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BP appeals judge's ruling in Gulf spill settlement

Michael Kunzelman, Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- BP has appealed a federal judge's interpretation of settlement terms governing payouts to businesses that claim the company's massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico cost them money.

BP on Wednesday asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review last month's ruling by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who appointed Lafayette attorney Patrick Juneau to serve as claims administrator for a multibillion-dollar settlement between BP and a team of private plaintiffs' attorneys.

BP says Juneau violated the settlement in the way he used a complex formula to determine the payments to businesses, but Barbier upheld Juneau's interpretation.

Barbier scheduled a hearing Friday on BP's separate request for a preliminary injunction to block what could be billions of dollars in settlement payments to businesses. BP argues that Juneau made decisions in January that expose the London-based oil giant to fictitious losses that were never contemplated in the settlement.

"Although the ultimate exposure is at this time inestimable, it grows daily and could cost BP billions," the company's lawyers wrote in a March 15 court filing.

In his March 5 ruling, however, Barbier said the settlement anticipated that "false positives" or "absurd results" would sometimes occur.

"Objective formulas, the possibility of 'false positives,' and giving claimants flexibility to choose the most favorable time periods are all consequences BP accepted when it decided to buy peace through a global, class-wide resolution," Barbier wrote.

Lawyers for Gulf Coast businesses and individuals eligible for settlement payments say BP's allegations of "fictitious losses" are baseless and self-serving.

"Simply because the value of the overall payments in certain industries exceeds what BP estimated does not make the individual claims 'fictitious,'" plaintiffs' lawyers wrote in a court filing Monday.

Barbier also is presiding over an ongoing trial designed to determine causes of BP's April 2010 well blowout and assign fault to the companies involved in the disaster, which killed 11 workers and led to the nation's worst offshore oil spill.

On Thursday, the 22nd day of the trial, the judge said he is troubled by cement contractor Halliburton's handling of possible evidence in the case. Late Wednesday, Halliburton turned over cement test results that BP says should have been shared long before the trial started in February.

Earlier in the trial, Halliburton disclosed that it only recently discovered cement samples at a Lafayette laboratory that weren't turned over to the Justice Department for testing.

"I mean, this has been drip, drip, drip, drip, that we've seen in this case, where evidence all of a sudden is discovered," Barbier said Thursday, according to a transcript.

Barbier declined to rule Thursday on BP's renewed request for sanctions against Halliburton.

"But I've got to tell you, it's very troubling the way Halliburton has handled this entire matter. I'll just leave it at that," he said.