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Lawsuits from Orange County businesses affected by oil spill, beach closures wash up in court

Hill's Boat Service, a family owned business in Newport Harbor, has filed a lawsuit against Amplify Energy Corp.
Hill’s Boat Service, a family owned business in Newport Harbor, has filed a lawsuit against Amplify Energy Corp. and subsidiary, Beta Operating Co., claiming damages from lost business after the oil spill.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Several local businesses have begun to submit legal complaints against Amplify Energy Corp. seeking damages for revenue losses sustained during the recent oil spill off Orange County’s coastline and subsequent beach and waterway closures.

Two such enterprises —a bait and tackle store in Costa Mesa and a Newport Harbor fuel dock — have filed lawsuits claiming negligence on the part of Amplify and its Beta Offshore division for failing to maintain an aging infrastructure or respond in a timely manner to warnings of a spill directly impacted local commerce.

The complaints contend the temporary closure of Orange County beaches and waterways, including Newport Harbor, and a local fishing ban still in effect as of Thursday have caused a sustained and continued loss of revenue.

A worker on the beach at Corona del Mar State Beach on Tuesday, Oct. 5.
A worker on the beach at Corona del Mar State Beach on Tuesday, Oct. 5. Beach and waterway closures impacted several local marine-based businesses, some of which are now suing oil companies for damages.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

One document, filed Monday through the U.S. District Court on behalf of Costa Mesa’s Ketcham Tackle, seeks certification of a class action lawsuit that would be open to businesses in Orange, Los Angeles and San Diego counties deriving at least 25% of their revenue from the waters of the Pacific Ocean and San Pedro Bay.

“The conduct of each defendant was a substantial factor in causing and exacerbating the breach, and consequently in causing damage to the communities and businesses which are along the coast and depend upon the ocean and shoreline for their livelihoods,” it states.

Steven Williams, attorney with San Francisco-based Joseph Saveri Law Firm, said Wednesday the owner of Ketcham Tackle serves about 50 different sport fishing interests in Orange County, which account for more than 90% of business.

“There’s no one to buy goods in his shop,” he said of Ketcham’s current state. “You can walk on the beach, and you can eat, drink and enjoy yourself, but you can’t fish.”

He attributes that loss, in part, to Beta Operating Co.’s delay in responding to a low-pressure alarm on the burst pipeline that sounded at around 2:30 p.m. Oct. 2 — more than three hours before the line was shut down.

The class-action lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Monday alleges lost wages and potential exposure to health hazards.

The suit further alleges Amplify failed to inspect pipelines for fissures or maintain the integrity of the lines even as officials knew a backlog of ships hovering near the Port of Long Beach during the time of the spill posed a threat.

“It would have been very simple for them to say, ‘we should up the frequency of our inspections, knowing something is happening out there.’ But there’s no indication that happened,” Williams said.

Similar claims of negligence were made in another lawsuit, filed on Oct. 5 through Orange County Superior Court on behalf of Hill’s Boat Service.

Owners of the family-owned company, which has operated out of Newport Harbor since 1947, allege significant economic losses from the oil spill, cancellation of the final day of the Pacific Airshow on Oct. 3 and nearly weeklong closure of the Harbor.

Newport Landing Sportfishing closed on Tuesday, Oct. 5 due to a large oil spill.
Newport Landing Sportfishing closed Tuesday, Oct. 5 due to the oil spill. Several businesses that rely on marine activities allege in lawsuits they were impacted by the spill and resultant closures.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“The affected coastal waters and harbors are the backbone of the local economy, including tourism, fishing, excursions, restaurants and other businesses,” their suit reads.

“[The] plaintiff has and will continue to suffer pecuniary losses attendant to its loss of customers attributable to the closure of Newport Harbor, local beaches and other harbors, and cancellation of the Airshow on Sunday.”

Cynthia Garber, a Newport Beach attorney representing the company, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday, but her suit seeks remedy for all economic damages and legal costs. Amplify Energy also declined to comment on the lawsuits.

Similar legal steps have been taken by Orange County individuals and businesses impacted by the spill. An Oct. 4 federal class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of Huntington Beach resident Peter Moses Gutierrez Jr., owner of a DJ company that plays at beachfront events, claimed lost wages and exposure to health hazards.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court on Wednesday. Attorneys say the number of individuals affected by the oil spill could go up.

Three days later, Laguna Beach residents alleged in another class-action complaint the spill negatively impacted the owners of properties with private easements to the beach.

Ketcham’s class action suit, if successfully certified by U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter, would allow class members to recover economic damages and would establish a fund to monitor the marine habitat in the affected counties.

Williams said while its unclear how long the spill and its aftermath will continue to plague local communities, relief for those affected is more immediately achievable.

“You can’t put the oil back in the pipeline, but there are people hurting right now who can be helped.”

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