spill."' ... In its next sentence, however, BP erroneously claims that it was 'the Claims Administrator… interpreting the Settlement Agreement' that led to this result," Juneau's brief says.
"That is not true. The Claims Administrator has done nothing more than follow the express terms of Exhibit 4B of the Settlement Agreement and the unambiguous instructions of the Parties not to consider potential alternative causes of economic loss."
BP spokesman Geoff Morrell fired back.
"Mr. Juneau's brief does not even address the questions presented in BP's request for Supreme Court review, and instead advances incorrect arguments about issues that BP is not asking the Supreme Court to resolve," Morrell said. "BP's petition asks the Supreme Court to resolve the existing conflict among the lower courts over the question of whether it is permissible to certify a class action when the class has been construed to include numerous members with no injury caused by the defendant.Mr. Juneau does not dispute that this class, as implemented by him, contains large numbers of claimants whose injuries were not plausibly caused by BP, and he has nothing to say about whether federal class action law can or should permit such a class to be certified.Supreme Court review is necessary to resolve this important question of law that has divided the lower courts."
Over the summer, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed a brief to the Supreme Court in support of BP's appeal, claiming "the Fifth Circuit here upheld certification after interpreting the settlement agreement in a way that swept in uninjured plaintiffs."
But Monday, attorney Tom Young, representing eight Gulf Coast chambers of commerce, including New Orleans; Mobile, Ala.; Pensacola, Fla.; and Fort Myers, Fla., blasted the national chamber for ignoring thousands of its members to support one large one.
The Ascension Chamber of Commerce in Gonzales, La., the St. Bernard Parish Chamber of Commerce in Chalmette, La., the River Region Chamber of Commerce in Laplace, La., and the Charlotte County Chamber of Commerce in Port Charlotte, Fla., also joined in the brief.
The filing noted that BP's own attorneys supported Juneau's reading of the settlement terms at a fairness hearing in November 2012, and the U.S. Chamber's attorneys didn't seem to recognize that.
"Apparently, unlike The (U.S.) Chamber's representatives, both the District Court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals actually read and understood (BP's) sworn testimony, which was written in plain English. By repeating this canard, The (U.S.) Chamber serves the express interests of a foreign corporation at the expense of a very large number of its Affiliates and individual business members."