Brent Coon and Associates seeks TRO to protect lost box of BP Oil Spill files

By Annie Cosby | Apr 9, 2014

A Beaumont law firm is seeking a restraining order to prevent a Utah company from transferring mail containing sensitive information that it received by accident. 

Brent Coon & Associates PC applied for a temporary restraining order against Northwest Research Inc. on March 28 in the Jefferson County District Court.

Northwest Research has what appears to be a box of BCA client files relating to the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. A company website says Northwest Research Inc. (NWR), located in Salt Lake City, Utah, specializes in inventory research and management.

Under Texas law, an applicant is entitled to injunctive relief if, among other things, a party performs or is about to perform an act relating to the subject of pending litigation in violation of the rights of the applicant and if the act would render the judgment in that case ineffectual, the complaint states.

According to the suit, BCA represents more than 10,000 clients, including several hundred from Jefferson County, in the BP Deep Water Horizon Spill Litigation currently pending in the U.S. Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana (MDL 2179).

To resolve many of the claims, the MDL Court approved a Class Action Settlement in 2012. If claimants wanted to opt-out of the Class Action Settlement, they had to sign a form acknowledging that they wished "to be excluded from the Economic and Property Damage Class" by the Nov. 1, 2012, deadline.

BCA claims that as instructed, it shipped four boxes of Opt Out forms to the Exclusions Department for the class to Hammond, La., around Oct. 31, 2012.  According to the suit, the firm received confirmation from the U.S. Postal Service that the boxes were delivered before the Nov. 1, 2012, deadline, and never received any indication that the documents were missing.

However, BCA says that on March 19, 2014, they were notified that Northwest Research Inc. was in possession of what appeared to be one of the boxes of Opt-Out documents.

“After discussing the matter with representatives of BCA and providing photographs of the box and the contents of the box, it became clear that the box was one of four boxes of ‘Opt-Out Forms’ that BCA has sent to the exclusions department in Hammond, La., on or about Oct. 31, 2012,” the suit states.

According to the suit, the photographs of the box contents look like the original files shipped from Beaumont to Hammond.

BCA was told that the box was found at the Memphis, Tenn., Federal Express hub without any label on it “on or around Nov. 4, 2012,” the complaint states.

“BCA believes that the exclusions department in Hammond may have attempted to ship the box to one of the other persons responsible for dealing with opt-out forms, perhaps the Garden City Group or BP directly,” the suit states. “The exclusions department did not notify BCA that the box was lost in November 2012.”

The law firm states it cannot take possession of the box without risking the “appearance of impropriety” in the event the box is eventually returned to its proper owner, the class.

BCA claims “the loss of this box potentially constitutes a major breach of the class’s fiduciary obligations, particularly given that each of the forms contained sensitive client information, including social security numbers.”

The firm says its clients will suffer harm and expense if the box is not properly handled to ensure its integrity.

Brent Coon & Associates is seeking injunctive relief to prevent Northwest Research from transferring the documents to BCA or any other entity until the legal course of action for the documents has been determined.

"BCA needs additional time to determine exactly where the box needs to be sent, but cannot take possession of the box directly," the suit states.

Eric Newell of Brent Coon & Associates submitted the application for the TRO.

Jefferson County District Court Case No. D195-540

 Editor Marilyn Tennissen contributed to this story.

This is a report on a civil lawsuit filed in the Jefferson County District Court. The details in this report come from an original complaint filed by a plaintiff. Please note, a complaint represents an accusation by a private individual, not the government. It is not an indication of guilt, and it only represents one side of the story.


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