Sign the Petition: The Intended Purpose of the OSLTF Is to Fully Compensate Oil Spill Victims via Subrogation
Sign the Petition: The Intended Purpose of the OSLTF Is to Fully Compensate Oil Spill Victims via Subrogation
DATE: March 28, 2014
PURPOSE OF THE PETITION
The purpose of this petition is to 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 Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (“OSLTF’), as “an expenditure that is not reimbursed by the responsible party.”
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 that are not fully compensated by the responsible party.
Any person, including the OSLTF, that pays compensation pursuant to the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (“OPA”) to any claimant for damages [resulting from an oil spill] 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)
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.
Victims of catastrophic oil spills are at risk as a result of this cap. The cap is for total expenditures. This $1 billion expenditure limit applies even if the OSLTF is fully reimbursed by the responsible party and net expenditures are zero.
I am writing in regard to the need to properly define the term “expenditure” under the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (“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 BP oil spill of 2010 is instructive.
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 misled and undercompensated by GCCF and DHCC; 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.
How will victims of this unprecedented oil spill be fully compensated for their losses? Theoretically, there are four potential avenues of compensation for victims of this oil spill: (a) the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (“GCCF”); (b) the Deepwater Horizon Claims Center (“DHCC”); (c) litigation; and (d) the OSLTF.
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, 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.
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 payment to approximately 61.46% of the claimants who filed claims; the average total amount paid per claimant was $27,466.47.
The status report data further indicates that the GCCF paid a total of 230,370 claimants who filed claims with the GCCF during the “Phase II” period. Of these, 195,109 were either Quick Pay or Full Review Final payments; only 35,261 were Interim payments. In sum, the GCCF forced 84.68% of the claimants to sign a release and covenant not to sue in which the claimant agreed not to sue BP and all other potentially liable parties; only 15.31% of the claimants were not required to sign a release and covenant not to sue in order to be paid.
The DHCC and the GCCF are virtually identical. Under the GCCF, the evaluation and processing of claims were performed by Garden City Group, Inc., BrownGreer, PLC, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP (“PwC”). Under the DHCC, the evaluation and processing of claims shall continue to be performed by Garden City Group, Inc., BrownGreer, PLC, and PwC. Accordingly, although Patrick Juneau has replaced Ken Feinberg, there is no reason to believe that the percentage of claimants denied payment and the average total amount paid per claimant will change under the DHCC.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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?
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.”
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.
The advantage of defining an expenditure, under the OSLTF, as “an expenditure that is not reimbursed by the responsible party,” is threefold:
(a) It eliminates the $1 billion cap which may be paid from the OSLTF with respect to any single incident;
(b) It 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 catastrophic oil spill claimants, it is replenished, by virtue of subrogation, by reimbursements made to the OSLTF by the responsible party; and
(c) It ensures that the costs and damages resulting from 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.
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”).
State of Mississippi v. Gulf Coast Claims Facility and Kenneth Feinberg: Case Is Remanded to State Court
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
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.”
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