The Donovan Law Group

Plaintiffs File Motion to Hold Kenneth R. Feinberg, et al. Accountable for Financially Ruining Them

Plaintiffs File Motion to Hold Kenneth R. Feinberg, et al. Accountable for Financially Ruining Them

Tampa, FL (April 25, 2014) – Plaintiffs Pinellas Marine Salvage, Inc., John Mavrogiannis, Selmer M. Salvesen, and Andrew J. Ditch have filed a Motion to Remand or, in the Alternative, Motion to Commence Formal Discovery in the BP Oil Spill multidistrict litigation (MDL 2179).

On August 23, 2010, Feinberg Rozen, LLP, doing business as GCCF, replaced the claims process which BP had established to fulfill its obligations as a responsible party under OPA 90.

According to the plaintiffs, Feinberg used the fear of costly and protracted litigation to coerce victims of the BP oil spill to accept grossly inadequate settlements from GCCF. During town hall meetings organized to promote GCCF, Feinberg repeatedly told victims of the BP oil spill, “the litigation route in court will mean uncertainty, years of delay and a big cut for the lawyers.” “I am determined to come up with a system that will be more generous, more beneficial, than if you go and file a lawsuit.” “It is not in your interest to tie up you and the courts in years of uncertain protracted litigation when there is an alternative that has been created,” Feinberg said. He added, “I take the position, if I don’t find you eligible, no court will find you eligible.”

To limit BP’s liability, Feinberg, et al. employed two strategies against oil spill victims with legitimate damage claims: (a) an “Expedited Emergency Advance Payment (“EAP”) Denial” strategy, and (b) a “Delay, Deny, Defend” strategy. This resulted in tens of thousands of BP oil spill victims and GCCF victims, including Plaintiffs, being financially ruined by Feinberg, et al.

Plaintiffs filed their actions against Feinberg, et al. in Florida state courts asserting claims for gross negligence, negligence, negligence per se, fraud, fraudulent inducement, promissory estoppel, and unjust enrichment under Florida state law. The cases were subsequently transferred by the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) to the MDL 2179 Court.

Because all Motions to Remand are stayed and Plaintiffs are not permitted to propound discovery by the MDL 2179 Court, Plaintiffs essentially have no recourse through the legal process.

Plaintiffs pointed out in their motion that the purpose of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is “to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 1. As of the date of the filing of this motion, approximately 38 months have passed since Plaintiffs filed their complaint against Feinberg, et al.

Plaintiffs also explained that the JPML transferred, albeit inappropriately, their actions to MDL 2179 for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings. These actions were not transferred in order to be indefinitely stayed (in essence, “warehoused”) for the purpose of ensuring that Feinberg, et al. are never held accountable for their tortious acts.

N.B. – BP paid Feinberg Rozen, LLP a sum of $1.25 million per month to limit its liability (“administer the BP oil spill victims’ compensation fund”).

CLICK HERE TO READ THE MEMORANDUM OF LAW IN SUPPORT OF THE MOTION.

Oil Spill Settlements, Especially the BP Oil Spill Settlement, Are Wrong For America!

The BP Oil Spill Settlement Is Wrong For America!

By

Brian J. Donovan

Tampa, FL (March 31, 2014) – Oil spill settlements, especially the BP oil spill settlement, are wrong for America!

The BP Oil Spill Multidistrict Litigation (“MDL 2179”) officially started on August 10, 2010. The Transfer Order issued on that date by the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (“JPML”) clearly states: “…. Centralization may also facilitate closer coordination with Kenneth Feinberg’s administration of the BP compensation fund.” From the very beginning, the purpose of MDL 2179 was to replace democratic adversarial litigation with a fund approach to compensating victims of the BP oil spill. The vast majority of BP oil spill victims would never have their day in court. Judicial economy, rather than justice, was the primary objective.

The fund approach to resolving mass claims, i.e., those claims resulting from the BP oil spill incident, ought to be viewed with a significant degree of concern. The precedent established by the JPML and the MDL 2179 Court is clear: A “Responsible Party” under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (“OPA 90”) may now enter into a contract with a politically well-connected third party “Claims Administrator,” i.e., Kenneth R. Feinberg and Feinberg Rozen, LLP, d/b/a Gulf Coast Claims Facility (“GCCF”). This third party “Administrator / Straw Person,” directly and excessively compensated by the party responsible for the oil spill incident, may totally disregard OPA 90, operate the claims process of the responsible party as fraudulently and negligently as it desires for the sole purpose of limiting the liability of, and providing closure to, the responsible party, and the third party “Administrator / Straw Person” shall never be held accountable for its tortious acts.

The operation of the GCCF has allowed BP to control, manage, and settle its liabilities on highly preferential terms; has permitted members of the MDL 2179 Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee, who are directly appointed by Judge Barbier, to be excessively compensated for merely negotiating a collusive settlement agreement; and has enabled judges to clear their dockets of large numbers of cases. In sum, fund approaches to resolving massive liabilities shift power over claims resolution entirely into the hands of self-interested parties and largely evade judicial scrutiny and oversight.

Judicial economy is undoubtedly well-served by MDL consolidation when scores of similar cases are pending in the courts. Nevertheless, the excessive delay and marginalization of juror fact finding (i.e., dearth of jury trials) associated with traditional MDL practice are developments that cannot be defended. The appropriate focus for fund resolution of mass claims should be justice for the claimants, not merely judicial economy and closure for the corporate misfeasor.

In sum, the major oil companies own Congress and the federal judicial system.

However, we can change that in regard to catastrophic oil spills by demanding that Congress holds responsible parties accountable. Proper enforcement of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (“OSLTF”) will eliminate the need for costly and protracted litigation.

Demand that Congress requires responsible parties to pay the full costs and damages resulting from an oil spill incident by defining the term “expenditure,” under the OSLTF, as “an expenditure that is not reimbursed by the responsible party.”

N.B. – BP paid Feinberg Rozen, LLP a sum of $1.25 million per month to limit its liability (“administer the BP oil spill victims’ compensation fund”).

Spread the word and sign the petition: The Intended Purpose of the OSLTF Is to Fully Compensate Oil Spill Victims via Subrogation

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The BP Oil Spill Multidistrict Litigation (“MDL 2179”) Is Not Right for America

The BP Oil Spill Multidistrict Litigation (“MDL 2179”) Is Not Right for America

MDL 2179 is a “Faux” Class Settlement Wrapped in a “Faux” MDL

By

Brian J. Donovan

Tampa, FL (August 12, 2013)  – Robert Dudley, CEO of BP, recently told Bloomberg Businessweek he believes the deal BP made with the MDL 2179 plaintiffs’ steering committee to complete the process of paying legitimate victims of the oil spill is “not right for America.” Dudley stated, “… millions of dollars are going out to pay people who suffered, in many cases, no losses from the spill. And this is just not right. I don’t think it’s right for America. When you make an agreement and you don’t have the faith and the trust that agreement is going to be interpreted the way you expect, it’s not good for America.”

MDL 2179 is not right for America, but not for the reasons set forth by Dudley.

The “Faux” MDL 2179

Judicial economy is undoubtedly well-served by MDL consolidation when scores of similar cases are pending in the courts. Regrettably, for victims of the BP oil spill, MDL 2179 is a “faux” MDL – i.e., an MDL that limits the liability of the defendants, grants excessive compensation to the members of the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee (“PSC”) and other counsel performing common benefit work, and fails to adequately compensate the plaintiffs.

MDL 2179 is a “faux” MDL primarily because of: (a) the manner in which Kenneth R. Feinberg was permitted by the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (“JPML”) and the MDL 2179 Court to administer the BP compensation fund; and (b) the terms and conditions of the BP/PSC class settlement agreement.

Feinberg’s Administration of the BP Compensation Fund

On August 10, 2010, the JPML formally established MDL 2179. In its Transfer Order, the JPML states, “Centralization may also facilitate closer coordination with Kenneth Feinberg’s administration of the BP compensation fund.” The JPML made it clear, from the very beginning, that the purpose of centralization was not merely to eliminate duplicative discovery, prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings, and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel, and the judiciary; and serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses and promote the more just and efficient conduct of the BP oil spill cases. Here, the purpose of centralization was to maximize judicial economy via the creation of a “faux” class settlement wrapped in a “faux” MDL.

On August 23, 2010, Feinberg Rozen, LLP, doing business as GCCF, replaced the claims process which BP had established to fulfill its obligations as a responsible party pursuant to the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (“OPA”).

In violation of OPA, GCCF‘s approach to determining claimant eligibility was driven by two factors: (1) loss location; and (2) claimant business type.

GCCF employed two strategies to limit BP’s liability:

(a) an “Expedited Emergency Advance Payment (EAP) Denial” strategy. This strategy is as follows: “Fail to verify, investigate, and appraise the amount of loss claimed by the claimant in the EAP claim and deny the EAP claim without ever requesting supporting documentation from the claimant;” and

(b) a “Delay, Deny, Defend” strategy against legitimate oil spill victims. This strategy, commonly used by unscrupulous insurance companies, is as follows: “Delay payment, starve claimant, and then offer the economically and emotionally-stressed claimant a miniscule percent of all damages to which the claimant is entitled. If the financially ruined claimant rejects the settlement offer, he or she may sue.”

The ultimate objective of Feinberg’s “Expedited EAP Denial” strategy and “Delay, Deny, Defend” strategy was to limit BP’s liability by obtaining a signed “Release and Covenant Not to Sue” from as many BP oil spill victims as possible.

The “Release and Covenant Not to Sue” requirement forces economically and emotionally-stressed victims of the BP oil spill 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 BP oil spill. Feinberg’s “Release and Covenant Not to Sue” requirement violates OPA, State contract law, and is contrary to public policy.

The “Expedited EAP Denial” strategy and “Delay, Deny, Defend” strategy, although unconscionable, have proven to be very effective for Feinberg and BP:

(a) 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;

(b) Only 15.32% of the claimants were not required to sign a “Release and Covenant Not to Sue” in order to be paid;

(c) GCCF denied payment to approximately 61.46% of the claimants who filed claims;

(d) The average total amount paid per claimant by GCCF was a paltry $27,466.47; and

(e) Feinberg’s “Release and Covenant Not to Sue” excluded approximately 200,000 BP oil spill victims from the MDL 2179 Economic and Property Damages Class Settlement Agreement.

In sum, BP is responsible for the oil spill incident; Feinberg, et al. (independent contractors), via employment of their “Expedited EAP Denial” strategy and “Delay, Deny, Defend” strategy, are responsible for not compensating and thereby financially ruining BP oil spill victims.

On March 8, 2012, the MDL 2179 Court terminated Feinberg and the GCCF claims process and appointed Patrick Juneau as the claims administrator for the transition to the court supervised claims program. On May 2, 2012, Juneau was appointed as Claims Administrator to oversee the claims administration vendors, that will process the claims in accordance with the class settlement agreement. Under Juneau, the evaluation and processing of claims shall continue to be performed by Garden City Group, Inc., BrownGreer, PLC, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP. Accordingly, there is little reason to believe that the percentage of claimants denied payment and the average total amount paid per claimant will change under Juneau.

Gamesmanship of the Legal System by Defendants

Theoretically, the JPML does not have power over state courts. In reality, corporations with deep pockets, and politically well-connected defendants,  are easily able to circumvent this slight inconvenience through procedural gamesmanship – i.e., the baseless removal of a case from state to federal court for the sole purpose of subsequently being able to immediately file a Notice of Tag-Along Case with the JPML for the transfer of the case to an MDL before any court has the opportunity to either rule on the jurisdiction of the action or reach the merits of Plaintiff’s claims in the action. The JPML’s facilitation of this type of procedural gamesmanship, although politically expedient and judicially efficient, is unjust and makes a mockery of the U.S. judicial system.

Refusal by the MDL 2179 Court and the PSC to Hold Feinberg Accountable

Kenneth R. Feinberg and Feinberg Rozen, LLP, D.B.A. GCCF are neither named Defendants in any master complaint in MDL 2179 nor on the list of “Released Parties” in the Economic and Property Damages Settlement Agreement.

In sum, the MDL 2179 Court concedes that it never contemplated Feinberg, et al. would be Defendants in MDL 2179. Nevertheless, the MDL 2179 Court and the PSC effectively ensure that Feinberg, et al. will not be held accountable in the near future by the following means:

(a)  All pending and future motions to remand are continued without date in MDL 2179.

Pursuant to the MDL 2179 Court’s Pretrial Order No. 15 (Rec. Doc. 676), “Pending further orders of this Court, all pending and future motions, including Motions to Remand, are continued without date unless a motion is specifically excepted from the continuance by the Court.” Furthermore, pursuant to the MDL 2179 Court’s Pretrial Order No. 25 (Rec. Doc. 983), “All individual petitions or complaints that fall within Pleading Bundles B1, B3, D1, or D2, whether pre-existing or filed hereafter, are stayed until further order of the Court.”

In sum, any lawsuit filed against Feinberg, et al., in state or federal court, will be transferred to MDL 2179 and stayed (“warehoused”) indefinitely until Judge Barbier decides to remand the case to the transferor federal court.

(b) The MDL 2179 Court has declined to permit discovery on Feinberg or the GCCF.

On September 5, 2011, Stephen J. Herman, Plaintiffs’ Liaison Counsel in MDL 2179, stated, “please be advised that the [MDL 2179] Court has, thus far, declined to permit formal discovery on Feinberg or the GCCF.”

It is important to note that formal discovery on Feinberg and the GCCF, and the associated pressure of a trial, would have been required in order to have exerted sufficient pressure on the parties to negotiate a settlement which reflected the true value of the claims and not one which focuses on minimizing the liability of the defendants. This did not occur. Without formal discovery on Feinberg and the GCCF certain claims by private individuals and businesses for economic loss resulting from the operation of the GCCF may never be properly resolved.

Generally, Courts have held the excessive delay and “marginalization of juror fact finding” (i.e., dearth of jury trials) sometimes associated with traditional MDL practice are developments that cannot be defended. Delaventura v. Columbia Acorn Trust, 417 F. Supp. 2d at 153 (D. Mass. 2006). MDL 2179 is an exception.

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).

Justice Souter, in delivering the opinion of the Court in Lexecon, explained “28 U. S. C. §1407(a) authorizes the JPML to transfer civil actions with common issues of fact ‘to any district for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings,’ but imposes a duty on the Panel to remand any such action to the original district ‘at or before the conclusion of such pretrial proceedings.’ ‘Each action so transferred shall be remanded by the Panel at or before the conclusion of such pretrial proceedings to the district from which it was transferred unless it shall have been previously terminated.’ 28 U.S.C. §1407(a). The issue here is whether a district court conducting such ‘pretrial proceedings’ may invoke 28 U.S.C. §1404(a) to assign a transferred case to itself for trial. We hold it has no such authority.”

Justice Souter pointed out that “the Panel’s instruction comes in terms of the mandatory ‘shall,’ which normally creates an obligation impervious to judicial discretion. Anderson v. Yungkau, 329 U. S. 482, 485 (1947). In the absence of any indication that there might be circumstances in which a transferred case would be neither ‘terminated’ nor subject to the remand obligation, then, the statutory instruction stands flatly at odds with reading the phrase ‘coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings’ so broadly as to reach its literal limits, allowing a transferee court’s self-assignment to trump the provision imposing the Panel’s remand duty. If we do our job of reading the statute whole, we have to give effect to this plain command, see Estate of Cowart v. Nicklos Drilling Co., 505 U. S. 469, 476 (1992), even if doing that will reverse the longstanding practice under the statute and the rule, see Metropolitan Stevedore Co. v. Rambo (1995) (“Age is no antidote to clear inconsistency with a statute.” (quoting Brown v. Gardner, 513 U. S 115, 122 (1994))).”

While the need to promote efficiency in litigation is real, “age is no antidote” to the clear promotion and facilitation of “faux” MDLs by the JPML.

The BP/PSC Class Settlement Agreement

BP and the PSC reported settlement negotiations began “in earnest” in February 2011 for two distinct class action settlements: a Medical Benefits Settlement and an Economic and Property Damages Settlement.” In sum, the PSC initiated settlement negotiations “in earnest” merely four (4) months after Judge Barbier appointed members to the PSC. Clearly, the MDL 2179 class settlement was not achieved in the full context of adversarial litigation.

Professor Martin Redish of Northwestern University School of Law argues that settlement class actions undermine the important constitutional values underlying the requirement of adversary adjudication. In such classes, the parties expressly make class certification contingent on the entry of a settlement resolving the litigation. Thus, while settlement classes may have certain attractive aspects, such as reducing litigation expenses, many of the traditional aspects of adversarial litigation are missing. As a result, according to Professor Redish, the settlement class is potentially the product of collusion among the parties: defendants who wish to rid themselves of the burden of litigation and plaintiffs‘ counsel who wish to receive immediate compensation. Redish further argues settlement class actions are flat-out unconstitutional because there is no “case or controversy,” a constitutional requirement for making a federal case out of something. Since the lawyers are all on the same side, he says, the only losers are plaintiffs who are forever barred from suing over the matter again. This is precisely what has happened in MDL 2179.

The court in Georgine v. Amchem Products, Inc., 83 F.3d 610 (3rd Cir. 1996), noted that the presentation of class action cases in the form of negotiated settlements for approval by the courts under Rule 23(c) raises a constitutional issue whether there is a justiciable case or controversy. Such cases also raise practical concerns about potential collusion and inadequate representation, as well as the ability of the court to evaluate the merits of the settlement in a non-adversarial context. Georgine, 83 F.3d at 617.

Professor Redish also points out that the opt-out mechanism under Rule 23(b)(3) should be abandoned in favor of an opt-in mechanism that requires absent class members to take some affirmative action before being swept into a class action. Redish believes that allowing due process rights to be waived simply by inaction, as under the current version of the rule, does not sufficiently protect such constitutional rights.

If a class is certified and the class representatives are unsuccessful, the absent class members’ claims will be “legally obliterated” by the result of the litigation, even though they did not actively participate in the suit. Likewise, as many have observed, a class action can reduce the input any particular plaintiff has in the conduct of the case. Where thousands are represented in a single lawsuit, it is simply impossible for them to have the same level of input regarding the prosecution of their claims. Moreover, conflicts among class members inevitably emerge, rendering the class action mechanism an imperfect means of resolving large-scale litigation.

The standard for reviewing a proposed settlement of a class action by courts is whether the proposed settlement is “fair, adequate, and reasonable” and whether it has been entered into without collusion between the parties. Cotton v. Hinton, 559 F.2d 1326, 1331 (5th Cir. 1977); see also Hanlon v. Chrysler Corp., 150 F.3d 1011, 1027 (9th Cir. 1998) (“Settlement is the offspring of compromise; the question we address is not whether the final product could be prettier, smarter or snazzier, but whether it is fair, adequate, and free from collusion.”).

There is little doubt that any class settlement agreement which: (a) excludes approximately 200,000 claimants from the settlement benefits because they had been forced to sign an unconscionable “Release and Covenant Not to Sue;” and (b) excessively compensates members of the PSC and other counsel performing common benefit work is neither “fair, adequate, and reasonable” nor “free from collusion.”

Conclusion

Dudley is correct. Individuals and businesses that did not suffer damages resulting from the BP oil spill should not be paid. It is important to note, however, that fraudulent claims represent a very small percentage of the total number of claims.

MDL 2179 is “not right for America” because:

(a) it is a “faux” MDL;

(b) it approves a “faux” class settlement agreement which is neither “fair, adequate, and reasonable” nor “free from collusion;”

(c) attorneys, with impunity, are permitted to advise BP to tell Congress, the National Incident Command, and the public that the oil spill flow rate was 5,000 barrels of oil per day when BP engineers were performing internal analyses showing that the flow rate could be up to 20 times greater;

(d) it permits members of the PSC, who are directly appointed by the transferee judge, and other counsel performing common benefit work to be excessively compensated for merely negotiating a settlement agreement;

(e) it allows BP to retain a third-party “claims administrator” to limit its liability, with impunity, via an “Expedited EAP Denial” strategy and a “Delay, Deny, Defend” strategy; and

(f) the JPML, which does not have power over state courts, promotes and facilitates the gamesmanship of the legal system by defendants, i.e., the baseless removal of a case from state to federal court for the sole purpose of subsequently being able to immediately file a Notice of Tag-Along Case with the JPML for the transfer of the case to MDL 2179. The JPML’s facilitation of this type of procedural gamesmanship, although politically expedient and judicially efficient, is unjust and makes a mockery of the U.S. judicial system.

In sum, MDL 2179 is not right for America because it:

(a) allows judicial economy to replace justice; and

(b) denies access to the courts by permitting the desires and influence of corporations with deep pockets, and politically well-connected defendants, to trump the legal rights of the individual.

N.B. – BP paid Feinberg Rozen, LLP a sum of $1.25 million per month to limit its liability (“administer the BP oil spill victims’ compensation fund”).

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BP Oil Spill Litigation: The Compensation Paid to MDL 2179 Plaintiffs’ Attorneys is Excessive

BP Oil Spill Litigation: The Compensation Paid to MDL 2179 Plaintiffs’ Attorneys is Excessive

_________________________________

In Order to be Awarded a Common Benefit Fee of $600 million

the MDL 2179  Honorable Court Would Have to Believe that

the PSC Attorneys Worked Two Million Hours

Tampa, FL (July 26, 2013) – The question is whether the BP Oil Spill Settlement grants excessive compensation to the PSC and other counsel performing common benefit work in MDL 2179. This issue can be determined by a simple two-prong comparison test: First, by comparing the common benefit fees received by attorneys in MDL 2179 with the average total payment amount received by the claimants; and Second, by comparing the common benefit fees received by attorneys in MDL 2179 with the common benefit fees received by attorneys in comparable MDLs.

(a)  The Average Total Payment Amount Received From GCCF by Claimants

GCCF Overall Program Statistics (Status Report as of March 7, 2012)

Total Amount Paid = $6,079,922,450.47

Total No. of Paid Claimants = 221,358

Average Total Amount Paid Per Claimant = $27,466.47

The 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 approximately 61.46% of the claimants who filed claims. See “Gulf Coast Claims Facility Overall Program Statistics” (Status Report, Mar. 7, 2012).

On March 8, 2012, this Honorable Court terminated the GCCF claims process and appointed Patrick Juneau as the Claims Administrator of the Transition Process and the proposed Court Supervised Claims Program (“CSCP”). On May 2, 2012, Patrick Juneau was appointed as Claims Administrator to oversee the Claims Administration Vendors, who will process the claims in accordance with the Proposed Settlement. Under the CSCP, the evaluation and processing of claims shall continue to be performed by Garden City Group, Inc., BrownGreer, PLC, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP. Accordingly, 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 CSCP.

(b)  The Common Benefit Fees Received by Attorneys in Comparable MDLs

In order to determine an appropriate common benefit fee, this Court looks to comparable MDL set-aside assessments and awards of common benefit fees. E.g., In re Diet Drugs Prods. Liab. Litig., 553 F. Supp. 2d at 442, 457-58, 491-96 (E.D. Pa. 2008) (describing 9% federal and 6% state assessments later reduced to 6% and 4%, respectively; awarding less than total fund created by assessments); In re Zyprexa, 467 F. Supp. 2d at 261-63 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 17, 2007)(1% and 3% of separate settlement amounts); In re Sulzer Hip Prosthesis & Knee Prosthesis Liab. Litig., 268 F. Supp. 2d at 907, 909, 919 n.19 (N.D. Ohio 2003) (awarding common benefit fees out of $50,000,000 fund created through assessment representing 4.8% of settlement value);

In re Protegen Sling & Vesica Sys. Prods. Liab. Litig., MDL No. 1387, 2002 WL 31834446, at *1, *3 (D. Md. Apr. 12, 2002) (9% federal, 6% coordinated state assessments); In re Rezulin Prods. Liab. Litig., MDL No. 1348, 2002 WL 441342, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 20, 2002) (6% withholding in federal cases, 4% in participating state cases); See also William B. Rubenstein, On What a “Common Benefit Fee” Is, Is Not, and Should Be, 3 Class Action Att’y Fee Dig. at 87 (2009) (collecting cases and concluding that most common benefit assessments range from 4% to 6%); 4 Alba Conte & Herbert B. Newberg, Newberg on Class Actions § 14:9 (4th ed. 2002) (“Most [MDL] courts have assessed common benefit fees at about a 4-6% level, generally 4% for a fee and 2% for costs.”); Paul D. Rheingold, Litigating Mass Tort Cases § 7:35 (2010) (“[P]ercentages awarded for common funds in recent MDLS … were in the 4-6% range.”) (citation omitted). In re Vioxx Prods. Liab. Litig., 760 F. Supp. 2d 640 (E.D. La. 2010) (“October 19, 2010 Order and Reasons”).

The Court’s analysis in the Vioxx MDL case is instructive. In re Vioxx Prods. Liab. Litig. (“MDL 1657”) involves the prescription drug Vioxx. Merck, a New Jersey corporation, researched, designed, manufactured, marketed and distributed Vioxx to relieve pain and inflammation resulting from osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, menstrual pain, and migraine headaches. On September 20, 2004, Merck withdrew it from the market after data indicated that the use of Vioxx increased the risk of cardiovascular thrombotic events such as myocardial infarction (heart attack) and ischemic stroke. Thereafter, thousands of individual suits and numerous class actions were filed against Merck in state and federal courts throughout the country.

On February 16, 2005, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (“MDL”) conferred MDL status on Vioxx lawsuits filed in various federal courts throughout the country and transferred all such cases to this Court to coordinate discovery and to consolidate pretrial matters pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407. See In re Vioxx Prods. Liab. Litig., 360 F. Supp. 2d 1352 (J.P.M.L. 2005).

On November 9, 2007, Merck and the NPC formally announced that they had reached a Settlement Agreement. The private Settlement Agreement established a pre-funded program for resolving pending or tolled state and federal Vioxx claims against Merck as of the date of the settlement, involving claims of heart attack (“MI”), ischemic stroke (“IS”), and sudden cardiac death (“SCD”), for an overall amount of $4.85 billion.

In Vioxx, Judge Fallon stated, “The Settlement Agreement created a $4.85 billion fund for the compensation of Vioxx claimants. The Court finds no reason to omit any portion of that settlement fund from consideration with respect to the reasonable amount of common benefit fees. Accordingly, $4.85 billion is the appropriate amount for calculation of a reasonable percentage of common benefit fees.”

The Vioxx Court awarded a common benefit fee of $315,250,000, which is equivalent to 6.5% of $4,850,000,000. In Vioxx, unlike MDL 2179, the attorneys came from states across the country. Accordingly, the Court found that an average hourly billable rate of $443.29 was reasonable.

There are significant two differences between MDL 1657 and MDL 2179:

(i)  The Time and Labor Required

The PSC and other counsel performing common benefit work in MDL 1657 documented and submitted over 560,000 hours of work during the course of this litigation. The PSC operated on many fronts, preparing pleadings and Master Class Action complaints, taking over 2,000 depositions, reviewing and compiling over 50,000,000 documents, briefing and arguing over 1,000 discovery motions, assembling a trial package, conducting bellwether trials, negotiating the global Settlement Agreement, and implementing the payout under the Agreement.

In contrast, “In the 20 months that have passed since the JPML’s centralization order, the parties [in MDL 2179] have engaged in extensive discovery and motion practice, including taking 311 depositions, producing approximately 90 million pages of documents, and exchanging more than 80 expert reports on an intense and demanding schedule……..BP and the PSC report that in February 2011 settlement negotiations began in earnest for two distinct class action settlements: a Medical Benefits Settlement and an Economic and Property Damages Settlement.”

In sum, the PSC and other counsel allegedly performing common benefit work in MDL 2179 only took 311 depositions and initiated settlement negotiations “in earnest” merely six (6) months after the JPML created MDL 2179.

The MDL 1657 Court conducted six Vioxx bellwether trials. During the same period that this Court was conducting six bellwether trials, approximately thirteen additional Vioxx-related cases were tried before juries in various state courts.

The MDL 2179 Court did not conduct a single bellwether trial.

(ii)  The Results Obtained

Attorneys doing common benefit work on behalf of Vioxx users in MDL 1657 achieved a favorable and meaningful global resolution. The Settlement Agreement ensured fair and comprehensive compensation to all qualified participants. In only 31 months, the parties to the Vioxx case were able to reach a global settlement and distribute $4,353,152,064 to 32,886 claimants, out of a pool of 49,893 eligible and enrolled claimants.

In contrast, attorneys doing common benefit work on behalf of BP oil spill victims in MDL 2179 did not remotely achieve “a favorable and meaningful global resolution.” The MDL 2179 Proposed Settlement does not ensure fair and comprehensive compensation to all qualified participants.

Average Total Amount Paid Per Claimant in MDL 1657 =  $132,370.98 Average Total Amount Paid Per Claimant in MDL 2179 =  $ 27,466.47

(c)  The Common Benefit Fees Received by Attorneys in MDL 2179

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;

(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;

(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, “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…”

Over the years courts have employed various methods to determine the reasonableness of an award of attorneys’ fees. These methods include the “lodestar” method, which entails multiplying the reasonable hours expended on the litigation by an adjusted reasonable hourly rate, Copper Liquor, Inc. v. Adolph Coors Co., 624 F.2d 575, 583 & n.15 (5th Cir. 1980); the percentage method, in which the Court compensates attorneys who recovered some identifiable sum by awarding them a fraction of that sum; or, more recently, a combination of both methods in which a percentage is awarded and checked for reasonableness by use of the lodestar method.

(i)  The Percentage Method

As noted above, “percentages awarded for common funds in recent MDLS … were in the 4-6% range.” Given that the PSC and other counsel allegedly performing common benefit work in MDL 2179 only took 311 depositions and initiated settlement negotiations “in earnest” merely six (6) months after the JPML created MDL 2179, the appropriate percentage should be no greater than 4%.

BP has estimated the cost of the proposed settlement to be approximately $7.8 billion. A 4% award would yield $312 million for common funds.

(ii)  The Lodestar Cross-Check

The lodestar analysis is not undertaken to calculate a specific fee, but only to provide a broad cross check on the reasonableness of the fee arrived at by the percentage method.

This Court has previously used a range of $300 to $400 per hour for members of a Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee and $100 to $200 per hour for associates to “reasonably reflect the prevailing [billable time] rates in this jurisdiction.” Turner v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc., 472 F. Supp. 2d at 868-69 (E.D. La. 2007).

Average Amount Awarded = $312,000,000.00

Billable Hourly Rate = $300/hr.

Hours Required to Have Been Expended on This Litigation = 1,040,000 hours

Average Amount Awarded = $600,000,000.00

Billable Hourly Rate = $300/hr.

Hours Required to Have Been Expended on This Litigation = 2,000,000 hours

In sum, in order to be awarded a common benefit fee of $312 million, the MDL 2179 Honorable Court would have to believe that the PSC attorneys worked more than one million hours; in order to be awarded a common benefit fee of $600 million, the MDL 2179  Honorable Court would have to believe that the PSC attorneys worked two million hours. Both of these fee amounts, which do not include the aforementioned (a), (c), and (d) known sources of compensation, fail the reasonableness test.

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BP Oil Spill: Plaintiffs Oppose Class Action Lawsuits in MDL 2179

Posted in BP, class action, Feinberg, Feinberg Rozen, GCCF, Gulf Coast Claims Facility, Mass Tort by renergie on December 5, 2011

BP Oil Spill: Plaintiffs Oppose Class Action Lawsuits in MDL 2179

________________________________

Plaintiffs Are Entitled to Receive the True Value of Their Claims

Tampa, FL (December 5, 2011) – Plaintiffs in Pinellas Marine Salvage, Inc., et al. v. Kenneth R. Feinberg, et al. and Salvesen v. Kenneth R. Feinberg, et al. have each filed a motion in opposition to class certification of any action in MDL 2179. The motions were filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana for the following three reasons:

I. Defendants Feinberg, et al. Have No Incentive to Settle Claims  

Defendants Feinberg, et al. have established a claims process with the primary function of convincing claimants that the only compensation available is a minimal set amount that comes with a full release attached. The MDL 2179 Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee states, “The delay in responding to interim claims, the near-complete failure to pay interim claims, and the skewed final payment calculation delivers the message to over 112,000 putative class members: the only way to ever get any more compensation is to take the quick payment amount and sign a release.”

On August 26, 2011, in the Court’s Order and Reasons [As to Motions to Dismiss the B1 Master Complaint], Judge Barbier found,

“…. 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.”

In the same Order, the MDL 2179 Court also found,

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

II. Plaintiffs Are Entitled to Receive the True Value of Their Claims

The true value of a claim submitted to the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (“GCCF”) for lost earnings or profits is approximately the amount equal to the average monthly loss in earnings or profits for the period from May 1, 2010 through April 30, 2011 multiplied by fifty (50) months. In other words, if the average monthly loss in earnings or profits for the period from May 1, 2010 through April 30, 2011 is $5,000.00, the true value of the claim submitted to GCCF is calculated as follows:

True Value of Claim = ($5,000/month)(50 months) = $250,000.00

The Fifth Circuit has noted, “In addition to skewing trial outcomes, class certification creates insurmountable pressure on defendants to settle, whereas individual trials would not. The risk of facing an all-or-nothing verdict presents too high a risk, even when the probability of an adverse judgment is low. These settlements have been referred to as judicial blackmail.” Castano v. Am. Tobacco Co., 84 F.3d 734, 746 (5th Cir. 1996) (citations and footnote omitted). This generalization is not applicable to class certification in MDL 2179. Here, the class certification would be in a mass tort context within the context of a multidistrict litigation. Given that “all individual petitions or complaints that fall within Pleading Bundles B1, B3, D1, or D2, whether pre-existing or filed hereafter, are stayed until further order of the Court” (Pretrial Order No. 25, Para. 8), certification of pending class actions would most probably not be decided until the conclusion of the limitation and liability trial which does not commence until February, 2012. “It was reported that one attorney has approximately 23,000 claimants and inquiry was made as to whether the attorney may produce the information in the form in which it is maintained rather than complete individual PPFs.” (Rec. Doc. 642 at Page 2). As of November 16, 2011, there are 523 actions, which encompass approximately 130,000 total individual claims, pending in MDL 2179. In other words, tens of thousands of potential class members are in legal limbo. This hardly “creates insurmountable pressure on defendants to settle.”

In the context of one of the largest mass tort cases in United States history, the damages suffered by the vast majority of individual potential plaintiffs as a result of the BP oil spill of April, 2010, and the subsequent “Delay, Deny, Defend” strategy of Feinberg, et al., are potentially so great that class treatment would not be necessary to permit effective litigation of the claims. Here, when the amount of damages suffered by the individual is so great, the filing of an individual lawsuit should be economically feasible and would be in the best interests of the plaintiffs.

The associated cost, consumption of time, and ongoing negative publicity of numerous trials, rather than a few class action lawsuits, are required in order exert the proper amount of pressure on Feinberg, et al. to negotiate a settlement which reflects the true value of the claim and not one which focuses on minimizing the liability of Feinberg Rozen, LLP, Feinberg/GCCF, and the responsible parties.

III. MDL 2179 Plaintiffs Are Not Able to Prove That Class Certification is Appropriate Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23

MDL 2179 Plaintiffs in proposed class actions are not able to meet their heavy burden of proving that class certification is appropriate under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 for the reasons which are thoroughly discussed in the memorandum of law which is filed with the motion.

BACKGROUND

Pinellas Marine Salvage, Inc., et al. v. Kenneth R. Feinberg, et al. and Salvesen v. Feinberg, et al. are the only two cases of their kind filed in any court in the country. Each complaint alleges, in part, that Defendants Kenneth R. Feinberg, Feinberg Rozen, LLP, GCCF, and (in Salvesen) William G. Green, Jr. misled Plaintiffs by employing a “Delay, Deny, Defend” strategy against them. This strategy, commonly used by unscrupulous insurance companies, is as follows: “Delay payment, starve claimant, and then offer the economically and emotionally-stressed claimant a miniscule percent of all damages to which the claimant is entitled. If the financially ruined claimant rejects the settlement offer, he or she may sue.” Each action, originally filed in Florida state court, is brought by Plaintiff under the following seven causes of action: (a) Gross Negligence; (b) Negligence; (c) Negligence Per Se; (d) Fraud; (e) Fraudulent Inducement; (f) Promissory Estoppel; and (g) Unjust Enrichment.

The MDL Panel ordered each action transferred to MDL No. 2179 on the erroneous grounds that “[These] action[s], similar to other actions already in the MDL, arise from alleged injury to plaintiffs’ business resulting from the oil spill.”

The clarity of the analysis of the scope of OCSLA by Judge Carlton W. Reeves in State of Mississippi v. Gulf Coast Claims Facility, et al., C.A. No. 3:11-00509 (S.D. Miss. 2011) is both refreshing and instructive. On July 12, 2011, Attorney General Jim Hood (“Hood”) filed suit on behalf of the State of Mississippi against the GCCF and Kenneth Feinberg in Hinds County Chancery Court. On August 11, 2011, the GCCF removed the case to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi (“MSSD”) claiming that original jurisdiction lies with the MSSD by virtue of the OCSLA. Hood moved to remand the case to state court on September 12, 2011. On November 15, 2011, Judge Reeves granted Hood’s motion to remand.

Judge Reeves found, “GCCF’s argument that Hood has unwittingly stated a claim under OCSLA is likewise not compelling. According to OCSLA, federal courts enjoy subject-matter jurisdiction ‘of cases and controversies arising out of, or in connection with (A) any operation conducted on the outer Continental Shelf which involves exploration, development, or production of the minerals, of the subsoil and seabed of the outer Continental Shelf . . . .’ The Fifth Circuit has written that it “applies a broad ‘but-for’ test to determine whether a cause of action arises under OCSLA.” Hufnagel v. Omega Serv. Indust., Inc., 182 F.3d 340, 350 (5th Cir. 1999). “And in GCCF’s view, because it would not exist but for the Deepwater Horizon’s explosion, this case (and, presumably, any other case to which it could ever be a party) necessarily implicates OCSLA.” State of Mississippi v. Gulf Coast Claims Facility, et al., C.A. No. 3:11-00509 (S.D. Miss. 2011), Order of Remand at Page 10.

“GCCF is correct that the Fifth Circuit views ‘the jurisdictional grant contained in U.S.C. § 1349(b)(1) as very broad.’ But to view OCSLA’s scope so far-reaching as does GCCF would render GCCF’s every potentially actionable decision a federal case, be it related to the claims process at hand or a GCCF employee’s car wreck en route to the office.” (Emphasis added)

Neither OCSLA’s plain language nor the Fifth Circuit’s decisions interpreting it contain any indication that matters so far removed as these – occurring not on the outer Continental Shelf but doing business in Dublin, Ohio, and aimed not at the “exploration, development, or product of . . . minerals” but rather at “developing and publishing standards for recoverable claims” related to the Deepwater Horizon spill – fall within the purview of Section 1349(b)(1), which addresses “any operation conducted on the outer Continental Shelf . . . .” Plainly, although GCCF’s activities amount [to] an operation, that operation is not conducted “on the outer Continental Shelf.” Therefore, OCSLA does not apply and is not a proper basis for federal jurisdiction. (Emphasis added)

CONCLUSION

Plaintiffs continue to suffer damages from three separate sources:

(a) once from the oil spill, the environmental and economic damages of which have devastated their way of life;

(b) again by being left in financial ruin as a direct result of Feinberg’s “Delay, Deny, Defend” strategy; and

(c) a third time for daring to demand justice, which will consume their time, energy and hopes for years to come if they are held hostage by protracted litigation.

If motions for class certification pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 are granted in MDL 2179, Defendants Feinberg, et al. will continue to have no incentive to settle claims and Plaintiffs will never receive the true value of their claims.

State of Mississippi v. Gulf Coast Claims Facility and Kenneth Feinberg: Case Is Remanded to State Court

Posted in Delay Deny Defend, Feinberg, GCCF, Gulf Coast Claims Facility, Hood by renergie on November 16, 2011

State of Mississippi v. Gulf Coast Claims Facility and Kenneth Feinberg:
Case Is Remanded to State Court
___________________________

Hood’s Petition Did Not Initiate a Civil Action and GCCF’s Removal to Federal Court
Was Improper
___________________________

OCSLA Does Not Apply and Is Not a Proper Basis for Federal Jurisdiction

Tampa, FL (November 16, 2011) – On November 15, 2011, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi remanded the suit filed on July 12, 2011 by Attorney General Hood on behalf of the State of Mississippi against the Gulf Coast Claims Facility and Kenneth Feinberg (hereinafter collectively “GCCF”) in Hinds County Chancery Court. Hood had filed the suit in an effort to compel GCCF’s compliance with the subpoena duces tecum he had issued in February 2011 on the GCCF pursuant to the authority vested in him by the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act.

In his Motion to Remand, Hood argued that GCCF’s refusal to comply with his subpoena leaves him “unable to determine whether GCCF has been or is in violation of the Consumer Protection Act.” Hood also sought costs and attorneys’ fees associated with bringing the Petition.

Notably, in his Petition to the Hinds County Chancery Court, Hood claimed explicitly that he “brought this action solely under state law and not under federal law; and was not asserting therein any claims arising under federal law,” and he “specifically and expressly denied and disclaimed asserting any such federal claims in the Petition.”

On August 11, 2011, GCCF removed the case to federal court pursuant to Title 28, Sections 1441 and 1446 of the United States Code. Specifically, GCCF claimed that original jurisdiction lies with the federal court by virtue of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (“OCSLA”). Hood moved to remand the case to state court on September 12, 2011, but not before GCCF moved on August 30, 2011, for a stay pending a decision by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation regarding whether to transfer this case.

Motion to Stay
As an initial matter, the Southern District of Mississippi Court declined to grant GCCF’s motion for a stay despite the fact that this case was the subject of a MDL conditional transfer order. Until a transfer to multidistrict litigation has become final, a district court’s jurisdiction over pretrial matters is in no way impeded. And when a litigant improperly removes a case, the limited jurisdiction of federal courts is impermissibly invoked, resulting in an undue delay of a state court’s rightful duty to address a case’s merits.

Motion to Remand
Hood offers several arguments in favor of a remand to state court, but the most compelling is his first: that the Petition filed by Hood in Hinds County Chancery Court does not amount to a “civil action,” as that term is used in the federal removal statute, and therefore that GCCF is not entitled to bring the case to federal court.

Generally speaking, when a plaintiff is permitted to bring his case in either state or federal court but chooses the former, the defendant may opt to have a federal court hear the case instead. This principle is contained in Title 28, Section 1441 of the United States Code, which provides that except as otherwise expressly provided by Act of Congress, any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant or the defendants, to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending.

Clearly, Section 1441 permits removal only of “any civil action,” and in Hood’s view, the matter at hand is not such a creature. Hood argued that the subpoena at the center of his Petition “is a pre-litigation investigative tool, and its enforcement in chancery court is not a ‘civil action’ ……”

In 1998, Chief Judge Butler of the Southern District of Alabama held that a petition filed pursuant to Rule 27 of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure, which “permits a party to . . . obtain discovery before an action is commenced,” was not itself a civil action. That Court observed that Alabama’s Rule 27 “provides a limited means by which potential plaintiffs (and their attorneys) . . . can examine evidence before actually deciding whether they have a reasonable basis for filing an action.” Such a petition, in that Court’s view, “is a request for discovery, nothing more.”

Hood’s Petition did not seek to prosecute a claim or other cause of action; it merely sought an order requiring production of evidence that may ultimately be used in the prosecution of a claim. As such, it does not amount to a civil action.

In 1994, the Fifth Circuit rejected a plaintiff’s argument that the 30-day removal period began running at the filing of a bill of discovery rather than at the filing of the complaint because the latter was “the first document stating a claim . . . .” The removal statute permits a defendant to invoke the federal courts’ jurisdiction only “after receipt by the defendant . . . of a copy of the initial pleading setting forth the claim for relief . . . .” Therefore, in the Fifth Circuit’s apparent view, removal cannot occur until a complaint has been filed.

According to Rule 3 of the Federal Rules, “[a] civil action is commenced by filing a complaint with the court.” Whatever can be said of the filing by which Hood instituted this matter, it cannot be properly characterized as a complaint; it raises no claim and seeks no damages.

The threshold question before the Southern District of Mississippi Court was whether the matter has yet developed into a full-fledged “civil action.” The Court held, “Precedent commands the conclusion that it has not.”

OCSLA
Judge Reeves also found GCCF’s argument that Hood has unwittingly stated a claim under OCSLA was likewise not compelling. According to OCSLA, federal courts enjoy subject-matter jurisdiction “of cases and controversies arising out of, or in connection with (A) any operation conducted on the outer Continental Shelf which involves exploration, development, or production of the minerals, of the subsoil and seabed of the outer Continental Shelf . . . .” The Fifth Circuit has written that it “applies a broad ‘but-for’ test to determine whether a cause of action arises under OCSLA.” And in GCCF’s view, because it would not exist but for the Deepwater Horizon’s explosion, this case (and, presumably, any other case to which it could ever be a party) necessarily implicates OCSLA.

The analysis of the scope of OCSLA by Judge Reeves is instructive. GCCF is correct that the Fifth Circuit views “the jurisdictional grant contained in U.S.C. § 1349(b)(1) as very broad.” But to view OCSLA’s scope so far-reaching as does GCCF would render GCCF’s every potentially actionable decision a federal case, be it related to the claims process at hand or a GCCF employee’s car wreck en route to the office.

Neither OCSLA’s plain language nor the Fifth Circuit’s decisions interpreting it contain any indication that matters so far removed as these – occurring not on the outer Continental Shelf but doing business in Dublin, Ohio, and aimed not at the “exploration, development, or product of . . . minerals” but rather at “developing and publishing standards for recoverable claims” related to the Deepwater Horizon spill – fall within the purview of Section 1349(b)(1), which addresses “any operation conducted on the outer Continental Shelf . . . .” Plainly, although GCCF’s activities amount [to] an operation, that operation is not conducted “on the outer Continental Shelf.” Therefore, OCSLA does not apply and is not a proper basis for federal jurisdiction.

Pinellas Marine Salvage, Inc., et al. v. Kenneth R. Feinberg, et al. and Selmer M. Salvesen v. Kenneth R. Feinberg, et al.
These are the only two cases of their kind filed in any court in the country. In each case, the complaint alleges, in part, that Defendants Kenneth R. Feinberg, Feinberg Rozen, LLP, and GCCF misled Plaintiffs by employing a “Delay, Deny, Defend” strategy against them. This strategy, commonly used by unscrupulous insurance companies, is as follows: “Delay payment, starve claimant, and then offer the economically and emotionally-stressed claimant a miniscule percent of all damages to which the claimant is entitled. If the financially ruined claimant rejects the settlement offer, he or she may sue.”

The Pinellas and Salvesen plaintiffs do not assert any claims under OCSLA or OPA and rely solely on state law. Plaintiffs’ allegation that Defendants are in violation of OPA is merely evidence of, at the very least, Defendants’ negligence.

Plaintiffs in Pinellas and Salvesen allege:
(a) BP is responsible for the oil spill incident; and
(b) Feinberg, et al. (independent contractors), via employment of their “Delay, Deny, Defend” strategy, are responsible for not compensating and thereby financially ruining the Pinellas and Salvesen plaintiffs and over 100,000 other victims.

Neither the Pinellas nor the Salvesen case has been dismissed by the MDL 2179 Court. Plaintiffs in both cases look forward to eventually having their cases remanded to Florida state court where they will also be able to hold Defendants accountable.

___________________________________

BP Oil Spill Litigation Quote of the Year:

“GCCF is correct that the Fifth Circuit views ‘the jurisdictional grant contained in 43 U.S.C. § 1349(b)(1) as very broad.’  But to view the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act’s (“OCSLA’s”) scope so far-reaching as does GCCF would render GCCF’s every potentially actionable decision a federal case, be it related to the claims process at hand or a GCCF employee’s car wreck en route to the office.”

Hon. Carlton W. Reeves
United States District Court Judge
Southern District of Mississippi

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Florida Plaintiffs Vow to Hold Kenneth R. Feinberg, Feinberg Rozen, LLP, and GCCF Accountable for “Delay, Deny, Defend” Strategy

Posted in Delay Deny Defend, Feinberg, Feinberg Rozen, Fraud, GCCF, Gulf Coast Claims Facility by renergie on November 10, 2011

Florida Plaintiffs Vow to Hold Kenneth R. Feinberg, Feinberg Rozen, LLP,
and GCCF Accountable for “Delay, Deny, Defend” Strategy
____________________________

Plaintiffs Refile Motions to Remand With MDL 2179 Court

Tampa, FL (November 10, 2011) – Pinellas Marine Salvage, Inc., et al. v. Kenneth R. Feinberg, et al. and  Salvesen v. Kenneth R. Feinberg, et al. were originally filed in Florida state court. Since the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (“JPML”) has no power over cases pending in state courts, Defendants removed each case to federal court (“Middle District of Florida Court”). Defendants removed each case to federal court solely for the purpose of being able to subsequently file a “tag-along” notice with the JPML for the hopeful transfer of the cases to MDL 2179 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. A Motion to Remand to State Court was filed by Plaintiffs in each case. Each case was transferred to MDL 2179 by the JPML before the Middle District of Florida Court determined the threshold jurisdictional issue: whether removal from state court was proper.

Earlier today, Plaintiffs’ counsel refiled the Pinellas and Salvesen motions to remand with the MDL 2179 Court.

Background
In order to efficiently manage MDL 2179, the Court consolidated and organized the various types of claims into several “pleading bundles.” The “B1” pleading bundle includes all claims for private or “non-governmental economic loss and property damages.” There are in excess of 100,000 individual claims encompassed within the “B1″ bundle.

On January 12, 2011, the MDL 2179 Court issued PTO No. 25, in order to clarify “the scope and effect” of the “B1″ bundle 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.”

“B1″ Master Complaint
In the “B1″ Master Complaint, the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee (“PSC”) alleged claims under general maritime law, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (“OPA”), 33 U.S.C. § 2701, et seq., and various state laws. Under general maritime law, PSC alleged claims for negligence, gross negligence, and strict liability for manufacturing and/or design defect. Under various state laws, PSC alleged claims for nuisance, trespass, and fraudulent concealment, and also alleged a claim for strict liability under the Florida Pollutant Discharge Prevention and Control Act, Fla. Stat.
§ 376.011, et seq. Additionally, PSC sought punitive damages under all claims and requested declaratory relief regarding any settlement provisions that purport to affect the calculation of punitive damages.

On August 26, 2011, the MDL 2179 Court granted in part Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss the “B1″ Master Complaint. The Court ruled: (a) Admiralty jurisdiction is present because the alleged tort occurred upon navigable waters of the Gulf of Mexico, disrupted maritime commerce, and the operations of the vessel bore a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity. With admiralty jurisdiction comes the application of substantive maritime law; (b) State law, both statutory and common, is preempted by maritime law, notwithstanding OPA’s savings provisions. All claims brought under state law are dismissed; and (c) General maritime law claims that do not allege physical damage to a proprietary interest are dismissed under the Robins Dry Dock rule, unless the claim falls into the commercial fishermen exception. In re Oil Spill by the Rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, on April 20, 2010, – – F. Supp. 2d – -, 2011 WL 3805746 (Aug. 26, 2011 E.D. La.).

Pinellas, et al. v. Feinberg, et al. and Salvesen v. Feinberg, et al.
Pinellas Marine Salvage, Inc., et al. v. Kenneth R. Feinberg, et al. and Selmer M. Salvesen v. Kenneth R. Feinberg, et al. are the only two cases of their kind filed in any court in the country. In each case, the complaint alleges, in part, that Defendants Kenneth R. Feinberg, Feinberg Rozen, LLP, and Gulf Coast Claims Facility (“GCCF”) misled Plaintiffs by employing a “Delay, Deny, Defend” strategy against them. This strategy, commonly used by unscrupulous insurance companies, is as follows: “Delay payment, starve claimant, and then offer the economically and emotionally-stressed claimant a miniscule percent of all damages to which the claimant is entitled. If the financially ruined claimant rejects the settlement offer, he or she may sue.”

Both cases, originally filed in Florida state court, are brought by Plaintiffs under the following seven identical causes of action: (a) Gross Negligence; (b) Negligence; (c) Negligence Per Se; (d) Fraud; (e) Fraudulent Inducement; (f) Promissory Estoppel; and (g) Unjust Enrichment. Defendants in both cases are the same, with the exception that William G. Green, Jr. (“Overseer” of all seafood claims for Defendant GCCF in the State of Florida and “Liaison” to GCCF who is in charge of implementing Defendants’ “Delay, Deny, Defend” strategy) has also been named as a defendant in the Salvesen case.

Plaintiffs do not assert any claims under OPA and rely solely on state law. Plaintiffs’ allegation that Defendants are in violation of OPA is merely evidence of, at the very least, Defendants’ negligence.

BP is responsible for the oil spill incident. Feinberg, et al. (independent contractors), via employment of their “Delay, Deny, Defend” strategy, are responsible for not compensating and thereby financially ruining the Pinellas and Salvesen plaintiffs and over 100,000 other victims.

The Pinellas and Salvesen plaintiffs, and all victims of the BP oil spill, continue to suffer damages from three separate sources: (a) once from the oil spill, the environmental and economic damages of which have devastated their way of life; (b) again by being left in financial ruin as a direct result of Defendants’ tortious acts; and (c) a third time for daring to demand justice, which will consume their time, energy and hopes for years to come if they are held hostage by protracted litigation.

The passage of time is the defendant’s best friend. Memories fade, witnesses are more difficult to locate, and plaintiffs lose the desire to continue to fight and either “move on” or settle for less. By declining to permit formal discovery on Kenneth R. Feinberg and the GCCF, the MDL 2179 Court is ensuring that the defendants will not be held accountable and, more importantly, the claimants-turned-plaintiffs will not be fully compensated for damages.

Discovery on Feinberg/GCCF and the associated pressure of a trial are required in order exert pressure on the parties to negotiate a settlement which reflects the true value of the claims and not one which focuses on minimizing the liability of Feinberg Rozen, LLP, Feinberg/GCCF, and the responsible parties.

Neither the Pinellas nor the Salvesen case has been dismissed by the MDL 2179 Court. Plaintiffs in both cases look forward to eventually having their cases remanded to Florida state court where they will be able to hold Defendants accountable.

Lawsuit Filed in State Court Against Kenneth R. Feinberg, Feinberg Rozen, LLP and Gulf Coast Claims Facility

Posted in BP, Feinberg, Fraud, GCCF, Gross Negligence, Gulf Coast Claims Facility, lawsuit by renergie on March 2, 2011

Lawsuit Filed Against Kenneth R. Feinberg, Feinberg Rozen, LLP and
Gulf Coast Claims Facility
__________________

Complaint Alleges Gross Negligence, Fraud, Fraudulent Inducement and Unjust Enrichment

Tampa, FL (March 2, 2011) – A first-of-its-kind lawsuit has been filed in state court in Florida against Kenneth R. Feinberg, Feinberg Rozen, LLP and Gulf Coast Claims Facility (“GCCF”). The 42-page complaint, filed by Attorney Brian J. Donovan on behalf of Pinellas Marine Salvage, Inc. and Mr. John Mavrogiannis alleges, in part, gross negligence, fraud, fraudulent inducement and unjust enrichment on the part of the defendants.

Pinellas Marine Salvage, Inc., a corporation organized under the laws of the State of Florida, is a full-service marine salvage facility on the west coast of Florida serving the Gulf Coast states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The company was founded in January, 1997 by Mavrogiannis for the purpose of addressing a strong market need for used and refurbished marine parts, supplies and vessels. As a result of the actions of the defendants, the company is struggling to survive.

Feinberg, acting through and as Managing Partner of Feinberg Rozen, established GCCF to independently administer and where appropriate settle and authorize the payment of certain claims asserted against BP as a result of the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig and consequent spillage of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege, in part: (a) the defendants, without any legal authority for doing so, circumvent many of the  rights provided to victims of the BP oil spill under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990; (b) the defendants employ a “Delay, Deny, Defend” strategy against claimants. This strategy, commonly used by unscrupulous insurance companies, is as follows: Delay payment, starve claimant, and then offer the economically and emotionally-stressed claimant a miniscule percent of all damages to which the claimant is entitled. If the financially ruined claimant rejects the settlement offer, he or she may sue; (c) the defendants delay payment by telling claimants, “claims will be paid within 90 days after substantiation.” Unbeknownst to the claimants, substantiation means “the claim has been received and reviewed by GCCF.” This definition of substantiation allows a claim to be received and held “under review” indefinitely by GCCF. When GCCF finally “substantiates” the claim, the claimant is told he or she will be paid within 90 days; (d) Feinberg uses the fear of costly and protracted litigation to coerce claimants to accept grossly inadequate settlements from GCCF.  During widely-reported town hall meetings organized to promote GCCF, Feinberg repeatedly tells victims of the BP oil spill: “The litigation route in court will mean uncertainty, years of delay and a big cut for the lawyers.” and “I take the position, if I don’t find you eligible, no court will find you eligible;” and (e) Feinberg misleads claimants by advising during well-reported town hall meetings, on a number of occasions, potential claimants that the fund which he administers is fully funded in the amount of $20 billion. At the end of 2010, the most the fund would have had in its escrow account would have been $5 billion.

Pinellas Marine Salvage, Inc. and Mavrogiannis seek economic and compensatory damages, in amounts to be determined at trial, and punitive damages.

Brian J. Donovan can be reached at BrianJDonovan@verizon.net.

UPDATE

A very different perspective is provided in the following excerpt from an article titled “Pinellas Marine Salvage sues Feinberg over oil spill claim” which appeared in the Tampa Bay Business Journal on March 11, 2011:

Carl Nelson, a shareholder at Fowler White in Tampa, represents 450 businesses – including national companies with nearly 2000 locations – bringing claims related to the spill. His experiences are counter to those outlined in the Mavrogiannis complaint.

“We’ve been treated quite nicely,” Nelson said. “We know how to do it. We’re using economists and forensic accountants.”

Under OPA, the party responsible for a spill is obligated to set up a claims process and to pay claimants that satisfy the conditions set up in the process, Nelson said. The remedy allowed in the law for claimants that satisfy the requirements but are not paid is to sue the responsible party.

“If my clients are not satisfied, then we’ll sue BP,” he said. “Feinberg has no duty to pay anybody.

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BP Oil Spill Victims: Kenneth Feinberg Should Not be the Sole Focus of Anger

BP Oil Spill Victims: Kenneth Feinberg Should Not be the Sole Focus of Anger

By Brian J. Donovan

December 30, 2010

The Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) was meant to replace the inefficient claims process which BP had established to fulfill its obligations as a responsible party pursuant to the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA). BP and the Obama administration agreed to appoint Kenneth Feinberg, a Washington lawyer and Democratic Party supporter who administered the claims process for victims of 9/11, to run the allegedly independent GCCF. Unfortunately, in lieu of ensuring that BP oil spill victims are made whole, the primary goal of GCCF and Feinberg is the limitation of BP’s liability via the systematic postponement, reduction and denial of claims against BP.

Feinberg has been both admired and vilified as the administrator of GCCF. An article in the January issue of the ABA Journal refers to Feinberg as a “Master of Disasters.” Conversely, on December 21, 2010, members of the plaintiffs’ bar filed a Motion in federal court asking Judge Carl J. Barbier to intervene and ensure Feinberg’s comments to GCCF claimants who may be able to sue “are neither confusing nor misleading.” The Motion also questions Feinberg’s independence from BP.

Feinberg is neither a “Master of Disasters” nor the personification of evil. “Administrator” Feinberg is merely a defense attorney zealously advocating on behalf of his client BP.

Anger can be wasted energy which overwhelms and debilitates victims. However, anger, properly channeled, can also serve to motivate victims to take action. In the case of the BP oil spill, victims should not focus their anger on Feinberg but should properly channel their anger by focusing on: (a) an administration that ignores the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and refuses to hold BP accountable; (b) a Congress that introduces unnecessary, and potentially unconstitutional, retroactive legislation in response to the BP oil spill; and (c) a plaintiffs’ bar that values profit over justice.

THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION

Failure of President Obama to Partially Federalize the BP Oil Spill Incident
“Under OPA, BP, the responsible party, has the primary responsibility to clean up its oil spill” had been repeated, in one form or another, so many times by President Obama that it became the truth. The truth is that President Obama, under OPA, had the primary responsibility to “ensure effective and immediate removal of a discharge, and mitigation or prevention of a substantial threat of a discharge, of oil.”

Simply stated, Section 4201 of OPA provided President Obama with three options:
(1) perform cleanup immediately (“federalize” the spill);
(2) monitor the response efforts of the spiller; or
(3) direct the spiller’s cleanup activities.

Pursuant to OPA Section 4201, and given that the BP oil spill was a “discharge posing substantial threat to public health or welfare,” President Obama should have federalized the collection of the oil that was released into the sea and the restoration of the coastal areas impacted by the oil. Both of these activities could have been done without having to federalize the operational priority of stopping the flow of oil from the well.

The failure of President Obama to partially federalize the BP oil spill incident, allowed BP to:
(a) use an excessive and unprecedented amount of dispersant both on the surface and underwater. This toxic “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” strategy resulted in tiny dispersed droplets of oil sinking or remaining suspended in deep water rather than floating to the surface and collecting in a continuous slick. Rather than being collected, the dispersed oil is now on the seabed, where it is toxic food for microscopic organisms at the bottom of the food chain and will eventually wind up in shellfish and other organisms; and
(b) prohibit independent measurement of the amount of oil being released into the Gulf of Mexico by unbiased third party scientists and engineers. BP, with the full support of the federal government, knowingly and systematically underestimated the size of the gusher to limit the financial impact on the company. Under the Clean Water Act (CWA), BP faces fines of up to $4,300 for each barrel spilled. Furthermore, pursuant to Section 2702 of OPA 90, BP should be required to pay royalties (18.75%) owed to the federal government for the oil gushing from the well.

Negotiation of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Trust
On June 16, 2010, President Obama announced that BP agreed to set aside $20 billion to pay economic damage claims to individuals and businesses affected by the Deepwater Horizon incident. The White House press release stated, “BP will provide assurance for these commitments by setting aside $20 billion in U.S. assets.”

BP created the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Trust on August 6, 2010. The Trust Agreement provides, “To secure the payment and performance of its obligations to make the contributions to the Trust hereunder, BP hereby agrees to grant, convey, and/or assign to the Trust first priority perfected security interests in production payments pertaining to BP’s U.S. oil and natural gas production.”

The fact that future production payments pertaining to BP’s U.S. oil and natural gas production, rather than hard U.S. assets, are being used as collateral by BP guarantees BP’s continued long-term operation in the offshore Gulf of Mexico E&P sector. Ironically, the federal government has acquired a vested interest in ensuring the financial well-being of BP.

Given that BP’s financial health and its ability to meet its obligations under GCCF are now tied together, CWA fines and OPA royalty payments for each barrel of oil spilled will most likely be kept to a minimum.

Failure of President Obama to Block BP’s Tax Credit
Adding insult to injury, on July 27, 2010, BP revealed that it is taking a charge of $32.2 billion (and thereby claiming a $9.9 billion tax credit) to reflect the impact of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, including costs to date of $2.9 billion for the response and a charge of $29.3 billion for future costs, including the funding of the $20 billion escrow fund.

During negotiations with BP in regard to creating the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Trust, President Obama failed to even mention that BP should not claim a tax credit. As a result, BP is allowed to substantially offset the amount it is paying to meet its responsibilities for cleanup and compensating victims. In short, President Obama has permitted BP to shift these costs indirectly to U.S. taxpayers.

Failure of President Obama to Fully Utilize the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (OSLTF)
During town hall meetings organized to promote GCCF, Feinberg repeatedly tells victims of the BP oil spill, “the litigation route in court will mean uncertainty, years of delay and a big cut for the lawyers.” “I am determined to come up with a system that will be more generous, more beneficial, than if you go and file a lawsuit.” “It is not in your interest to tie up you and the courts in years of uncertain protracted litigation when there is an alternative that has been created,” Feinberg says. He adds, “I take the position, if I don’t find you eligible, no court will find you eligible.” Feinberg and the Obama administration intentionally fail to mention that litigation is not the only alternative to GCCF. A financially viable OSLTF is a better alternative.

Under OPA, claims for damages must be presented first to the responsible party. 33 U.S.C. § 2713(a) In the event that a claim for damages is either denied or not paid by the responsible party within 90 days, the claimant may elect to commence an action in court against the responsible party or to present the claim to OSLTF. 33 U.S.C. § 2713(c)

Although Congress created OSLTF in 1986, Congress did not authorize its use or provide taxing authority to support it until after the Exxon Valdez incident in 1989. OPA, signed into law on August 18, 1990, provided the statutory authorization and funding necessary for OSLTF. The National Pollution Funds Center (NPFC), an administrative agency of USCG, manages OSLTF and acts as the implementing agency of OPA. Since 2003, USCG has operated in the Department of Homeland Security.

A primary purpose of OSLTF is to compensate persons for removal costs and damages resulting from an oil spill incident. In essence, OSLTF is an insurance policy, or backstop, for victims of an oil spill incident who are not fully compensated by the responsible party.

As Representative Lent explained in urging passage of OPA, “The thrust of this legislation is to eliminate, to the extent possible, the need for an injured person to seek recourse through the litigation process.” Prior to OPA, federal funding for oil spill damage recovery was difficult for private parties. To address this issue, Congress established OSLTF under section 9509 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (26 U.S.C. 9509).

OSLTF is currently funded by: a per barrel tax of 8 cents on petroleum products either produced in the United States or imported from other countries, reimbursements from responsible parties for costs of removal and damages, fines and penalties paid pursuant to various statutes, and interest earned on U.S. Treasury investments. On September 30, 2010, the unaudited OSLTF balance was approximately $1.69 billion.

OSLTF: The Issue of Subrogation
Any person, including OSLTF, who pays compensation pursuant to OPA to any claimant for damages shall be subrogated to all rights, claims, and causes of action that the claimant has under any other law. 33 U.S.C. § 2715(a) Moreover, at the request of the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, the Attorney General shall commence an action on behalf of OSLTF  to recover any compensation paid by OSLTF to any claimant pursuant to OPA, and all costs incurred by OSLTF by reason of the claim, including interest (including prejudgment interest), administrative and adjudicative costs, and attorney’s fees. Such an action may be commenced against any responsible party or guarantor, or against any other person who is liable, pursuant to any law, to the compensated claimant or to OSLTF, for the cost or damages for which the compensation was paid. 33 U.S.C. § 2715(c)

CONGRESS

Proposed Retroactive OPA Legislation
The maximum amount which may be paid from OSLTF with respect to any single incident shall not exceed $1 billion. 26 U.S.C. § 9509(c)(2)(A) Furthermore, except in the case of payments of removal costs, a payment may be made from OSLTF only if the amount in OSLTF after such payment will not be less than $30,000,000. 26 U.S.C. § 9509(c)(2)(B)

The cost of this catastrophic BP oil spill will far exceed the current OSLTF per incident expenditure limit. In response, since the BP oil spill disaster of April, 2010, several bills have been introduced in Congress to amend OPA to increase the liability limit of the responsible party and OSLTF’s per incident expenditure limit for oil spills. For example, H.R. 4213, the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act, passed by the House on May 28, 2010, includes provisions that would raise the per barrel tax used to fund OSLTF to 34 cents and increases the per incident expenditure limit to $5 billion, including up to $2.5 billion in natural resource damage claims.

An important question is whether this legislation can and should be applied retroactively to the BP oil spill disaster of April, 2010. The constitutional issues that may be raised from retroactive application of this legislation are based on the Ex Post Facto Clause, Substantive Due Process, the Takings Clause, the Bill of Attainder Clause, and the Impairment of Contracts Clause.

OSLTF: The Need to Properly Define “Expenditure”
This is an incident of first impression for OSLTF. The BP oil spill of April 22, 2010, a catastrophic oil spill incident, represents the first time that the viability of OSLTF has been threatened. Federal statutes and relevant regulations neither specifically address such a scenario nor provide authority for further compensation. However, OPA legislative history and statements from OPA drafters indicate that drafters intended OSLTF to cover “catastrophic spills.”

The question is if an expenditure is reimbursed, is it still an expenditure? OSLTF is established under Internal Revenue Code. 26 U.S.C § 9509 Under the Internal Revenue Code, a reimbursed expenditure is not deductible. It is not considered to be an expenditure. Therefore, under OSLTF, why should an expenditure, reimbursed by the responsible party, be defined as an expenditure?

Legislative history and the Internal Revenue Code strongly support the conclusion that, in the case of a catastrophic oil spill, the proper definition of the term “expenditure,” under OSLTF, means “an expenditure that is not reimbursed by the responsible party.”

The advantage of defining an expenditure, under OSLTF, as “an expenditure that is not reimbursed by the responsible party,” is twofold:
(a) It eliminates, without the need to pass retroactive legislation, the $1 billion cap which may be paid from the OSLTF with respect to any single incident and allows OSLTF to maintain a balance of at least $1 billion for the purpose of paying claims for damages resulting from other oil spill incidents. As the OSLTF pool of $1 billion is depleted by payments made to oil spill claimants, it is replenished, by virtue of subrogation, by reimbursements made to OSLTF by the responsible party; and
(b) It ensures that the cost of a catastrophic oil spill incident shall be borne by the responsible party, not the federal taxpayer.

THE PLAINTIFFS’ BAR

Class Action Lawsuits
On December 21, 2010, attorneys representing victims of the BP oil spill of April, 2010 filed a Motion in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana requesting Judge Carl J. Barbier to issue an order governing ex parte communication between the BP Defendants and putative class members.

Specifically, the plaintiffs’ attorneys seek to ensure that Feinberg’s communications with putative class members are neither “confusing nor misleading.”

The Motion notes, in part, that “Feinberg has, in various ways, communicated the following messages to both represented parties and putative class members:
• Don’t seek the advice of a lawyer;
• If you litigate, it will take years;
• If you hire a lawyer, he or she will take 40% of your recovery;
• I, and the GCCF, are “independent;”
• We are making “independent” findings or determinations regarding the merits of your claims;
• I will give you more money than you will get (with another lawyer) in litigation; and
• My offer will be based upon the best available independent scientific evidence.”

This Motion filed by the plaintiffs’ attorneys is disingenuous and self-serving. If Feinberg is ordered to ensure that his communications are neither “confusing or misleading,” then the BP plaintiffs’ attorneys should also be ordered to inform their potential clients of the following:

I. A class action lawsuit, brought pursuant to Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, was never intended to address mass torts. The Supreme Court observed that, while the text of Rule 23(b)(3) does not preclude certification in cases with significant damages, the drafters “had dominantly in mind” the use of the class action to aggregate relatively small individual recoveries into a case that would be worthwhile for an attorney to litigate. Amchem Products, Inc. v. Windsor, 117 S.Ct. at 2244.

II. Given that the damages suffered by the vast majority of individual potential plaintiffs as a result of the BP oil spill of April, 2010 are potentially so great, it should be economically feasible for many individual plaintiffs to file individual lawsuits. Here, class treatment would not be necessary to permit effective litigation of the claim. An individual lawsuit will: (a) ensure the plaintiff that the plaintiff’s attorney has his or her best interests in mind; (b) protect the plaintiff’s due process rights; (c) ensure that the plaintiff is not a victim of a so-called “faux” class action case, i.e., a case in which individual class members receive little or no compensation and only plaintiffs‘ counsel stand to benefit from class certification; (d) give the plaintiff control over the prosecution of the case; (e) allow the plaintiff to present evidence of exposure, injury, and damages relating to his or her particular claim; and (f) allow the plaintiff to make the decision on whether or when to settle.

III. BP, the responsible party, is a powerful and well-funded defendant, does not lack imagination or incentive to pose innumerable legal barriers, and will aggressively assert its legal rights and otherwise use the law, the courts and the judicial system to serve its interests. BP can afford to stall, and actually benefits from delay, but its victims cannot afford to wait for years to be fully compensated for their losses.

IV. In the event that a claim for damages is either denied or not paid by GCCF within 90 days, the claimant should immediately present the claim to OSLTF prior to commencing an action in court against BP, et al.

CONCLUSION

As of the date of this article, it has been 254 days since the blowout of the BP offshore well in the Gulf of Mexico.

In lieu of ensuring that BP oil spill victims are made whole, the primary goal of GCCF and Feinberg is the limitation of BP’s liability via the systematic postponement, reduction and denial of claims against BP. Victims of the BP oil spill must understand that “Administrator” Feinberg is merely a defense attorney zealously advocating on behalf of his client BP.

Victims of the BP oil spill should not focus their anger on Feinberg but should properly channel their anger by focusing on: (a) an administration that refuses to hold BP accountable and ensure that victims of the BP oil spill are fully compensated via OSLTF; (b) a Congress that introduces unnecessary, and potentially unconstitutional, retroactive legislation in response to the BP oil spill; and (c) a plaintiffs’ bar that values profit over justice.

The question is whether victims of the BP oil spill will have to pay three times: (a) once for the massive BP oil spill, the environmental and economic damages of which will devastate their way of life and leave many in financial ruin; (b) again by being mislead by the Obama administration and undercompensated by GCCF; and (c) a third time for daring to demand justice, which will consume their time, energy and hopes for years to come if they are held hostage by protracted class action or individual lawsuits.

It is the Obama administration’s duty to guarantee the claims process established by BP provides at least the same protections and rights mandated by OPA. The Secretary of DHS is uniquely positioned, and has a duty pursuant to 33 U.S.C. § 2715(c), to ensure that victims of the BP oil spill are: (a) not victimized by BP/GCCF; (b) not forced into joining class action lawsuits by the Plaintiffs’ Bar; and (c) made whole by the OSLTF.

The primary focus of anger for BP oil spill victims should center on the fact that there is no need to be held hostage by GCCF. A victim of the BP oil spill may merely present a claim for damages to BP/GCCF and wait 90 days. If BP/GCCF does not pay the claim, the victim may present the claim to OSLTF. At that point, OSLTF may pay the victim and then the U.S. Attorney General may commence an action on behalf of OSLTF against BP and collect the amount from BP. “Any person, including OSLTF, who pays compensation pursuant to OPA to any claimant for damages shall be subrogated to all rights, claims, and causes of action that the claimant has under any other law.” Moreover, once “expenditure” is properly defined,  it eliminates, without the need to pass retroactive legislation, the $1 billion cap which may be paid from OSLTF with respect to any single incident. As the OSLTF pool of $1 billion is depleted by payments made to oil spill claimants, it is replenished, by virtue of subrogation, by reimbursements made to OSLTF by the responsible party.

Brian J. Donovan can be reached at BrianJDonovan@verizon.net.

UPDATE

Second Lawsuit Filed Against Kenneth R. Feinberg, Feinberg Rozen, LLP and Gulf Coast Claims Facility

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BP Oil Spill: Failure to Act by the Obama Administration and Congress Threatens the Financial Viability of the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (OSLTF)

Posted in Feinberg, GCCF, Napolitano, Obama, oil spill, OPA, OSLTF by renergie on December 6, 2010

BP Oil Spill: Failure to Act by the Obama Administration and Congress Threatens the Financial Viability

of the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (OSLTF)
_______________________________

Oil Spill Victims are Left with an Uncertain Future

By Brian J. Donovan

December 6, 2010

Although Congress created the OSLTF in 1986, Congress did not authorize its use or provide taxing authority to support it until after the Exxon Valdez incident in 1989. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA), signed into law on August 18, 1990, provided the statutory authorization and funding necessary for the OSLTF. The National Pollution Funds Center (NPFC), an administrative agency of the United States Coast Guard (USCG), manages the OSLTF and acts as the implementing agency of OPA. Since 2003, the USCG has operated in the Department of Homeland Security.

A primary purpose of the OSLTF is to compensate persons for removal costs and damages resulting from an oil spill incident. In essence, the OSLTF is an insurance policy, or backstop, for victims of an oil spill incident who are not fully compensated by the responsible party.

OPA established an expenditure cap of $1 billion per oil spill incident. This $1 billion expenditure limit includes $500 million for natural resource damage assessments and claims. Although not allowed to be taken into consideration by the NPFC, $1 billion today does not have the same value as it did in 1990, when OPA was enacted. If the $1 billion amount had been adjusted for inflation, it would be approximately $1.6 billion in today’s dollars. Coincidentally, on September 30, 2010, the unaudited OSLTF balance was approximately $1.69 billion.

To date, NPFC has billed the responsible party for the BP oil spill $581 million for response activities performed by nine federal government agencies and various state government agencies. As of October 12, 2010, BP has paid NPFC $518.4 million.

Victims of the BP oil spill are at risk as a result of the 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. The OSLTF will very likely reach the $1 billion per incident cap on total expenditures in the near future.

The advantage of defining an expenditure, under the OSLTF, as “an expenditure that is not reimbursed by the responsible party,” is twofold:
(a) It eliminates, without the need to pass retroactive legislation, the $1 billion cap which may be paid from the OSLTF with respect to any single incident and allows the OSLTF to maintain a balance of at least $1 billion for the purpose of paying claims for damages resulting from other oil spill incidents. As the OSLTF pool of $1 billion is depleted by payments made to oil spill claimants, it is replenished, by virtue of subrogation, by reimbursements made to the OSLTF by the responsible party; and
(b) It ensures that the cost of a catastrophic oil spill incident shall be borne by the responsible party, not the federal taxpayer.

On November 27, 2010, The Donovan Law Group sent a letter to the Honorable Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, explaining the need to  properly define the term “expenditure” under the OSLTF.

The full text of the letter follows. Links have been added for clarification.

November 27, 2010

VIA CERTIFIED MAIL
RETURN RECEIPT REQUESTED

The Honorable Janet Napolitano
Office of the Secretary
Department of Homeland Security
245 Murray Lane, SW
Washington, DC 20528

Re: BP Oil Spill – The Need to Properly Define “Expenditure”
Under the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (OSLTF)

Dear Secretary Napolitano:

I am writing in regard to the need to properly define the term “expenditure” under the OSLTF. Under the OSLTF, expenditure should mean “an expenditure that is not reimbursed by the responsible party.” Defining the term in any other manner ignores the legislative intent of Congress and the Internal Revenue Code.

The question is whether victims of the BP oil spill of April 22, 2010 will have to pay three times: (a) once for the oil spill, the environmental and economic damages of which will devastate their way of life and leave many in financial ruin; (b) again by being mislead and undercompensated by GCCF; and (c) a third time for daring to demand justice, which will consume their time, energy and hopes for years to come if they are held hostage by protracted individual lawsuits or class action lawsuits.

The damages suffered by victims of the BP oil spill incident of April 22, 2010 will be enormous and on-going. The livelihoods of all persons whose businesses rely on the natural resources of the Gulf Coast are at risk. Commercial fishermen, oyster harvesters, shrimpers, and  businesses involved, directly or indirectly, in processing and packaging for the seafood industry will experience the end of a way of life that, in many cases, has been passed down from one generation to the next.

BP and Oxford Economics estimate the total cost to clean up this unprecedented spill to be in the tens of billions of dollars. On November 2, 2010, BP raised its estimated cost of cleaning up the Macondo oil spill incident to $40 billion. Other independent third party estimates range between $60 billion and $90 billion.

Secretary Janet Napolitano
November 27, 2010
Page 2

How will victims of this unprecedented oil spill be fully compensated for their losses? Theoretically, there are three potential avenues of compensation which victims of this oil spill may pursue to be made whole: (a) the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF); (b) litigation; and (c) the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (OSLTF).

GULF COAST CLAIMS FACILITY (GCCF)

GCCF was meant to replace the inefficient claims process which BP had established to fulfill its obligations as a responsible party pursuant to the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA). It was not the legislative intent of Congress for OPA to limit an oil spill victim’s right to seek full compensation from the responsible party. BP and Kenneth Feinberg, the GCCF claims administrator, allege that GCCF (and the protocols under which it operates) are structured to be compliant with OPA. However, as explained in my letter, dated October 18, 2010 and received by your office on October 25, 2010, GCCF is in violation of OPA. In lieu of ensuring that oil spill victims are made whole, GCCF’s primary goal appears to be the limitation of BP’s liability via the systematic postponement, reduction or denial of claims against BP.

LITIGATION

Kenneth Feinberg uses the fear of costly and protracted litigation to coerce victims of the BP oil spill to accept grossly inadequate settlements from GCCF. During town hall meetings organized to promote GCCF, Feinberg repeatedly tells victims of the BP oil spill, “the litigation route in court will mean uncertainty, years of delay and a big cut for the lawyers.” “I am determined to come up with a system that will be more generous, more beneficial, than if you go and file a lawsuit.” “It is not in your interest to tie up you and the courts in years of uncertain protracted litigation when there is an alternative that has been created,” Feinberg says. He adds, “I take the position, if I don’t find you eligible, no court will find you eligible.” Mr. Feinberg intentionally fails to mention that litigation is not the only alternative to GCCF.

BP, the responsible party, is a powerful and well-funded defendant, does not lack imagination or incentive to pose innumerable legal barriers, and will aggressively assert its legal rights and otherwise use the law, the courts and the judicial system to serve its interests. BP can afford to stall, and actually benefits from delay, but its victims cannot afford to wait for years to be fully compensated for their losses.

Secretary Janet Napolitano
November 27, 2010
Page 3

OIL SPILL LIABILITY TRUST FUND (OSLTF)

As Representative Lent explained in urging passage of OPA, “The thrust of this legislation is to eliminate, to the extent possible, the need for an injured person to seek recourse through the litigation process.” See 135 Cong. Rec. H7962 (daily ed. Nov. 2, 1989) Prior to OPA, federal funding for oil spill damage recovery was difficult for private parties. To address this issue, Congress established the OSLTF under section 9509 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (26 U.S.C. 9509).

The OSLTF is currently funded by: a per barrel tax of 8 cents on petroleum products either produced in the United States or imported from other countries, reimbursements from responsible parties for costs of removal and damages, fines and penalties paid pursuant to various statutes, and interest earned on U.S. Treasury investments. On September 30, 2010, the unaudited OSLTF balance was approximately $1.69 billion.

Under OPA, claims for damages must be presented first to the responsible party. 33 U.S.C. § 2713(a) In the event that a claim for damages is either denied or not paid by the responsible party within 90 days, the claimant may elect to commence an action in court against the responsible party or to present the claim to the OSLTF. 33 U.S.C. § 2713(c)

 

Expenditure
The maximum amount which may be paid from the OSLTF with respect to any single incident shall not exceed $1 billion. 26 U.S.C. § 9509(c)(2)(A) Furthermore, except in the case of payments of removal costs, a payment may be made from the OSLTF only if the amount in the OSLTF after such payment will not be less than $30,000,000. 26 U.S.C. § 9509(c)(2)(B)

This is an incident of first impression for the OSLTF. The BP oil spill of April 22, 2010, a catastrophic oil spill incident, represents the first time that the viability of the OSLTF has been threatened. Federal statutes and relevant regulations neither specifically address such a scenario nor provide authority for further compensation. However, OPA legislative history and statements from OPA drafters indicate that drafters intended the OSLTF to cover “catastrophic spills.” See U.S. Congress, House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries, Report accompanying H.R. 1465, Oil Pollution Prevention, Removal, Liability, and Compensation Act of 1989, 1989, H.Rept. 101-242, Part 2, 101st Cong., 1st sess., p. 36

If an expenditure is reimbursed, is it still an expenditure? The OSLTF is established under Internal Revenue Code. 26 U.S.C § 9509 Under the Internal Revenue Code, a reimbursed expenditure is not deductible. It is not considered to be an expenditure. Therefore, under the OSLTF, why should an expenditure, reimbursed by the responsible party, be defined as an expenditure?

Secretary Janet Napolitano
November 27, 2010
Page 4

Legislative history and the Internal Revenue Code strongly support the conclusion that, in the case of a catastrophic oil spill, the proper definition of the term “expenditure,” under the OSLTF, means “an expenditure that is not reimbursed by the responsible party.”

 

Subrogation
Any person, including the OSLTF, who pays compensation pursuant to OPA to any claimant for damages shall be subrogated to all rights, claims, and causes of action that the claimant has under any other law. 33 U.S.C. § 2715(a)

Moreover, at the request of the Secretary, the Attorney General shall commence an action on behalf of the OSLTF to recover any compensation paid by the OSLTF to any claimant pursuant to OPA, and all costs incurred by the OSLTF by reason of the claim, including interest (including prejudgment interest), administrative and adjudicative costs, and attorney’s fees. Such an action may be commenced against any responsible party or guarantor, or against any other person who is liable, pursuant to any law, to the compensated claimant or to the OSLTF, for the cost or damages for which the compensation was paid. 33 U.S.C. § 2715(c) Thus, a responsible party may ultimately pay a claim that was initially denied, or not addressed for more than 90 days, by the responsible party.

 

Proposed Retroactive OPA Legislation
The cost of this catastrophic BP oil spill will far exceed the current OSLTF per incident expenditure limit. In response, since the BP oil spill disaster of April, 2010, bills have been introduced to amend OPA to increase the liability limit of the responsible party and the OSLTF’s per incident expenditure limit for oil spills. For example, H.R. 4213, the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act, passed by the House on May 28, 2010, includes provisions that would raise the per barrel tax used to fund the OSLTF to 34 cents and increases the per incident expenditure limit to $5 billion, including up to $2.5 billion in natural resource damage claims.

An important question is whether this legislation can and should be applied retroactively to the BP oil spill disaster of April, 2010. The constitutional issues that may be raised from retroactive application of this legislation are based on the Ex Post Facto Clause, Substantive Due Process, the Takings Clause, the Bill of Attainder Clause, and the Impairment of Contracts Clause.

Secretary Janet Napolitano
November 27, 2010
Page 5

CONCLUSION

The advantage of defining an expenditure, under the OSLTF, as “an expenditure that is not reimbursed by the responsible party,” is twofold:
(a) It eliminates, without the need to pass retroactive legislation, the $1 billion cap which may be paid from the OSLTF with respect to any single incident and allows the OSLTF to maintain a balance of at least $1 billion for the purpose of paying claims for damages resulting from other oil spill incidents. As the OSLTF pool of $1 billion is depleted by payments made to oil spill claimants, it is replenished, by virtue of subrogation, by reimbursements made to the OSLTF by the responsible party; and
(b) It ensures that the cost of a catastrophic oil spill incident shall be borne by the responsible party, not the federal taxpayer.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this issue. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at 352-328-7469 or via e-mail at BrianJDonovan@verizon.net.
Very truly yours,

Brian J. Donovan
BJD/rc

cc:   The Honorable Edward J. Markey           The Honorable Daniel K. Inouye
The Honorable James L. Oberstar           The Honorable Barbara Boxer
The Honorable Elijah E. Cummings         The Honorable Joseph I. Lieberman
The Honorable Corrine Brown                  The Honorable Troy King
The Honorable Anh “Joseph” Cao            The Honorable David R. Obey
The Honorable John Conyers, Jr.             The Honorable Henry A. Waxman
The Honorable John L. Mica                     The Honorable Bennie G. Thompson
The Honorable Jeff Bingaman                  The Honorable Nick J. Rahall, II
The Honorable Bill Nelson                          The Honorable Charles W. Boustany, Jr.
The Honorable Bobby Jindal                     The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.

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