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Wolz v. BP Exploration and Production, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

February 25, 2015

RICKEY WOLZ,
v.
BP EXPLORATION AND PRODUCTION, INC., ET AL., SECTION: J(2)

ORDER AND REASONS

CARL J. BARBIER, District Judge.

Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 69) filed by Defendant, BP Exploration & Production, Inc. ("BP"), as well as an Opposition (Rec. Doc. 77) filed by Plaintiff, Rickey Wolz ("Plaintiff). This motion is set for oral argument on February 25, 2015. Having considered the motion, the parties' submissions, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds, for the reasons expressed below, that the motion should be GRANTED.

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

This matter arises from injuries allegedly sustained by Plaintiff on August 2, 2012. On the date of the incident, Plaintiff was employed by DXP Enterprises, Inc. ("DXP"), a company which had been hired as an independent contractor by BP to provide services aboard the MAD DOG platform, which was owned and operated by BP. DXP sent Plaintiff to the MAD DOG platform to diagnose and repair a malfunctioning vertical caisson pump ("the pump"), used to pump sea water up to the rig. In anticipation of the examination and repairs of the malfunctioning pump, a chain hoist was attached to the pump, and a nylon strap was tied to the shaft coupling. In order to diagnose the pump's defect, the involved parties devised a plan to use the chain hoist to lift the pump seventy (70) feet out of its outer-caisson piping.

While the parties were in the process of implementing the plan, Plaintiff decided to untie the nylon strap which was attached to the pump. While a rigger was unrigging the chain hoist in an effort to lift the pump, the pump crashed down, onto Plaintiff's hand, which was located directly underneath the pump. Plaintiff alleges that he sustained severe injury to his hand, requiring numerous surgeries.

On July 18, 2013, Plaintiff filed the present lawsuit in this Court. As defendants, Plaintiff initially named BP, as the owner of the platform, and B&S Welding Inc. ("B&S Welding"), as the company who had allegedly employed the rigger. After the Court granted summary judgment in favor of B&S upon a finding that B&S did not employ the rigger performing rigging services on the pump, Plaintiff amended his complaint to name GIS as the employer of the rigger. (Rec. Doc. 32, p. 2). In his complaint, Plaintiff contends that BP's negligence served as the proximate cause of his injuries. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that BP's conduct constituted negligence by failing to provide a reasonably safe place to work, failing to take precautions for Plaintiff's safety, and failing to provide adequate personnel for the job in question, amongst other things. (Rec. Doc. 1, p. 3). BP then filed the instant motion, seeking summary judgment in its favor on Plaintiff's claims, on the basis that it is not liable to Plaintiff under either the independent contractor doctrine or under a theory of independent negligence.

PARTIES' ARGUMENTS

In its motion, BP contends that no genuine issue exists regarding the fact that it may not be found liable for Plaintiff's injuries. First, BP relies on the independent contractor doctrine for its assertion that as a principal, it is not liable for the negligent acts of Plaintiff, an employee of its independent contractor, DXP. Additionally, BP also argues that it may not be found liable for any alleged independent acts of negligence which Plaintiff alleges contributed to his injuries. BP asserts that it owed Plaintiff no duty to provide a safe work place, and that even if it did owe such a duty, it did not breach this, as it provided Plaintiff with an adequately safe work environment and safe tools to perform his work. Finally, BP maintains that it is not liable for any harm caused by the falling of the pump, because the pump posed an open and obvious "pinch point" of which Plaintiff, as an experienced seaman should have been aware.

In his Opposition, Plaintiff does not dispute that he was an independent contractor of BP or that the pinch point posed by the pump was open and obvious. However, Plaintiff maintains that BP should be found liable for the negligent acts of its site lifting specialists, whom he alleges were directly employed by BP and who developed and approved the lift plan. Plaintiff also asserts that BP owed Plaintiff a duty to exercise reasonable care to ensure his safety, which it breached by allowing Plaintiff to handle the rigging of the pump when he was not one of the certified riggers authorized to do so. Plaintiff also briefly mentions that BP's motion is premature because BP has not produced Marty Colvin, the Person in Charge at the time of the accident, and Martin Sanchez, who participated in the investigation of the incident, both of whom Plaintiff contends are witnesses vital to his case.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)); Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). When assessing whether a dispute as to any material fact exists, the Court considers "all of the evidence in the record but refrains from making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence. " Delta & Pine Land Co. v. Nationwide Agribusiness Ins. Co., 530 F.3d 395, 398 (5th Cir. 2008). All reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the nonmoving party, but a party cannot defeat summary judgment with conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated assertions. Little, 37 F.3d at 1075. A court ultimately must be satisfied that "a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Delta, 530 F.3d at 399.

If the dispositive issue is one on which the moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party "must come forward with evidence which would entitle it to a directed verdict if the evidence went uncontroverted at trial.'" Int'l Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally's, Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1263-64 (5th Cir. 1991) (citation omitted). The nonmoving party can then defeat the motion by either countering with sufficient evidence of its own, or "showing that the moving party's evidence is so sheer that it may not persuade the reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict in favor of the moving party." Id. at 1265.

If the dispositive issue is one on which the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its burden by merely pointing out that the evidence in the record is insufficient with respect to an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, who must, by submitting or referring to evidence, set out specific facts showing that a genuine issue exists. See id. at 324. The nonmovant may not rest upon the ...


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