Judge tosses suit claiming BP misled regulators about Gulf platform

HOUSTON – Plaintiffs who brought a $256 billion lawsuit against BP have “no facts” to back up their claim that the company misled regulators about the safety of a deep-water production platform, a federal judge has ruled.

In a ruling issued late last week, U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes in Houston threw out the five-year-old lawsuit and said the plaintiffs will recover nothing from the London oil company, ending a years-long legal conflict that had involved thousands of pages of BP’s internal documents and emails related to the platform’s design.

The case originated with allegations by Kenneth Abbott, a former contractor who worked for a BP supplier until he was laid off in 2009. Abbott said BP had lied to the Department of the Interior about complying with safety regulations in order to get offshore leases in the Atlantis field in the Gulf of Mexico, about 190 miles south of New Orleans.

Abbott, who was later joined in the suit by environmental group Food & Water Watch, had said BP’s records often lacked stamps indicating that engineering designs had been certified. The former contractor and the environmental group tried to stop BP from operating its offshore facility in the Atlantis field and wanted to recover three times the value of the field, an estimated $88 billion, from the London oil company.

But Hughes rejected Abbott’s “unfounded suspicions” and said BP never misrepresented or knowingly distorted its actions. He said Abbott and Food & Water Watch weren’t qualified to sue BP because they didn’t have any legal connection to the Atlantis field. Further, Hughes wrote, the plaintiffs didn’t find any design errors in BP’s platform caused by irregular paperwork or missing stamps.

“They have not blown a whistle,” he said. “They have blown their own horn.”

Federal regulators, Hughes noted, said before and after the lawsuit was filed that BP had complied with safety rules, and said they didn’t rely on BP’s stamps to reach that conclusion.

Hughes wrote stamps “may be a common way companies keep track of contractual compliance, with public and private contracts, but they are not required themselves.”

The judge added that Abbott wasn’t qualified to sue because he had no first-hand knowledge of what stamps are on which of BP’s engineering drawings, and had only seen e-mails and documents “saying that someone says that someone else concluded that a few stamps appear missing.”

“The genesis of this suit is a disgruntled layman’s speculation about complex laws and engineering, abetted by ideologues,” Hughes wrote.

BP spokesman Brett Clanton said the company is “pleased that the court understood that the plaintiff’s claims have no merit.”

David Perry, a Corpus Christi attorney who represents Abbott, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.