BP Plaintiff Steering Committee having trouble with responses: 'Authority' is 'vague' and 'ambiguous'

Steve Korris Jun. 28, 2011, 9:15am


NEW ORLEANS - Lawyers leading litigation over the Deepwater Horizon explosion can't wriggle out of answers to sharp questions, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Shushan decided on June 24.

She utterly rejected a plaintiff steering committee's June 13 responses to requests that it admit facts to oil company BP and rig investor Anadarko Petroleum.

"Having reviewed the requests for admission and the PSC responses, the undersigned finds that BP and Anadarko are entitled to know what the plaintiff steering committee currently contends as to the facts," she wrote.

She wrote that federal rules of civil procedure provide that if a matter is not admitted, the answering party must deny it or state why it can't deny or admit it.

She entered the order without any motion and without any delay.

BP lawyer Timothy Duffy of Chicago sent her a letter on June 23, claiming only four of 58 responses from the committee complied with procedural rules.

He wrote that 47 responses were variations of a statement that the committee would enter a stipulation depending on whether other parties agree.

"Offering to consider entering into a stipulation, if various preconditions are met, is no substitute for admitting or denying a request for admission," he wrote.

He wrote that BP responded to 221 requests for admission, "not one of which was given the back of the hand shown here by the plaintiff steering committee."

Next day, Shushan ordered committee lawyers to supply unqualified stipulations for 53 BP requests that they answered with qualified stipulations.

Some responses from committee lawyers sounded like parodies.

When BP asked them to admit that federal regulations govern blowout preventers, they answered that "the term 'governed' is vague and ambiguous."

When BP asked them to admit the preventer passed federally mandated function tests, they wrote that "federally mandated" and "function tests" were vague and ambiguous.

When BP asked them to admit Transocean personnel were required to activate the preventer as quickly as possible after detection of a kick, they wrote that "required," "activate," "detection," and "as quickly as possible" were vague and ambiguous.

When BP asked them to admit Transocean knew the rig wasn't seaworthy and negligently operated it, they offered stipulations "if and as appropriate."

Shushan struck the words, "if and as appropriate," from the responses.

She told the committee to admit or deny that the Coast Guard did not identify failures in rig owner Transocean's safety management system in time to ensure the rig's safety.

She told them to admit or deny that a blowout prevention device sealed an annulus between a drill pipe and an inner wall in pressure tests on the day of the explosion.

She also ordered them to admit or deny nine Anadarko requests they tried to dodge.

When Anadarko asked them to admit they had no evidence of communications between it and anyone on the rig, they wrote that "communications" was vague and ambiguous.

When Anadarko asked them to admit no one gave it authority over relief activities, they wrote that "authority" was vague and ambiguous.

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