A jury has rejected claims that Kevin Costner and his business partner duped fellow actor Stephen Baldwin and a friend out of millions of dollars from a BP contract for using oil cleanup devices in the aftermath of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill.
The panel deliberated for less than two hours before delivering the verdict in the lawsuit brought by Baldwin and his friend, Spyridon Contogouris.
Their lawyer had asked the eight-member jury to award the plaintiffs more than $17 million US in damages. That's how much they estimate they would have received if they hadn't sold their shares in a company that marketed oil-separating centrifuges to BP before the oil giant made an $18-million deposit on a $52-million order for 32 of the devices.
The jury gave them nothing.
Costner, who smiled and shook his attorney's hand after the verdict, said he was grateful for the opportunity to clear his name.
"My name means more to me than money and that's why we didn't settle," he said shortly after the verdict.
Costner also praised the jury for "doing their best to understand everything" in a complex case.
"They were really smart, and it was my good luck that they saw the truth of the story," he said.
Contogouris and Baldwin sold their shares in Ocean Therapy Solutions for $1.4 million and $500,000, respectively. Baldwin testified he would have held out for much more if he had known BP had committed to ordering 32 centrifuges.
Attorneys for Costner and Smith said Baldwin and Contogouris knew that BP was preparing to order the centrifuges when they sold their shares and walked away from the company rather than gamble for a more lucrative payout if BP signed a binding contract. At the time they sold their shares, BP only had signed a non-binding letter of intent, the defendants' attorneys said.
Baldwin referred questions about the verdict to his attorney, James Cobb.
"We're disappointed. We thought we proved rather convincingly that these two guys, Mr. Costner and Mr. Smith, defrauded us," Cobb said. "The jury saw it a different way but we respect the jury's verdict."
Cobb also questioned whether celebrity was a factor in the outcome "because I believe we proved our case and because the bigger celebrity won."
Wayne Lee, Costner's attorney, argued his client's fame is the only reason he was sued. The plaintiffs were mistaken when they thought Costner would "roll over and give in" under the threat of a lawsuit, Lee said.
"This lawsuit never should have been brought," Lee said. "Mr. Costner never should have been a party to these proceedings."
Costner had lost $20 million in an earlier effort to market the devices to the oil and gas industry, but Cobb said Costner and Smith each made $15 million off their investments in Ocean Therapy Solutions after the BP spill.
Jurors heard testimony that John Houghtaling, CEO of Ocean Therapy Solutions, had begged Baldwin and Contogouris not to sell their shares and promised them that a deal with BP was imminent.
"They didn't want to take a risk," Lee said. "[Contogouris] is the one who brought up the idea of selling. He set the price."