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Judge refuses to delay oil spill lawsuits against BP

An Alabama federal judge denied BP Plc's request to stay one of more than 130 lawsuits brought by fishermen, property owners and coastal businesses harmed by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill until a judicial panel decides whether to combine the cases into a single multidistrict proceeding.

In an order handed down late Tuesday, Chief U.S. District Judge William H. Steele of Alabama called BP's request to halt the litigation "premature.''

"There is no reason why this action cannot move forward with preliminary steps'' before the judicial panel acts on BP's request to combine all oil spill litigation into one massive case at a hearing in July, Steele said.

"Entering a stay at this juncture and under these circumstances would not rescue defendants from material hardship or the risk of inconsistent adjudications, after all, they must answer the complaint anyway,'' Steele ruled.

BP has filed motions in courts across five Gulf Coast states seeking to stay litigation resulting from the growing oil spill, caused by the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon off the coast of Louisiana last month. BP, as owner of the offshore lease where the damaged well is located, has primary responsibility for claims from people and businesses harmed by the drifting oil.

Also named as a defendant in most of the oil spill cases are: Transocean Ltd., which owned the rig; Halliburton Energy Services Inc., which provided cementing services; and Cameron International Corp., which supplied blowout prevention equipment.

The case is Billy's Seafood Inc. v. Transocean et al, 1:10- cv-00215, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Alabama.

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