The Donovan Law Group

BP Oil Spill Victims Opt-Out of the Deepwater Horizon Class Action Settlements

BP Oil Spill Victims Opt-Out of the Deepwater Horizon Class Action Settlements

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DHCC Status Report Proves that the Only Beneficiaries Are BP, the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee, and Other “Common Benefit” Attorneys

Tampa, FL (October 15, 2012) – Victims of the BP oil spill have elected to opt-out of the Deepwater Horizon Economic and Property Damages Class Action Settlement and the Deepwater Horizon Medical Benefits Class Action Settlement. These victims, represented by The Donovan Law Group, Tampa, FL, decided not to be held as class action hostages by settlements which will never adequately compensate them for their losses.

REASONS TO OPT-OUT

The following is a partial list of reasons why these Claimants/Plaintiffs/Class Action Hostages decided to opt-out. The list will be updated daily until November 1, 2012. After that date, the list will no longer matter.

(1) BP oil spill victims receive grossly inadequate compensation.

The Gulf Coast Claims Facility (“GCCF”) data indicates that a total of 574,379 unique claimants filed claims with the GCCF during the period from approximately August 23, 2010 to March 7, 2012. The GCCF paid only 221,358 of these Claimants. In sum, the GCCF denied payment to approximately 61.46% of the claimants who filed claims; the average total amount paid per claimant was $27,466.47.

The status report data further indicates that the GCCF paid a total of 230,370 claimants who filed claims with the GCCF during the “Phase II” period. Of these, 195,109 were either Quick Pay or Full Review Final payments; only 35,261 were Interim payments. In sum, the GCCF forced 84.68% of the claimants to sign a release and covenant not to sue in which the claimant agreed not to sue BP and all other potentially liable parties; only 15.31% of the claimants were not required to sign a release and covenant not to sue in order to be paid. See “Gulf Coast Claims Facility Overall Program Statistics” (Status Report, Mar. 7, 2012, p. 1).

The Deepwater Horizon Claims Center (“DHCC”) and the GCCF are virtually identical. Under the GCCF, the evaluation and processing of claims were performed by Garden City Group, Inc., BrownGreer, PLC, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP. Under the DHCC, the evaluation and processing of claims shall continue to be performed by Garden City Group, Inc., BrownGreer, PLC, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP. Accordingly, although Patrick Juneau has replaced Ken Feinberg, there is no reason to believe that the percentage of claimants denied payment and the average total amount paid per claimant will change under the DHCC.

The DHCC data indicates that a total of 36,468 claimants filed Individual and Business claims with the DHCC during the period from approximately June 4, 2012 to October 5, 2012. The DHCC paid only 71 of these claimants. In sum, the DHCC paid only 0.19% of the claimants who filed claims. Of the 19,338 Individual Economic Loss claims submitted, 79 claimants have received payment offers totaling $860,968, resulting in 6 payments totaling $38,173. This equates to an average payment of only $6,362.17 per Individual Economic Loss Claimant! (DHCC Status Report, Oct. 5, 2012).

“I think it’s a tribute to the GCCF that all the people we used have been retained,” Feinberg said. “I take great satisfaction in that fact.” David Hammer, Louisiana lawyer set to take Kenneth Feinberg’s role in BP oil spill claims process, The Times-Picayune (March 9, 2012). It is unlikely that BP oil spill victims will share Feinberg’s satisfaction.

(2) The class action settlements provide for a refund of approximately $6 billion to BP while granting excessive compensation to the PSC and other counsel allegedly performing “common benefit” work.

(a) The Refund

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Trust                                                                                                               $20  Billion

(Amount set aside by BP to allegedly pay economic

damage claims to individuals and businesses affected

by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.)

Approximate Amount Paid to Claimants by GCCF                                                                                   $6.2 Billion

Cost of the Proposed Settlement                                                                                                                   $7.8 Billion

Amount to be Refunded to BP                                                                                                                       $6.0 Billion

(b) The Excessive Compensation

The PSC and other counsel allegedly performing common benefit work in MDL 2179 are not double-dipping; they are triple-dipping. The known sources of compensation received by attorneys allegedly doing common benefit work on behalf of BP oil spill victims in MDL 2179 are:

(a) Six percent (6%) of the gross monetary settlements, judgments or other payments made on or after December 30, 2011 through June 3, 2012 to any other plaintiff or claimant-in-limitation;

N.B. – Plaintiffs’ Counsel received a Final Payment Offer from GCCF on behalf of Plaintiff Pinellas Marine Salvage, Inc. This offer, dated June 3, 2012 and postmarked June 8, 2012, was received by Plaintiffs’ Counsel on June 11, 2012. This offer, along with probably hundreds of other offers made to Claimants by GCCF, is dated one day before Claimants are no longer required to pay six percent (6%) of the gross monetary settlement they receive to the MDL 2179 common benefit fund. Plaintiffs respectfully point out to the Court that June 3, 2012 was a Sunday. These offers were dated June 3rd in order to ensure that the PSC received the maximum amount of payment from the 6% hold-back provision.

(b) BP has agreed to pay any award for common benefit and/or Rule 23(h) attorneys’ fees, as determined by the Court, up to $600 million. In order to be awarded a common benefit fee of $600 million, the MDL 2179 Court would have to believe that the PSC attorneys worked two million hours;

(c) Many attorneys doing common benefit work have their own clients and have also received or will also receive a fee directly from them. (N.B. – On June 15, 2012, the MDL 2179 Court ordered that “contingent fee arrangements for all attorneys representing claimants/plaintiffs that settle claims through either or both of the Settlements will be capped at 25% plus reasonable costs.”); and

(d) Co-counsel fees received by member firms of the PSC for serving as co-counsel to non-member firms of the PSC. For example, on March 13, 2012, Counsel for Plaintiff Salvesen received an unsolicited mass email from a member firm of the PSC. The email stated, in pertinent part, “Co-Counsel Opportunity for BP Oil Spill Cases: News of the recent BP Settlement has caused many individuals and businesses along the Gulf Coast to contemplate either filing a new claim or amending a claim that has already been submitted. If you receive inquiries of this nature we would like you to consider a co-counsel relationship with our firm. Even if someone has already filed a claim it is advisable to retain legal counsel to analyze the impact of this settlement on claimants and maximize recovery. If you receive inquiries and are interested in co-counseling with us on the BP claims, please email…”

Click here for a list of the attorneys appointed to the PSC by Judge Barbier.

(3)  These class action settlements are not “fair, reasonable, and adequate” and have not been entered into without collusion between the parties.

For the following reasons, these class action settlements are not “fair, adequate, and reasonable” (at least not for the “Class Members”) and have not been entered into without collusion between the parties:

(a) Prior to the class action settlements, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Trust had a balance of approximately $13.8 billion from which BP oil spill victims believed they would be compensated by the GCCF for all “legitimate” claims.

(b) After the class action settlements, the proposed “Settlement Trust” has only a balance of $7.8 billion from which BP oil spill victims are being told they will be compensated by the DHCC “so long as they execute an individual release.”

(c) As noted above, under the class action settlements, BP will receive a refund of approximately $6 billion; the PSC and other counsel allegedly performing common benefit work will receive $600 million.

(d) The E&PD class action settlement doesn’t actually provide for funds to be distributed to Class Members; it merely gives BP oil spill victims the right to submit, yet again, a claim for economic and property damages. BP oil spill victims have to ask, “Where’s the settlement?

(e) “……within 15 days after the end of each calendar quarter, the BP Parties shall irrevocably pay into the Common Benefit Fee and Costs Fund an amount equal to 6 % (six percent) of the aggregate Settlement Payments paid under the Economic Agreement in respect of Claimants that have executed an Individual Release.” In sum, the PSC and other counsel allegedly performing common benefit work are financially motivated to have as many Claimants execute an Individual Release as expeditiously as possible regardless of whether the negotiated settlements reflect the true value of the claims.

Click here to read the PSC’s INCOMPREHENSIBLE Reply in Response to Objections and in Further Support of Final Approval of the E&PD Class Settlement (Dated: October 22, 2012). 

(4) Judicial efficiency has replaced justice in MDL 2179.

In order to efficiently manage MDL 2179, Judge Barbier consolidated and organized the various types of claims into several “pleading bundles” for the purpose of the filing of complaints, answers and any Rule 12 motions. The “B1” pleading bundle includes all claims for private or “non-governmental” economic loss and property damages.”

On December 15, 2010, the PSC filed a B1 Master Complaint. On January 12, 2011, the MDL 2179 Court issued PTO No. 25, in order to clarify “the scope and effect” of the “B1″ Master Complaint. The Court held that any individual plaintiff who is a named plaintiff in a case that falls within pleading bundle “B1″ “is deemed to be a plaintiff in the “B1″ Master Complaint.” Also, “the allegations, claims, theories of recovery and/or prayers for relief contained within the pre-existing petition or complaint are deemed to be amended, restated, and superseded by the allegations, claims, theories of recovery, and/or prayers for relief in the respective “B1″ Master Complaint(s) in which the Defendant is named.”

On February 9, 2011, the PSC filed a First Amended Master Complaint. Rather than allege claims under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (“OPA”) (which governs the MDL 2179 cases alleging economic loss due to the BP oil spill) and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (“OCSLA”) (which governs the MDL 2179 personal injury and wrongful death actions and borrows the law of the adjacent state as surrogate federal law), the PSC made the unfathomable decision to allege claims under admiralty law. In the B1 First Amended Master Complaint, the PSC clearly states, “The claims presented herein are admiralty or maritime claims within the meaning of Rule 9(h) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiffs hereby designate this case as an admiralty or maritime case, and request a non-jury trial, pursuant to Rule 9(h).”

The PSC appears to be more interested in ensuring significant economy and efficiency in the judicial administration of the MDL 2179 court rather than in obtaining justice for the MDL 2179 plaintiffs.

As noted above, in its B1 First Amended Master Complaint, the PSC alleges claims under general maritime law, not under OPA and OCSLA, thereby assisting the MDL 2179 Court in expeditiously being able to:

(a) Find, “State law, both statutory and common, is preempted by maritime law, notwithstanding OPA’s savings provisions. All claims brought under state law are dismissed.”

(b) Find, “…. That nothing prohibits Defendants from settling claims for economic loss. While OPA does not specifically address the use of waivers and releases by Responsible Parties, the statute also does not clearly prohibit it. In fact, as the Court has recognized in this Order, one of the goals of OPA was to allow for speedy and efficient recovery by victims of an oil spill.”

(5) As Judge Barbier aptly stated in his Order of August 26, 2011, “The long term effects [of the BP oil spill] on the environment and fisheries may not be known for many years.” (p. 31, Rec. Doc. 3830).

Requiring Class Members to prematurely waive their right to sue in exchange for a miniscule single final settlement payment is unconscionable.

(6) The E&PD class action settlement violates the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (“OPA”).

BP and the PSC cherry-pick OPA’s provisions for their benefit at the detriment to Plaintiffs. Contrary to the intent of Congress, the E&PD class action settlement defines “Class Members” by geographic bounds and certain business activities while requiring proof of a heightened, vague standard of causation.

(7) The “Plaintiffs’” Steering Committee (“PSC”) misleads “Class Members.”

(a) Statute of Limitations

The PSC intentionally fails to counsel those claimants who may opt-out of the Proposed Settlements that a lawsuit brought against BP and/or a non- Responsible Party, e.g., a lawsuit asserting claims for gross negligence, fraud, etc. against Kenneth R. Feinberg, et al, may be barred by the statute of limitations.

Under OPA, an action for damages shall be barred unless the action is brought within three years after the date on which the loss and the connection of the loss with the discharge in question are reasonably discoverable with the exercise of due care. 33 U.S.C. § 2717(f)(1)(A).

In federal question cases, the federal court will apply the specific statute of limitations period established by the federal statute under which the plaintiff is seeking relief. Federal courts that are hearing a controversy based on diversity of citizenship of the parties must apply the applicable state law of the forum state. In this case, a lawsuit which could be brought against a non-Responsible Party may be barred by the statute of limitations.

(b) The Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (“OSLTF”)

The PSC intentionally fails to counsel those claimants who may opt-out of the Proposed Settlements that they will not be able to pursue their claims via the OSLTF.

The OPA provides the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (“OSLTF”) to pay for oil spill costs when the responsible party cannot or does not pay. The OSLTF, administered by the U.S. Coast Guard through its National Pollution Funds Center (“NPFC”), is primarily financed through a tax on petroleum products, and is subject to a $1 billion cap on the amount of expenditures from the OSLTF per incident. For any one oil pollution incident, the OSLTF may pay up to $1 billion. Victims of the BP oil spill are at risk as a result of this cap. The cap is for total expenditures. This $1 billion expenditure limit applies even if the OSLTF is fully reimbursed by the responsible party and net expenditures are zero. OSLTF expenditures for natural resource damage assessments and claims in connection with a single incident are limited to $500 million of that $1 billion. NPFC administers the OSLTF by disbursing funds to government agencies to reimburse them for their oil spill cleanup costs (cost reimbursements), monitoring the sources and uses of funds, adjudicating claims submitted by individuals and businesses to the OSLTF for payment (claims), and pursuing reimbursement from the responsible party for costs and damages paid from the OSLTF (billing the responsible party).

On March 9, 2012, Mr. Craig A. Bennett, Director – NPFC, provided the following OSLTF status report in regard to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill incident:

Deepwater Horizon OSLTF Costs = $619 million

Deepwater Horizon Pending Claims = $410 million (for 1,659 claims received)

On March 9, 2012, total OSLTF expenditures (paid + pending claims) in regard to the Deepwater Horizon was $1.019 billion. In sum, since the OSLTF has exceeded, or will very shortly exceed, its $1 billion expenditure cap for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill incident, the OSLTF cannot pay valid individual or business claims which are not paid by BP.

(8) The MDL 2179 Court has inexplicably reaffirmed its ruling that the E&PD class action settlement is “fair, reasonable, and adequate” and “free of collusion.”

Since April 8, 2012, our firm has filed: (a) a Motion to Vacate Order and Reasons [As to Motions to Dismiss the B1 Master Complaint]; (b) three Motions to Vacate Preliminary Approval Order [As to the Proposed Economic and Property Damages Class Action Settlement]; and (c) a Motion to Nullify Each and Every Gulf Coast Claims Facility (“GCCF”) “Release and Covenant Not to Sue.”

Click here to read the memorandum in support of Motion (a).

Click here to read the first memorandum in support of Motion (b).

Click here to read the second memorandum in support of Motion (b).

On October 10, 2012, Judge Barbier issued the following two-sentence Order:

“Before the Court are Plaintiffs’ Motions to Nullify Each and Every Gulf Coast Claims Facility “Release and Covenant Not to Sue” and Vacate Preliminary Approval Order [As to the Proposed Economic and Property Damages Class Action Settlement]. (Rec. Docs. 7473, 6902, 6831). Having considered the motion, the applicable law, and the relevant record, IT IS ORDERED that the Motions (Rec. Docs. 7473, 6902, 6831) are DENIED.”

(9) The MDL 2179 Court has overreached its authority.

The Supreme Court has held that a district court conducting pretrial proceedings pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1407(a) has no authority to invoke 28 U.S.C. §1404(a) to assign a transferred case to itself for trial. Lexecon Inc. v. Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach, 523 U.S. 26 (1998).

(10) Illegally excluding approximately 200,000 claimants from the proposed settlement greatly decreases the bargaining power of the “Class Members.”

GCCF’s “Release and Covenant Not to Sue” violates OPA: (a) by requiring the release of future damages as requirement for receiving a payment from the GCCF claims process, in contravention of 33 U.S.C. § 2705(a) and 33 U.S.C. §§ 2715(b)(1) and (2); and (b) Feinberg, et al. intentionally failed to provide a process for presenting, processing and paying interim, short-term damages, in contravention of 33 U.S.C. § 2705(a) and 33 U.S.C. §§ 2715(b)(1) and (2).

The text and the legislative history of the OPA statute are clear. OPA expressly prohibits Responsible Parties from engaging in a “Delay, Deny, Defend” strategy wherein the victims of an oil spill are starved and ultimately forced to sign a release and covenant not to sue in order to receive a miniscule payment amount for all damages, including future damages, they incur as a result of the oil spill.

GCCF’s “Release and Covenant Not to Sue” violates State contract law because it: (1) was obtained through the use of economic duress; (2) was obtained without free consent (Claimants did not consent to the release by choice, because the only option for receiving payment required Claimants to sign a release, the terms of which they had no opportunity to negotiate.); (3) was obtained through fraud; (4) requires Claimants to discharge, waive and release future claims (including those resulting from gross negligence) for costs and damages (including punitive damages) that are unknown and have not yet arisen; (5) was obtained in exchange for inadequate consideration; and (6) has as its objective the circumvention of the OPA.

Accordingly, GCCF’s “Release and Covenant Not to Sue” is void ab initio.

In sum, GCCF’s “Release and Covenant Not to Sue” and the Proposed Settlement’s “Release and Covenant Not to Sue” violate federal law, State contract law, and are contrary to public policy. Illegally excluding approximately 200,000 Claimants from the Proposed Settlement also greatly decreases the bargaining power of the Class Members and results in an increased loss of faith in the federal judicial system.

Click here to read the Memorandum in Support of the Motion to Nullify Each and Every Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF”) “Release and Covenant Not to Sue.”

(11) A class action may not be brought in a limitation proceeding.

The MDL 2179 Court may not certify a class in the limitation action because it would contravene the Fifth Circuit’s holding in Lloyds Leasing Ltd. v. Bates, 902 F.2d 368 (5th Cir. 1990). In Lloyds Leasing, the Fifth Circuit squarely held that a class action may not be brought in a limitation proceeding. Id. at 370. In affirming the district court’s denial of class certification, the Fifth Circuit reasoned as follows: First, the class action interferes with the concursus contemplated by the limitation of liability proceeding. . . . Second, the notice requirements of the limitation proceeding are more restrictive than the notice requirements of the class action. . . . Third, the entire thrust of Supplemental Rule F is that each claimant must appear individually and this is obviously inconsistent with the class action. Staring, Limitation Practice and Procedure, 53 Tul.L.Rev. 1134, 1150 (1979). In sum, “[t]he two rules are incompatible, and class representation in the sense of Rule 23 should therefore not be allowed in limitation proceedings.” Id.

Following Lloyd’s Leasing, courts in this district have routinely stricken class action allegations when they are filed within a limitation proceeding or dismissed class action complaints when they are filed after a limitation proceeding has been instituted. See, e.g., In re: Ingram Barge Co., No. 05-4419, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79403, 2006 WL 5377855, at *1 (E.D. La. Oct. 19, 2006) (striking class allegations pursuant to Lloyd’s Leasing); In re: River City Towing Servs., Inc., 204 F.R.D. 94, 97 (E.D. La. 2001) (same); Humphreys v. Antillen, N.V., Nos. 93-3799, 93-3714, 1994 WL 682811, at *3 (E.D. La. Jan. 31, 1994) (dismissing class action complaint filed after limitation proceeding). The limitation proceedings need not be resolved and limitation of liability upheld in order to dismiss class action allegations. For example, Judge Berrigan in Ingram Barge and Judge Feldman in Humphreys struck or dismissed class action allegations before deciding the limitation issue. See Gabarick v. Laurin Mar. (America), Inc., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27180.

(12) The DHCC Data

The DHCC data, dated October 26, 2012, indicates that a total of 41,235 claimants have filed Individual Economic Loss, Individual Periodic Vendor or Festival Vendor Economic Loss, Business Economic Loss, Start-Up Business Economic Loss, and Failed Business Economic Loss claims with the DHCC. The DHCC paid only 407 of these claimants. In sum, the DHCC paid only 0.99% of the claimants who filed claims.

Of the 21,058 Individual Economic Loss claims submitted, 204 claimants have received payment offers totaling $2,190,404, resulting in 43 payments totaling $599,428. This equates to an average payment of only $13,940.19 per Individual Economic Loss Claimant!

What is life worth? According to BP and Feinberg, et al., the life of an individual BP oil spill victim wasn’t worth very much. According to BP/PSC and Juneau, et al., the life of an individual BP oil spill victim is worth even less!

CONCLUSION

The opt-out deadline for the Deepwater Horizon class action settlements is November 1, 2012. After that date, the game is over; BP has won, BP oil spill victims who do not opt-out are left out in the cold, and the PSC and other “common benefit” attorneys are extremely well-compensated.

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HOW TO OPT-OUT

Not surprisingly, the Class Action Settlement Notices do not provide “Class Members” with an “Opt-Out” form. Furthermore, the information required to properly opt-out of the Medical Benefits Class Action Settlement, and the mailing address to where the opt-out notice must be sent, differs from the information required and the mailing address to properly opt-out of the Economic and Property Damages Class Action Settlement.

Click here to download a sample Deepwater Horizon Economic and Property Damages Class Action Settlement Opt-Out Notice.

Click here to download a sample Deepwater Horizon Medical Benefits Class Action Settlement Opt-Out Notice.

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