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Business Observer Friday, Oct. 31, 2014 4 years ago

Attorney dives into the muddy spill battle

Tampa attorney Tom Young believes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has sold out some smaller chambers in a dispute over the multibillion-dollar BP oil spill settlement.

Tampa attorney Tom Young believes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has sold out some smaller chambers in a dispute over the multibillion-dollar BP oil spill settlement.

Now Young, on behalf of eight chambers, including the Charlotte County Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber of Commerce of Cape Coral, has taken his objections to the U.S. Supreme Court. Young, in a brief filed in October, says the local chambers want to “inform the Justices of misstatements made by their parent organization, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in that organization's filing in support of BP and the company's attempt to renege on its own settlement agreement.”

BP contends attorneys and businesses, mostly in Louisiana and Florida, have abused the settlement by making more than $600 million in claims over losses with no legitimate connection to the 2010 spill. The oil firm wants the settlement overturned or restructured — a hope many legal experts consider a long shot. BP, after being denied by lower courts in New Orleans, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to the hear case.

The U.S. Chamber, in its own brief filed earlier this summer, backs BP. In a release, chamber officials cite some examples of alleged settlement abuse. Those include: $23.1 million to an alligator farm far from the Gulf Coast that had losses two years prior to the spill; $9.7 million to a construction firm in northern Alabama that has never done work in the Gulf region; and $173,000 to an adult escort service that submitted undated and unsigned financial records.

“Whatever one thinks of BP, the fact is that rather than litigating every single lawsuit for decades, this company took responsibility and entered into the largest settlement of its kind in history,” the U.S. Chamber wrote in March. “And the plaintiffs' bar looked for a way to game the system, extracting millions of dollars for dubious claims.”

But Young hopes the Supreme Court denies BP's request to hear the case. For starters, Young argues the U.S. Chamber didn't seek “input nor approval of its local chamber members prior to filing its amicus brief in support of BP.”

Young's brief represents six other chambers, in addition to the ones in Charlotte County and Cape Coral. Those include the Mobile (Ala.) Area Chamber of Commerce, the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce. Writing for the U.S. Supreme Court was a first-time experience for Young, an attorney for more than 15 years.

“In its brief, the chamber purports to speak for 'more than 3 million U.S. businesses and organizations of every size, in every industry, and from every region of the country,” Young writes. “Yet it fails to disclose that hundreds, and potentially thousands, of affiliates of the chamber and business members of those affiliates (on the Gulf Coast) have filed claims for business economic losses in reliance on the Settlement Agreement — a contract — and the very compensation system BP designed, lobbied for District Court approval of, attested to the adequacy and fairness of under oath, and initially defended before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.”

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