by Megan Morley
White Oaks Fund LP, an Illinois private placement fund, filed a class action suit last week against BP PLC, Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Statoil ASA in the Southern District of New York. White Oaks Fund v. BP PLC, et al., case number 1:13-cv-04553. The complaint alleges that the energy companies colluded to distort the price of crude oil by supplying false pricing information to Platts, a publisher of benchmark prices in the energy industry, in violation of the Sherman and Commodity Exchange Acts. Plaintiffs claim that defendant companies are sophisticated market participants who knew that the incorrect information they provided to Platts would impact crude oil futures and derivative contracts prices traded in the U.S.
This action follows at least six civil litigations that have been filed against BP, Shell and Statoil after the European Commission (EC) and Norwegian Competition Authority raided the companies in May. The London offices of Platts were also searched. After the surprise raids, the EC has stated that it is investigating concerns that the companies conspired to manipulate benchmark rates for various oil and biofuel products and that the companies excluded other energy firms from the benchmarking process as part of the scheme. In addition, at least one U.S. Senator has requested that the U.S. Department of Justice look into whether any of the alleged illegal behavior occurred in the U.S.
The private actions filed against these energy companies in the U.S. on the heels of an investigation by the European Commission are not uncommon. Any company that transacts business in the U.S. and undergoes a raid or investigation by a foreign competition authority should prepare to face these civil litigations and defend itself against similar allegations.