On April 5, U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier reaffirmed his prior rulings that Pat Juneau, claims administrator for the Deepwater Horizon Economic Settlement, is correctly interpreting how the multi-billion settlement is paid out to business claimants who suffered losses related to the 2010 Gulf oil disaster.
Barbier dismissed a lawsuit BP filed against Juneau and denied the company's motion for a preliminary injunction on certain types of claim payments. The hearing took place before a courtroom filled to capacity; court officials had to open up an overflow room to accommodate spectators.
The disagreement involves only business economic loss (BEL) claimants, who have — so far — received the largest damage amounts. BP initially anticipated the entire settlement would cost about $7.8 billion, but its potential exposure on BELs alone — one claim category among 12 — could surpass that.
In arguments before the court, settlement class attorney Steve Herman said BP is now "appealing virtually every [claim]" to the small Deepwater Horizon settlement appeal panel. He showed the court one such appeal, where the company wrote that a claimant was attempting to file a false claim "under penalty of perjury."
"They have a nerve to imply, intimidate, threaten, class members with prosecution for perjury," Herman said.
Making his ruling, Barbier asserted it was "obvious" that BP was filing request for injunction only as a redundant "belt and suspenders move BP to gain some appellate rights." He said granting an injunction would amount to a ruling against himself. "My question is, I'm having a real hard time understanding how BP is asking me to enjoin Mr. Juneau from following my order. Basically you're asking me to enjoin myself," he said.
As for the suit against Juneau, which alleged a breach of contract, Barbier said allowing it to go forward would set a bad precedent, allowing anyone who disagreed with how he awarded or denied claims. "If you can sue the claims administrator essentially for doing his job ... why can't anyone else?" Barbier said. — Charles Maldonado