BP Lawyers Say Lawsuits Should be Combined

Lawsuits by workers claiming BP Plc’s North American unit mismanaged their retirement savings plan should be sent to the Texas court already handling investor claims prompted by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, company lawyers told a panel of judges.

Bloomberg reports that the employees previously asked that the suits be combined in Chicago, where the retirement plan is administered and where seven of the eight suits were filed. But BP told the seven-judge multidistrict litigation panel that the cases belong in Houston because the claims are similar to those in other investor suits.   

“The important thing to focus on here is the vast overlap in discovery,” or evidence-gathering, Daryl Libow, BP’s attorney, told the judges, according to Bloomberg. “Five of the seven members of the employee plan oversight committee are in Houston.”   

However, lawyers for the workers pointed out in court papers that the key legal issue in their actions is whether the company stock was a prudent investment for the plan during the class period, which is not an issue in the securities actions.  

In the suits, filed as class actions on behalf of all U.S. employees participating in the company’s retirement savings plan, workers claim losses of more than $1 billion from the stock plunge after the April 20 spill. The employees claim that BP Corp. North America Inc. and members of the savings plan committee breached their fiduciary duty under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act to the investors in the BP stock fund (see FL Woman Sues BP Over 401(k) Stock Losses).  

The workers claim BP should have known that inadequate safety measures in place by the company made the company stock a no longer prudent investment.   

The news report said BP is facing more than 400 lawsuits over the offshore oil spill caused by the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Claims by fisherman, restaurants, real estate interests, governments and others for economic losses have been combined with personal injury and wrongful-death suits for pretrial treatment in a multidistrict litigation in federal court in New Orleans.   

The multidistrict litigation panel in August consolidated lawsuits over claims that the company misled investors before and after the spill and sent those cases to a judge in Houston. The panel told the workers’ lawyers last month to show why their cases shouldn’t go there as well.