BP seeks dismissal of pension fund claims over oil spill

BP PLC asked a judge to throw out investor claims that management downplayed safety risks before and after its Macondo oil well blew out in the Gulf of Mexico last year, causing billions of dollars in stock market losses.

The company also asked U.S. District Court Judge Keith P. Ellison to restrict any surviving investor fraud claims to owners of BP American depository receipts, which trade on the NYSE. BP said U.S. securities laws don't apply to holders of foreign shares, such as the company's common stock, which trades in London, where the company is based.

The investors “seek to transform a matter involving allegedly negligent safety processes into an action for securities fraud,” BP said in its filing. Citing previous court rulings, BP said, “securities laws do not protect investors against negligence.”

Shareholders led by the $140.6 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund, Albany, and four Ohio public pension funds are claiming billions of dollars in losses and seek recovery from BP and its directors and officers. Lawsuits over personal and economic injuries from the spill are combined in New Orleans federal court and aren't affected by the BP request.

The investors said BP violated U.S. securities laws by misleading them before and after the spill. BP publicly touted a commitment to safety while cutting budgets and personnel and rejecting internal complaints, according to the investors' lawsuit. BP also initially hid the true size of the blowout to limit the impact on its stock price, the investors claim.

Richard Mithoff, who represents individual investors in the BP securities litigation, said BP's motion to dismiss was “customary in these kinds of cases. I am confident we will meet these arguments and BP's motion will be overruled,” Mr. Mithoff said in a telephone interview.

Dan Tierney, spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, declined to comment on BP's dismissal motion, citing a policy not to discuss ongoing litigation. Olayinka Fadahunsi, a spokesman for New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, the fund's sole trustee, didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.

The four Ohio plans who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the $76 billion Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, $60.9 billion Ohio State Teachers' Retirement System, $12.3 billion Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund and $10.2 billion Ohio School Employees Retirement System.