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BP investors lose bid for class status in Gulf spill case

BP logo is seen at a fuel station of British oil company BP in St. Petersburg, October 18, 2012. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk/Files
BP logo is seen at a fuel station of British oil company BP in St. Petersburg, October 18, 2012. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk/Files

By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) - A U.S. federal judge has refused to allow investors to proceed as a group in a lawsuit accusing BP Plc of fraud by misleading them - before and after the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill - about the company's ability to respond to an accident.

U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison in Houston denied a request on Friday to certify a class action of holders of BP's American depository shares (ADSs) who were allegedly injured by the energy giant.

"Plaintiffs have failed to discharge their burden to establish that damages in this case can be measured on a class-wide basis consistent with their theories of liability," Ellison wrote.

The judge said his decision was based largely on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from March holding that a class action against Comcast Corp was improperly certified.

Ellison said the Supreme Court decision "has appreciably changed the landscape for class certification."

But he said he would allow the plaintiffs another chance to argue that their case should move forward as a class action, giving them 30 days to file a new motion.

Geoff Morrell, a spokesman for BP, said the ruling "confirms BP's view, as noted in our brief and at oral argument, that plaintiffs failed to establish that this case is appropriate for class treatment."

Steven Toll, a lawyer for the plaintiffs at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, said the investors "definitely do intend to refile the motion to address the court's concerns about the Comcast ruling."

Friday's decision follows a February 2012 ruling dismissing claims by purchasers of ordinary BP shares on the basis of an earlier 2010 Supreme Court ruling limiting the ability of holders of foreign securities to bring cases in U.S. courts.

The plaintiffs are led by the New York State Common Retirement Fund and four Ohio public pension funds.

They sued BP after the April 20, 2010, explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which killed 11 people and resulted in the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The investors said BP's shares dropped in value around 40 percent in the weeks after the incident.

The plaintiffs had asked Ellison to certify a class of investors who bought ADSs between November 8, 2007, and May 28, 2010. They also asked for subclass to be certified covering purchasers of ADSs from March 4, 2009, to April 20, 2010.

BP continues to face other litigation stemming from the Deepwater Horizon incident, which has resulted in the company taking $42.5 billion in charges to date.

In January, BP pleaded guilty to 14 criminal counts over conduct leading up to and after the disaster as part of a $4 billion settlement with the U.S. Justice Department.

The case is In re: BP Plc Securities Litigation, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas, No. 10-md-02185.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Gunna Dickson)

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