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Supreme Court to hear class-action dispute

  Class Action  -   POSTED: 2014/04/07 18:26

The Supreme Court will consider the requirements for transferring class-action lawsuits from state courts to federal courts.

The justices on Monday agreed to hear an appeal from a Michigan energy company that asserts it should be allowed to move a class-action case from Kansas state court to federal court. Federal law allows such transfers in cases involving more than $5 million.

A group of royalty owners sued the Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co. alleging they were underpaid royalties on oil and gas wells. The plaintiffs did not seek a specific damage amount, but the company claimed it would far exceed $5 million.

Video: Supreme Court Won’t Hear NSA Case Now

A federal judge rejected the transfer request because the company did not offer any evidentiary support. The company says the law does not require detailed evidence.



Over BP's objections, a federal appeals court on Friday upheld a judge's approval of the company's multibillion-dollar settlement with lawyers for businesses and residents who claim the massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico cost them money.

BP has argued that U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier and court-appointed claims administrator Patrick Juneau have misinterpreted settlement terms in ways that would force the London-based oil giant to pay for billions of dollars in inflated or bogus claims by businesses.

During a hearing in November before a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a BP lawyer argued that Barbier's December 2012 approval of the deal shouldn't stand unless the company ultimately prevails in its ongoing dispute over business payments.

But the divided panel ruled Friday that Barbier did not err by failing to determine more than a year ago whether the class of eligible claimants included individuals who haven't actually suffered any injury related to the spill.

Affirming Barbier's initial ruling in 2012, the court said in its 48-page majority opinion that it can't agree with arguments raised by BP and others who separately objected to the settlement.


Court won't rule on union-casino agreement

  Class Action  -   POSTED: 2013/12/08 05:23

The Supreme Court won't decide the legality of an agreement between a union and a Florida casino in which the business helped the union organize in return for help with a ballot initiative on gambling.

The justices on Tuesday dismissed an appeal from UNITE HERE Local 355 without deciding whether its agreement with Hollywood Greyhound Track, Inc., also known as Mardi Gras Gaming, was valid.

The union agreed to help the company win a gambling ballot initiative, and agreed not to picket, boycott, or strike. Mardi Gras officials agreed to give the union employee addresses, access to the facility and not to ask for a secret union ballot election.

An employee, Martin Mulhall, then sued, saying that the agreement violated national labor laws, which say companies cannot give unions that want to represent employees something of value. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, saying the company's agreement to help the union was a "thing of value" made illegal by the Labor Management Relations Act. Other federal appeals courts, however, have ruled differently.

The Supreme Court's decision not to hear the appeal leaves the 11th Circuit ruling in place.

Justice Stephen Breyer, along with Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, said they disagreed with the dismissal. They say the lower court ruling should be vacated and the court should have additional briefings.

But Breyer, in his dissent, said justices found out that the union-casino contract expired before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made its decision, which would render the case moot. He says that the person who sued over the contract, Martin Mulhall, also may not have had to right to sue over the issue.

But "given the importance of the question presented to the collective-bargaining process, further briefing, rather than dismissal, is the better course of action," Breyer said.


The April 2010 blowout of BP's Macondo well off the Louisiana coast triggered an explosion that killed 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and led to millions of gallons of oil spilling into the Gulf. Shortly after the disaster, BP agreed to create a $20 billion compensation fund that was administered at first by the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, led by attorney Kenneth Feinberg.

BP argued that Barbier and court-appointed claims administrator Patrick Juneau misinterpreted terms of the settlement. Plaintiffs' lawyers countered that BP undervalued the settlement and underestimated how many claimants would qualify for payments.

In the panel's majority opinion, Judge Edith Brown Clement said BP has consistently argued that the settlement's complex formula for compensating businesses was intended to cover "real economic losses, not artificial losses that appear only from the timing of cash flows."

"The interests of individuals who may be reaping windfall recoveries because of an inappropriate interpretation of the Settlement Agreement and those who could never have recovered in individual suits for failure to show causation are not outweighed by the potential loss to a company and its public shareholders of hundreds of millions of dollars of unrecoverable awards," Clement wrote.

Judge Leslie Southwick wrote a concurring opinion. Judge James Dennis wrote a partial dissent, largely disagreeing with the other two.

"Because BP has not satisfied its heavy burden of showing that a change in circumstances or law warranted the modifications it sought, the district court correctly affirmed the Administrator's decision rejecting BP's argument and actions to modify the agreement," Dennis wrote.


A federal appeals court is wading into a high-stakes dispute over the terms of a multibillion-dollar settlement of claims arising from BP's massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear arguments Monday by attorneys for the London-based oil giant and for Gulf Coast businesses that say the nation's worst offshore oil spill cost them money.

BP asserts that the judge who approved the deal and a court-appointed claims administrator have misinterpreted the settlement, allowing thousands of businesses to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in payments for inflated and fictitious losses.

"The result is that thousands of claimants that suffered no losses are coming forward in ever-increasing numbers, seeking and obtaining outrageous windfalls and making a mockery of what was intended to be a fair and honest court-supervised settlement process," company attorneys wrote in their brief for the hearing.


A federal appeals court says it is too early for authors to be considered as a group in litigation challenging Google Inc.'s plan to create the world's largest digital library.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a ruling Monday that a judge must consider fair use issues before deciding whether to consider authors as a class. The court says neither side will be harmed by a delay in deciding whether the Authors Guild can represent all writers.

So far, Google has copied more than 20 million books. The three-judge appeals panel that heard arguments earlier this year seemed reluctant to get in the way of the plans. One judge said it would be a "huge advantage" for many authors while another said it would have "enormous societal benefit."



The Supreme Court appeared divided Monday in two cases in which businesses are trying to make it harder for customers or investors to band together to sue them.

The justices heard arguments in appeals from biotech company Amgen Inc. and cable provider Comcast Corp. that seek to shut down class-action lawsuits against the businesses.

Amgen is fighting securities fraud claims that misstatements about two of its drugs used to treat anemia artificially inflated its stock price. Comcast is facing a lawsuit from customers who say the company's monopoly in parts of the Philadelphia area allowed it to raise prices unfairly.

Last year, the Supreme Court raised the bar for some class-action suits when it sided with Wal-Mart against up to 1.6 million of its female employees who complained of sex discrimination. In the Wal-Mart case, the court said there were too many women in too many jobs at the nation's largest private employer to wrap into one lawsuit.

Class actions increase pressure on businesses to settle suits because of the cost of defending them and the potential for very large judgments.

Connecticut pension funds that sued Amgen said lower courts correctly ruled that the case could move forward as a class action. The issue at the Supreme Court is whether the pension funds have to show at an early stage of the lawsuit that Amgen's claims about the safety and effectiveness of the drugs Aranesp and Epogen affected the stock price.

Several justices indicated they had no problem with the idea that, unlike in the Wal-Mart case, all the Amgen investors were in the same boat and could clear an early hurdle that tripped up the Wal-Mart employees.


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