NEW ORLEANS – A judge has ruled against oil giant BP, denying the company’s motion for an injunction to block payments as part of its multi-billion-dollar settlement and dismissing its lawsuit against the court-appointed claims administrator.
Judge Carl Barbier issued the ruling Friday, saying he wasn't changing his mind after having ruled against BP on the issue twice before. BP responded by saying it still thinks the judge is wrong and vowed to fight his ruling at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, located across the street from the U.S. District Court.
"BP continues to believe that the Claims Administrator’s interpretation of the Settlement Agreement as to business economic loss claims is contrary to the agreement and has produced unjustified windfall payments to numerous business claimants for non-existent, artificially calculated losses. BP believes that such a result is completely at odds with the parties’ stated intent in reaching a settlement last year," BP spokesman Scott Dean said.
BP first complained in January that claims administrator Patrick Juneau was misinterpreting the settlement BP had negotiated last year with plaintiffs' lawyers representing more than 150,000 private claimants. BP’s costs were rising, exceeding their estimates for paying those claimants by at least $1 billion, and the company claimed that Juneau’s reading of their 1,000-page settlement was leading to millions in payments for “fictitious losses.”
But Juneau, and then Barbier, rejected BP’s arguments, saying that those were the terms BP agreed to in painstaking detail – whether BP liked it now or not. BP responded by suing Juneau, who says he has immunity from such suits. It also responded by filing an injunction to stop Juneau from paying the claims, and that’s the argument Barbier heard Friday.
Barbier grilled BP's lead lawyer, Rick Godfrey, questioning how he can argue that settlement claims are not being paid correctly when the judge has repeatedly found that they were.
"I’m having a real hard time understanding how BP is now asking me to enjoin Mr. Juneau from following my order," Barbier said to Godfrey at one point. "Basically you’re asking me to enjoin myself."
Godfrey essentially responded by saying that Juneau's interpretation of the plain language of the settlement was leading to absurd results where companies that made more after the spill were being paid for losses.
Barbier rejected that argument too.
"The results are only absurd in your view because you don’t agree with the outcome," Barbier said dismissively. "If the agreement says this is how you calculate it, then that’s how you calculate it and it’s a loss."
Barbier even referred to an Eyewitness News report this week about BP trying to claim that Chef John Folse's seafood processing company is not a seafood processor under the terms of the settlement and is entitled to nothing.
"Sounds strange to me," Barbier said.
The judge seemed to echo the disbelief and frustration with BP expressed by plaintiffs' lawyers like Tom Young, who came from Tampa armed with a petition signed by 550 people calling on BP to "stand by its commitment to the business owners the company gave its word to."
"For the last 12 months or so they have been saying that they will abide by this agreement," Young said. "In fact, they’ve been fully behind it, but their actions certainly speak louder than their words."