BP EXPLORATION & PRODUCTION, INCORPORATED; BP AMERICA PRODUCTION COMPANY; BP, P.L.C., Requesting Parties-Appellants,
CLAIMANT ID 100281817, Objecting Party-Appellee.
from the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Louisiana
JONES, HAYNES, and OLDHAM, Circuit Judges.
S. OLDHAM, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
player named David West negotiated a contract with the New
Orleans Hornets before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. He
received every penny specified in that contract both before
and after the spill. Still, the Claims Administrator for the
Deepwater Horizon Economic and Property Damages Settlement
Agreement awarded West almost $1.5 million in
"lost" earnings. The Settlement Appeal Panel
affirmed, and the district court denied discretionary review.
Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, 2010. At that
time, David West played professional basketball for the New
Orleans Hornets (now known as the New Orleans Pelicans). He
was four years into a five-year contract. That contract paid
West a total of $45 million. But it was
"front-loaded," meaning West's annual salary
decreased every year of the contract- including from 2009 to
2010. West received all $45 million owed to him under the
he submitted an "Individual Economic Loss Claim"
under the Deepwater Horizon Economic and Property Damages
Settlement Agreement ("Settlement"). These claims can
be submitted only by individuals "who seek compensation
for lost earnings from employment due to or resulting
from the [Deepwater Horizon] Spill." Settlement
Agreement Ex. 8A at 1 (emphasis added). And the Individual
Economic Loss Claim form states, on its very first page, that
it covers only "individuals who have experienced income
losses caused by the Spill." Individual
Economic Loss Claim Form 1 (emphasis added). It also required
West to certify "that the information provided in [his]
Claim Form [was] true and accurate to the best of [his]
knowledge." Id. at 15. Based on that
attestation, the Claims Administrator used West's tax
forms to calculate his "lost earnings." The Claims
Administrator determined West was entitled to $1, 412,
673.06. BP contested that determination because West
"lost" nothing-he received all the money promised
by the front-loaded terms of his pre-spill contract.
first sought reversal before the Appeal Panel. It argued West
was not entitled to any award under the Agreement because (1)
Individual Economic Loss Claimants can recover only if they
experienced a loss caused by the spill, and (2) West cannot
satisfy the Settlement's attestation requirements. The
Appeal Panel affirmed West's award. It concluded West
established causation because his employer-the
Hornets-benefited from presumed causation under the
Settlement. It therefore held West needed nothing more to
claim "lost" earnings.
asked the district court to review the award decision. But
the court denied discretionary review without explanation. BP
review is for abuse of discretion. Holmes Motors, Inc. v.
BP Expl. & Prod., Inc., 829 F.3d 313, 315 (5th Cir.
2016). The district court abuses its discretion when
"the decision not reviewed by the district court
actually contradicted or misapplied the Settlement Agreement,
or had the clear potential to contradict or misapply the
Settlement Agreement." Ibid. (quotation
omitted). It's likewise "an abuse of discretion to
deny a request for review that raises a recurring issue on
which the Appeal Panels are split if the resolution of the
question will substantially impact the administration of the
Agreement." Claimant ID 100212278 v. BP Expl. &
Prod., Inc., 848 F.3d 407, 410 (5th Cir. 2017) (per
curiam) (quotation omitted). In contrast, denying "a
request for review that involve[s] no pressing question of
how the Settlement Agreement should be interpreted or
implemented, but simply raise[s] the correctness of a
discretionary administrative decision in the facts of a
single claimant's case," does not amount to an abuse
of discretion. Ibid. (quotation omitted)
(alterations in original).
said, the Settlement Agreement is a contract. The proper
interpretation of it "is a question of law." In
re Deepwater Horizon (Deepwater Horizon I), 732
F.3d 326, 345 (5th Cir. 2013). And making "an error of
law constitutes an abuse of discretion." In re
Deepwater Horizon, 785 F.3d 986, 999 (5th Cir. 2015).
Accordingly, when the district court is "presented with
purely legal questions of contract interpretation," our
review is de novo. In re Deepwater
Horizon, 785 F.3d 1003, 1011 (5th Cir. 2015).
start with the contractual provisions governing West's
claim. West submitted a specific type of claim-an
"Individual Economic Loss Claim." It is defined to
include a claim brought by an individual described in Exhibit
8A. Exhibit 8A, in turn, ...