NEW ORLEANS -- U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier has dissolved a block on business oil spill claims payments hours after a federal appeals court ordered the stay affecting BP's private damage settlement lifted.
Claims administrator Patrick Juneau will be able to start processing business claims again for the first time since December now that Barbier has lifted the injunction. Juneau has told WWL-TV that he would move quickly to process the business claims again as soon as the court said it was OK.
That doesn't mean, however, that payments will begin flowing again en masse. Since the stay was imposed in December, Juneau has been forced by a separate appeals court ruling to adopt a new formula for matching business claimants' revenues to their related expenses when calculating losses.
Juneau's Policy No. 495 is a complex, 80-page policy and Juneau says many claims that were already processed under the old methodology will have to go through a whole new review before they can be paid.
Also, the victory for long-waiting business claimants could be short-lived. At just about the same time that Barbier lifted the stay Wednesday afternoon, BP filed an emergency appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court asking the High Court to reinstate the stay and block all business claims payments yet again.
Plaintiffs' lawyers are on edge, waiting to see if Justice Antonin Scalia, who handles 5th Circuit cases, might move quickly to reimpose a stay unilaterally. He has done just that in the past, blocking a $270 million payment to the State of Louisiana under the tobacco settlement based on the assumption that the case was likely to be heard by the full Supreme Court.
In fact, the High Court voted overwhelmingly not to hear that case, but Scalia's stay remained in place for eight months.
After eight months of almost no business claims payments in the BP case, the action has been fast and furious in the last 24 hours. The order to lift the stay came from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday morning, a day after the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals denied BP’s motion to keep a stay in place.
A week earlier, BP lost its bid to have the whole 5th Circuit hear its argument that its multi-billion-dollar settlement was being improperly applied by Juneau.
The stay was originally put in place in December while BP appealed and claimed that Juneau was improperly paying claims to businesses whose economic losses were not actually caused by the spill. But Barbier, and later the 5th Circuit, determined that BP had clearly agreed to an eligibility formula and acknowledged that it would end up paying some businesses for losses that may not have been caused by the spill.
The company is now asking the Supreme Court to step in and reimpose the stay, arguing it will be irreparably harmed if the payments resume and contending that the Supreme Court is likely to grant its appeal to be heard on the matter, two prerequisites for a stay to be reimposed.
The appeals court lifted the stay in just one day even though the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure say the court should take seven days after denying a motion to stay before issuing a mandate to lift the stay. The Rule 41, however, says the court can take less than seven days.