The “Release and Covenant Not to Sue” requirement, which was the idea of Kenneth R.
Feinberg, forces economically and emotionally-stressed victims of the BP oil spill to sign a “Release and Covenant Not to Sue” in order to receive a miniscule payment amount for all damages, including future damages, they incur as a result of the BP oil spill.
The following is an excerpt from the memorandum of law which the plaintiffs filed in support of their Motion to Nullify.
I. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990
The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA) is a strict liability statute. In order to recover damages under OPA, a claimant merely needs to show that his or her damages “resulted from” the oil spill.
OPA, in pertinent part, states:
“The responsible party for a vessel or a facility from which oil is discharged, or which poses the substantial threat of a discharge of oil, into or upon the navigable waters or adjoining shorelines or the exclusive economic zone is liable for the removal costs and damages that result from such incident.” See 33 U.S.C. § 2702(a).
The damages referred to in 33 U.S.C. § 2702(a) include, but are not limited to:
“Damages equal to the loss of profits or impairment of earning capacity due to the injury, destruction, or loss of real property, personal property, or natural resources, which shall be recoverable by any claimant.” 33 U.S.C. § 2702(b)(2)(E).
OPA further provides:
(a) “Payment or settlement of a claim for interim, short-term damages representing less than the full amount of damages to which the claimant ultimately may be entitled shall not preclude recovery by the claimant for damages not reflected in the paid or settled partial claim.” 33 U.S.C. § 2705(a); and
(b) “Payment of such a claim [i.e. payment to a claimant for interim, short-term damages representing less than the full amount of damages to which the claimant ultimately may be entitled] shall not foreclose a claimant’s right to recovery of all damages to which the claimant otherwise is entitled under this Act or under any other law.’’ 33 U.S.C. §§ 2715(b)(1) and (2).
"Shall" means shall. The Supreme Court has made clear that when a statute uses the word "shall," Congress has imposed a mandatory duty upon the subject of the command. See United States v. Monsanto, 491 U.S. 600, 607, 109 S.Ct. 2657, 105 L.Ed.2d 512 (1989).
Use of “shall” and “may” in statutes also mirrors common usage; ordinarily “shall” is mandatory and “may” is permissive. “The mandatory ‘shall’ ……normally creates an obligation impervious to judicial discretion.” Lexecon, Inc. v. Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach, 523 U.S. 26, 35 (1998).
Justice Souter, in delivering the opinion of the Lexecon Court, explained, “If we do our job of reading the statute whole, we have to give effect to this plain command, see Estate of Cowart v. Nicklos Drilling Co., 505 U. S. 469, 476 (1992), even if doing that will reverse the longstanding practice under the statute and the rule, see Metropolitan Stevedore Co. v. Rambo (1995) (“Age is no antidote to clear inconsistency with a statute.” (quoting Brown v. Gardner, 513 U. S 115, 122 (1994))). The language is straightforward, and with a straightforward application ready to hand, statutory interpretation has no business getting metaphysical.”
As the Supreme Court further explained,
“[I]n interpreting a statute a court should always turn first to one, cardinal canon before all others. We have stated time and again that courts must presume that a legislature says in a statute what it means and means in a statute what it says there.” Conn. Nat’l Bank v. Germain, 503 U.S. 249, 253–54 (1992).
II. OPA clearly prohibits Kenneth R. Feinberg’s “Release and Covenant Not to Sue.”
This Honorable Court has held:
(a) “While OPA does not specifically address the use of waivers and releases by Responsible Parties, the statute also does not clearly prohibit it;” and
(b) “In fact, as the Court has recognized in this Order, one of the goals of OPA was to allow for speedy and efficient recovery by victims of an oil spill.”
Plaintiffs respectfully point out that this Honorable Court’s reasoning, while novel, is wrong for the following reasons.
The text and the legislative history of the OPA statute are clear. OPA clearly prohibits Responsible Parties from engaging in a “Delay, Deny, Defend” strategy wherein the victims of an oil spill are starved and ultimately forced to sign a “Release and Covenant Not to Sue” in order to receive an inadequate, miniscule payment amount for the damages, including future damages, they incur as a result of the oil spill.
As noted supra, "Shall" means shall. “The mandatory ‘shall’ ……normally creates an
obligation impervious to judicial discretion.” Lexecon, Inc. v. Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach, 523 U.S. 26, 35 (1998).
This Honorable Court further notes it has recognized that “one of the goals of OPA was to allow for speedy and efficient recovery by victims of an oil spill.” Plaintiffs respectfully point out that OPA requires more than merely “speedy and efficient.” OPA requires that all oil spill victims are fully compensated. Furthermore, the purpose of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is "to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding." Fed. R. Civ. P. 1. A Plaintiff turns to the Court in search of justice, not merely a “speedy and efficient” determination of his or her case.
OPA’s legislative history is shot through with general statements indicative of congressional intent to ensure that all oil spill victims are fully compensated. 135 CONG. REC. H7959 (daily ed. Nov. 2, 1989) (statement of Rep. Tauzin) (“ensure that all victims are fully compensated”); 135 CONG. REC. H7964 (daily ed. Nov. 2, 1989) (statement of Rep. Hammerschmidt) (“ensure that all justified claims for compensation are satisfied”); 135 CONG. REC. H7969 (daily ed. Nov. 2, 1989) (statement of Rep. Dyson) (“assurances that damages arising from spills will be completely compensated”); 136 CONG. REC. H336 (daily ed. Feb. 7, 1990) (statement of Rep. Carper) (“ensure that those people or those businesses that are damaged by these spills are fairly and adequately compensated”); 136 CONG. REC. S7752 (daily ed. June 12, 1990) (statement of Sen. Mitchell) (“ensure the fullest possible compensation of oil spill victims”); S. REP. NO. 101–94, at 12 (1989), reprinted in 1990 U.S.C.C.A.N. 722, 734. (“These provisions are intended to provide compensation for a wide range of injuries and are not so narrowly focused as to prevent victims of an oil spill from receiving reasonable compensation.”); 135 CONG. REC. H7893 (daily ed. Nov. 1, 1989) (statement of Rep. Quillen) (“full, fair, and swift compensation for everyone injured by oil spills.”).
Efficiency is not the only touchstone of justice. A substantial body of opinion and a respect for jurisdictional principles suggest that a plaintiff ordinarily has a right to a trial in the forum of his or her choosing. See, e.g., Koster v. (Am.) Lumbermens Mut. Cas. Co., 330 U.S. 518, 524 (1947) (noting that a plaintiff ordinarily should not be denied the advantages of his chosen jurisdiction). Aggregation of cases for the purpose of facilitating settlement is a byproduct of §1407, but is not its central statutory purpose. See In re Patenaude, 210 F.3d 135, 144 (3d Cir. 2000).
Judicial economy is undoubtedly well-served by MDL consolidation when scores of similar cases are pending in the courts. Nevertheless, the excessive delay and marginalization of juror fact finding (i.e., dearth of jury trials) associated with traditional MDL practice are developments that cannot be defended. Delaventura v. Columbia Acorn Trust, 417 F. Supp. 2d at 153 (D. Mass. 2006). The appropriate focus for fund resolution of mass claims should be justice for the claimants, not merely judicial economy and closure for the corporate misfeasor.
A copy of the entire Memorandum of Law is available HERE.
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