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Lawyers for shareholders suing BP PLC to recover losses tied to last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill have proposed a timetable by which their cases would go to trial separately, with the first trial possible by July 30, 2012, according to court documents. Lawyers for BP are fighting that schedule, arguing that it fails to take into account the company’s pending motions to dismiss the litigation. Lawsuits filed on behalf of BP shareholders following the April 21, 2010, oil spill — which killed 11 workers and caused massive environmental damage in the Gulf of Mexico — have been coordinated into multidistrict litigation before U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison in Houston. The claims include a securities class action; a consolidated derivative complaint filed on behalf of shareholders in the company; and claims brought under the U.S. Employee Retirement Income Security Act by BP employees. The shareholder litigation is separate from the larger MDL before U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans, which involves economic damages claims by individuals and businesses, as well as environmental and governmental claims, against BP and other defendants. On May 12, lawyers for the shareholders filed a court document suggesting that the various claims be separated into three trials. “As the Court is aware, while there are obvious factual overlaps in the cases, there also are inherent differences in the nature and legal elements of the claims,” they wrote. They asked that the first trial — either the securities or the derivative suit — begin on July 30, 2012. The ERISA trial would be set for Oct. 29, 2012. In a May 16 response, BP’s lawyers suggested that the planning should wait until Ellison rules on its motions to dismiss, which BP filed on March 21 and May 6 respecting the various claims. “Until those motions are resolved, the parties and the Court will not know the scope of the cases to be litigated, to the extent any claims survive defendants’ motions, and thus will not know the time needed for fact and expert discovery and summary judgment motions,” BP’s lawyers wrote. Should Ellison decide to set a schedule before ruling on the dismissal motions, BP suggested beginning the first trial occur in October 2013 and each subsequent trial 60 days after the last one concludes. Thomas Taylor, a partner at Andrews Kurth in Houston who filed the document on behalf of BP, did not respond to a request for comment. Steven Toll, a partner at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll in Washington, co-lead counsel for the class members in the securities action, and Mark Lebovitch, a partner at Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann in New York and co-lead counsel in the derivative case, declined to comment. “Defendants’ suggestion that trial setting should await the Court’s rulings on pending motions to dismiss and, if a trial date is set, should commence in October 2013, more than two years away, will not achieve the goals of promoting an efficient and timely resolution of this action,” they wrote in a May 19 filing. In the securities class action, the primary class involves investors who held BP American Depositary Shares — shares sold on U.S. stock exchanges — and holders of ordinary shares between Jan. 16, 2007, and May 28, 2010. A subclass includes the same shareholders from March 4, 2009, through April 20, 2010. BP argued that the wrongdoing alleged does not amount to securities fraud, just “internal corporate mismanagement,” and said the plaintiffs have failed to identify specific misstatements made by individual defendants. BP also argued that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last year in Morrison v. National Australia Bank prohibits holders of BP’s ordinary shares, which are traded in London and Frankfurt, from bringing claims in U.S. courts. The justices ruled that, under U.S. securities law, investors who purchase a foreign company’s stock on a foreign exchange lack standing to sue in U.S. courts. The derivative suit alleges that BP’s current and former board members and senior officers deliberately ignored their duty to maintain safety in the company’s drilling operations during the past decade. In its motion to dismiss the derivative complaint, BP’s lawyers said that the English High Court was the adequate forum for such a lawsuit. Amanda Bronstad can be contacted at [email protected] .

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