Panama City Beach Drops Suit
PCB drops federal oil spill suit
PANAMA CITY BEACH — The legal team overseeing attempts by the city to recover damages from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has dropped its federal suit against Transocean and Halliburton.
Panama City Beach instead will rely on its $1.7 million claim against BP to compensate for any reduced tax revenue during the oil rig disaster this year that slowed tourist traffic to a crawl during the height of the summer season.
City attorney Doug Sale told council members that BP has responded favorably to the city’s contention the economic damage went beyond a simple calculation of last year’s tax receipts versus this year’s collections.
“We are making significant progress with BP,” Sale said. “They are actively and conscientiously considering our claim.”
The law firm of Nix, Patterson & Roach, assisted by Sale, initially had taken a two-track approach to recover damages, both filing the federal suit and seeking a “business-to-business” claim against BP. Sale earlier had expressed concern that BP was attempting to limit its liability by focusing on the city’s conservative budgeting process and its month-to-month receipts from a 1 percent sales tax.
The city sent answers to a long list of questions from BP that seemed to indicate the company only wanted to pay a year-to-year difference, Sale earlier said.
Now, BP is indicating more latitude. Since the response from the city, “they have changed,” Sale said.
The city has been relying on data from economic expert Rick Harper, director of the Haas Center for Business Research and Economic Development at the University of West Florida, who uses sophisticated models to chart the economic damage from the oil spill.
The data points out that tourism and tax receipts would have grown this summer far beyond last year if the oil fears had not materialized, especially with the opening of the new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport on May 23.
As for the federal suit, Sale said the city was withdrawing it “without prejudice.”
“We have come to the conclusion that the suit no longer exists,” Sale told council members.
Nix, Patterson & Roach had filed the city’s federal suit in conjunction with Capt. Anderson’s restaurant, also represented by the firm. The restaurant withdrew its federal suit in favor of a claims process handled through the office of oil spill claims czar Ken Feinberg, who is administering a $20 billion fund for private claims. The city, however, like all public bodies, must file claims directly with BP.
“I’m glad you are not looking at the court system at this time,” council member John Reichard told Sale.