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In re Deepwater Horizon

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

March 3, 2014

IN RE: DEEPWATER HORIZON
v.
BP EXPLORATION & PRODUCTION, INCORPORATED; BP AMERICA PRODUCTION COMPANY; BP PIPE LINE COMPANY, Defendants-Appellants LAKE EUGENIE LAND & DEVELOPMENT, INCORPORATED; BON SECOUR FISHERIES, INCORPORATED; FORT MORGAN REALTY, INCORPORATED; LFBP 1, L.L.C., doing business as GW Fins; PANAMA CITY BEACH DOLPHIN TOURS & MORE, L.L.C.; ZEKES CHARTER FLEET, L.L.C.; WILLIAM SELLERS; KATHLEEN IRWIN; RONALD LUNDY; CORLISS GALLO; JOHN TESVICH; MICHAEL GUIDRY, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated; HENRY HUTTO; BRAD FRILOUX; JERRY J. KEE, Plaintiffs - Appellees IN RE: DEEPWATER HORIZON LAKE EUGENIE LAND & DEVELOPMENT, INCORPORATED; BON SECOUR FISHERIES, INCORPORATED; FORT MORGAN REALTY, INCORPORATED; LFBP 1, L.L.C., doing business as GW Fins; PANAMA CITY BEACH DOLPHIN TOURS & MORE, L.L.C.; ZEKES CHARTER FLEET, L.L.C.; WILLIAM SELLERS; KATHLEEN IRWIN; RONALD LUNDY; CORLISS GALLO; JOHN TESVICH; MICHAEL GUIDRY, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated; HENRY HUTTO; BRAD FRILOUX; JERRY J. KEE, Plaintiffs - Appellees
v.
BP EXPLORATION & PRODUCTION, INCORPORATED; BP AMERICA PRODUCTION COMPANY; BP, P.L.C., Defendants-Appellants BP EXPLORATION & PRODUCTION, INCORPORATED; BP AMERICA PRODUCTION COMPANY Plaintiffs - Appellants
v.
LAKE EUGENIE LAND & DEVELOPMENT, INCORPORATED; BON SECOUR FISHERIES, INCORPORATED; FORT MORGAN REALTY, INCORPORATED; LFBP 1, L.L.C., doing business as GW Fins; PANAMA CITY BEACH DOLPHIN TOURS & MORE, L.L.C.; ZEKES CHARTER FLEET, L.L.C.; WILLIAM SELLERS; KATHLEEN IRWIN; RONALD LUNDY; CORLISS GALLO; JOHN TESVICH; MICHAEL GUIDRY, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated; HENRY HUTTO; BRAD FRILOUX; JERRY J. KEE, Intervenor Defendants-Appellees DEEPWATER HORIZON COURT SUPERVISED SETTLEMENT PROGRAM; PATRICK A. JUNEAU, in his official capacity as Claims Administrator of the Deepwater Horizon Court Supervised Settlement Program administering the Deepwater Horizon Economic and Property Damages Settlement Agreement, and in his official capacity as Trustee of the Deepwater Defendants-Appellees IN RE: DEEPWATER HORIZON LAKE EUGENIE LAND & DEVELOPMENT, INCORPORATED; BON SECOUR FISHERIES, INCORPORATED; FORT MORGAN REALTY, INCORPORATED; LFBP 1, L.L.C., doing business as GW Fins; PANAMA CITY BEACH DOLPHIN TOURS & MORE, L.L.C.; ZEKES CHARTER FLEET, L.L.C.; WILLIAM SELLERS; KATHLEEN IRWIN; RONALD LUNDY; CORLISS GALLO; JOHN TESVICH; MICHAEL GUIDRY, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated; HENRY HUTTO; BRAD FRILOUX; JERRY J. KEE, Plaintiffs - Appellees
v.
BP EXPLORATION & PRODUCTION, INCORPORATED; BP AMERICA PRODUCTION COMPANY; BP PIPE LINE COMPANY, Defendants-Appellants IN RE: DEEPWATER HORIZON LAKE EUGENIE LAND & DEVELOPMENT, INCORPORATED; BON SECOUR FISHERIES, INCORPORATED; FORT MORGAN REALTY, INCORPORATED; LFBP 1, L.L.C., doing business as GW Fins; PANAMA CITY BEACH DOLPHIN TOURS & MORE, L.L.C.; ZEKES CHARTER FLEET, L.L.C.; WILLIAM SELLERS; KATHLEEN IRWIN; RONALD LUNDY; CORLISS GALLO; JOHN TESVICH; MICHAEL GUIDRY, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated; HENRY HUTTO; BRAD FRILOUX; JERRY J. KEE, Plaintiffs - Appellees
v.
BP EXPLORATION & PRODUCTION, INCORPORATED; BP AMERICA PRODUCTION COMPANY; BP, P.L.C., Defendants-Appellants

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

Before DENNIS, CLEMENT and SOUTHWICK, Circuit Judges.

LESLIE H. SOUTHWICK, Circuit Judge:

This appeal concerns issues arising under a Settlement Agreement approved by the district court in December 2012. Relevant to us today is that the settlement provided a mechanism for presenting and processing claims for business losses caused by the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The district court made two rulings as directed by our October 2013 remand. One concerned an accounting question, which was resolved in a sufficiently satisfactory manner as not to be appealed by any party. The other ruling was that the Settlement Agreement did not require those submitting claims for certain business losses to provide evidence of causation. BP Exploration and Production, Inc. appeals that ruling and also argues that an injunction is required to stop payments on such claims. We AFFIRM.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This appeal was originally briefed in May and June of 2013 and orally argued in July. BP's argument at that time concerned contract interpretation. Its appeal was from an order of the district court entered on March 5, 2013. That order affirmed a Policy Statement issued by the claims administrator on January 15, 2013. BP asserted that the district court and claims administrator's interpretations of Exhibit 4C of the Settlement Agreement were erroneous because they did not require matching of revenues and expenses in claims processing. On October 2, 2013, this panel, writing three separate opinions, remanded with guidance to the district court for reconsidering the necessity of matching revenues and expenses when processing Business and Economic Loss ("BEL") claims. See In re Deepwater Horizon, 732 F.3d 326, 332-39 (5th Cir. 2013) ("Deepwater Horizon I").

Additionally, in a part of the opinion for the court that no other panel member joined, Judge Clement wrote on a separate but related issue. She determined that if the Settlement Agreement's causation evidentiary framework was interpreted not to require proof of a nexus between the Deepwater Horizon disaster and a claimant's damages, the Settlement Agreement would violate Article III, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, and the Rules Enabling Act. Id. at 342-43. Because that issue had not been briefed or argued, Judge Southwick wrote that it was inappropriate to resolve it. Id. at 346 (Southwick, J. concurring). Nonetheless, he called the analysis "logical" and joined in requiring the district court to consider, on remand, the relevance of causation to the extent the parties argued the point. Id.

On remand, the district court, in three different orders spread over several weeks, indicated that it did not believe this court had required an evaluation of the causation issue. On December 2, 2013, we clarified that Judges Clement and Southwick had agreed in their separate October opinions that, if raised, the district court must consider the Article III and other causation arguments on remand. We acknowledged that our issuance of multiple "opinions may have created interpretive difficulties on the remand, but the district court erred by not considering the arguments on causation." Yet again today, we each express ourselves individually. Two of us do at least say in tandem, clearly we trust, "affirm."

On December 24, the district court held that the Settlement Agreement requires matching of revenues and expenses. The court directed the claims administrator to implement that interpretation. As of that ruling, the entirety of BP's initial argument, namely, that the initial interpretations of Exhibit 4C were incorrect, was successful. Also at that point, though, the district court rejected BP's arguments with respect to the new issue of whether Article III, Rule 23, and the Rules Enabling Act permitted the parties to agree to a settlement that dealt with causation in this manner. To answer that second question, the district court analyzed the terms of the Settlement Agreement and an October 10, 2012, Policy Statement by the claims administrator to which BP had not objected. The district court concluded that the language of the Settlement Agreement did not require extrinsic inquiry into causation and that the Settlement Agreement had not violated Article III, Rule 23, or the Rules Enabling Act by eschewing the need for evidence of causation.

BP renewed its emergency motion for an injunction with this court on December 30, challenging only the district court's rejection of its causation arguments. No party appealed the district court's instruction to the claims administrator to implement the district court's interpretation of the Settlement Agreement with respect to matching.

While this panel has been addressing questions arising out of the claims administrator's interpretation of the Settlement Agreement, another panel considered the chronologically earlier question of the validity of the certification of the class by the district court on December 21, 2012, and the approval of the Settlement Agreement. In a January 10, 2014, decision, what we will refer to as the "certification panel" determined the class certification and settlement approval did not contravene Article III, Rule 23, or the Rules Enabling Act. See In re Deepwater Horizon, 739 F.3d 790, 795 (5th Cir. 2014) (Deepwater Horizon II).

The certification panel declined to analyze issues arising from the interpretation and implementation of the settlement after its approval by the district court, but the panel held that all Article III, Rule 23, and Rules Enabling Act concerns were resolved at the class certification and settlement approval stage. Id. at 804. We directed letter briefing on the impact of that decision on the remaining issues before this panel for resolution. We now consider the issues that we conclude remain before us.

DISCUSSION

Contract interpretation is a question of law we review de novo. Waterfowl L.L.C. v. United States, 473 F.3d 135, 141 (5th Cir. 2006). BP argues that the district court erred in concluding that the Settlement Agreement's causation framework did not violate Article III, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, and the Rules Enabling Act. Only part of this issue was resolved on January 10 by the certification panel when it concluded that the certification of a class and the approval of the Settlement Agreement were proper. What this panel now must decide is whether the implementation of the Settlement Agreement is defective.

BP contends that Section 1.3.1.2 of the class definition and footnote 1 of Exhibit 4B establish a requirement that claimants prove with evidence that they are proper class members. Section 1.3.1.2 states: "Economic Damage Category. Loss of income, earnings or profits suffered by Natural Persons or Entities as a result of the DEEPWATER HORIZON INCIDENT." Footnote 1 of Exhibit 4B states: "This Causation Requirements for Business Economic Loss Claims does not apply to . . . Entities, Individuals, or Claims not included within the Economic Class definition." We will discuss the referenced footnote later.

The class definition was relied upon by the certification panel when it concluded that the Settlement Agreement complied with Article III:

Under the plain terms of the Class Definition, a "person or entity" is included "in the Economic Class only if their Claims meet the descriptions of one or more of the Damage Categories described" in Section 1.3.1 of the Class Definition. Of these "Damage Categories, " the only category that BP has identified as giving rise to Article III difficulties is the "Economic Damage Category" under Section 1.3.1.2. This section of the Settlement Agreement, however, explicitly limits claims to those based on "[l]oss of income, earnings or profits suffered by Natural Persons or Entities as a result of the DEEPWATER HORIZON INCIDENT, " subject to exclusions for ...

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