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Civil penalty claim against BP to move forward

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A U.S. District judge in Hammond has dismissed two counts against gas company BP Products North America, finding he has jurisdiction to hear the claims but deciding not to do so because of similar action ongoing elsewhere.

But U.S. Judge Philip P. Simon is keeping one count against BP alive, holding that he will decide a claim about the gas company starting construction on its Whiting oil refinery before it had obtained a proper state permit.

The 32-page order issued June 26 comes in the nearly one-year-old case of Natural Resources Defense Council v. BP Products North America, No. 2:08-cv-00204. The citizen environmental group alleges that BP violated the Clean Air Act by allowing too much pollution under the permitting it had received, as well as a claim of not getting the proper permit to modernize its Whiting plant. Part of the suit's request is to have BP fined up to $32,500 per day for construction days and for not having the proper permit.

BP filed a motion to dismiss in January, but Judge Simon decided to hear arguments in April before making a decision. After two months of analyzing the decision, the judge granted in part and denied in part the motion.

The court dismissed Counts I and III, which involve claims that BP had deceived state officials about how much pollution it would emit and, as a result, didn't obtain the proper permits that are needed when triggering federal pollution control requirements. Judge Simon found those claims are identical to the ones filed within the Indiana Department of Environmental Management's Office of Environmental Adjudication (OEA), the agency handling those types of environmental appeals that can then be taken to state court, if necessary.

In its arguments, BP said the federal court doesn't have jurisdiction over these claims because of those similar ones raised within the OEA. In his ruling, the judge analyzed two specific U.S. Supreme Court precedents on whether to use his jurisdiction or not - Burford v. Sun Oil Co., 319 U.S. 315 (1943), and Colorado River Water Conservancy Dist. v. U.S., 424 U.S. 800 (1976). Both provide frameworks for how courts should make abstention decisions, but they differ on how to do so; Burford involves special forums for regulation and adjudication, while Colorado River involves an inquiry about whether other litigation or actions can be considered "parallel."

"While I am satisfied that the Court has jurisdiction, I nevertheless think this case really presents a call to be made by the expert environmental agencies that Indiana has selected for the job," Judge Simon wrote, finding that both abstention precedents apply but that Colorado River is more applicable here.

"In sum, the NRDC's suit and the OEA action are parallel proceedings, and my evaluation of the relevant factors leads me to the strong belief that extraordinary circumstances exist here," he wrote. "Despite the starting balance being 'heavily weighed in favor of the exercise of jurisdiction,' I believe abstention under the Colorado River doctrine is appropriate."

But the judge kept the second count in his court's control, deciding that the statute specifically allows for suits seeking "appropriate civil penalties" and that doesn't conflict with the pending OEA action.

A pre-trial conference is set for Aug. 20 before Magistrate Judge Paul Cherry, according to the federal docket online.

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  1. He TIL team,please zap this comment too since it was merely marking a scammer and not reflecting on the story. Thanks, happy Monday, keep up the fine work.

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  3. The appellate court just said doctors can be sued for reporting child abuse. The most dangerous form of child abuse with the highest mortality rate of any form of child abuse (between 6% and 9% according to the below listed studies). Now doctors will be far less likely to report this form of dangerous child abuse in Indiana. If you want to know what this is, google the names Lacey Spears, Julie Conley (and look at what happened when uninformed judges returned that child against medical advice), Hope Ybarra, and Dixie Blanchard. Here is some really good reporting on what this allegation was: http://media.star-telegram.com/Munchausenmoms/ Here are the two research papers: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0145213487900810 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0145213403000309 25% of sibling are dead in that second study. 25%!!! Unbelievable ruling. Chilling. Wrong.

  4. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  5. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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