Three objectors to the $9.6 billion Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement have voluntarily withdrawn their appeal—weeks after plaintiffs lawyers moved to dismiss the challenge on the ground that the objectors weren’t actually class members.
The objectors filed court papers Nov. 22 to withdraw their appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. In the motion, the three objectors said they fired their prior lawyers due to their “unauthorized and unapproved actions and conduct taken during the course of their former representation.”
The objectors were previously represented by Ted Frank and Darrell Palmer, who often advocate for objectors to class actions.
Ronnie Penton, a solo practitioner in Bogalusa, La., who now represents the three objectors—Florida property owners—said in court papers that the “appellants now realize, much to their extreme chagrin, prior counsel’s machinations and subterfuge, of which they were unaware and do not countenance.”
Penton did not return a call for comment. Neither Frank, a Washington attorney and founder of the Center for Class Action Fairness, nor Palmer, a solo practitioner in Carlsbad, Calif., responded to requests for comment.
On Oct. 31, plaintiffs lawyers moved to dismiss the appeal of four objectors, claiming that they fell outside the geographic scope of the class. The settlement resolved claims for economic damages tied to the 2010 spill.
Frank and Palmer moved for sanctions against class counsel for improperly raising the issue just days before a Nov. 4 oral argument in their appeal. The Fifth Circuit has not yet ruled on the underlying appeal by the objectors. Frank and Palmer still represent the fourth objector.
In the motion to voluntarily withdraw the appeal, Penton wrote that the objectors’ former attorneys failed to inform them of “significant developments and actions” they were making, or provide copies of documents they filed. They also failed to tell them about an appeal bond or “multiple factual inaccuracies” they made to the courts about their settlement claims, according to the motion.
Back in the trial court, plaintiffs lawyers have moved for sanctions against Palmer and Frank over similar alleged conduct in a separate settlement with BP over medical claims. In that case, both attorneys represented the same three objectors, who also filed to dismiss their Fifth Circuit appeal of that deal.
In another development last week, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans criticized BP and its lawyers at Kirkland & Ellis and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher for their “startling reversal” in seeking to halt claims payments on the economic damages settlement based on arguments at odds with the terms of the $9.6 billion deal.
“If anyone is attempting to rewrite or disregard the unambiguous terms of the settlement agreement, it is counsel for BP,” Barbier wrote.
Brent Coon of Brent Coon & Associates in Beaumont, Texas, who represents another group of objectors, said in a Nov. 25 filing in the Fifth Circuit that the recent developments in the case support his clients’ effort to reject the settlement.
Declarations of individuals involved in the class settlement negotiation, Coon wrote, “directly contradict each other as to the intent of the settlement agreement.”
“In other words,” Coon wrote, “they show a lack of communication and a fundamental disagreement between the parties on core issues that affect all members of the settlement class.”