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Lewis v. Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Co.

United States District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana

March 10, 2015

ROBERT LEWIS, JR.,
v.
HELMERICH & PAYNE INTERNATIONAL DRILLING CO, ET AL.

ORDER AND REASONS

Before the Court is a motion for partial summary judgment to determine the substantive law applicable to this case. (Rec. Doc. 84). The Court has reviewed the parties' memoranda, supporting documentation, and the applicable law, and now issues this Order and Reasons.

I. BACKGROUND

This action arises out of an injury that occurred offshore. Plaintiff filed suit on October 1, 2013 under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act ("OCSLA") and the Longshore and Habor Workers' Compensation Act. (See Rec. Docs. 1, 25, 49). Plaintiff alleges that he was an employee of Bay LTD, a subsidiary of Berry G.P., working on the Ram-Powell tension-leg fixed platform, located on the OCS in the Gulf of Mexico, in Viosca Knoll Block 956.

According to Plaintiff, on October 25, 2012, he was working on a welding job on the Ram-Powell. Plaintiff alleges that during a Bay Safety meeting that day, Plaintiff informed the Bay project leader and the Shell Safety Representative that there was a hazardous pile of materials impeding Plaintiff's work duties. Plaintiff also alleges that the Sparrows and Nabors employees were informed of the pile of materials. According to Plaintiff, Defendants failed to remedy the hazardous condition and had failed to properly clean the platform. Plaintiff also asserts that Mark Cundiff worked on the Ram-Powell for SMS as the acting Health Safety & Environmental Technician and failed to create a safe work environment.

According to Plaintiff, at the request of a Bay employee he carried a fifty-pound plate up a set of stairs to the welding project. As he attempted to step around a co-worker on the stairs, he slipped on the oily deck and then tripped on the pile of materials. He alleges that he landed on his left elbow while holding the plate, which caused "severe and debilitating injuries." Plaintiff alleges that he suffered a herniated disk along with damage to other discs, which resulted in epidural steroid injections to Plaintiff's cervical spine and lumbar spine, an ulnar transposition surgery and an L5S1 discetomy recommendation.

The Court continued two pending motions for summary judgment so that it could first determine the substantive law applicable to this case.

II. PRESENT MOTION

The parties agree that the substantive law for injuries occurring on fixed offshore oil platforms located on the OCS is the law of the adjacent state. However, they disagree as to which state qualifies as the "adjacent state, " giving rise to the present motion. Defendants Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Company ("Helmerich") and Shell Exploration and Production Company ("Shell") now move for partial summary judgment on the issue of which state is "adjacent" to the Ram-Powell under the OCSLA. (Rec. Doc. 84). Defendants argue that Alabama is the adjacent state, thus its law governs this private dispute. Defendants apply the four factor test of Snyder Oil Corp. v. Samedan Oil Corp., 208 F.3d 521, 523 (5th Cir. 2000). First, Defendants argue that the Ram-Powell is further east, thus further into Alabama territory than the platform in Samedan. Second, Defendants argue that federal and Alabama state authorities consider the Viosca Knoll Block 956 to be adjacent to Alabama. Third, Defendants argue that case law in the Fifth Circuit supports a finding that the Viosca Knoll Block 956 is adjacent to Alabama. Fourth, Defendants argue that its evidence indicates that an extension of the Mississippi/Alabama boundary lines supports that Viosca Knoll Block 956 falls on the Alabama side.

Plaintiff responds in opposition, arguing that Louisiana is the adjacent state, thus its state law applies. (Rec. Doc. 85). First, Plaintiff argues that the Ram-Powell is geographically closer to Louisiana than Alabama. Notably, Plaintiff argues, he traveled to and from Louisiana in transit to the Ram-Powell and had no connections to Alabama. Second, Plaintiff argues that only federal, and not state, agency opinions should be considered, and that agency opinions are less important than geographic proximity. Third, Plaintiff argues that there are no controlling decisions on the Viosca Knoll Block 956, thus geographic proximity is the most determinative factor. Finally, Plaintiff argues that any evidence regarding the projected boundary is not as determinative as geographic proximity.

III. DISCUSSION

To properly frame the legal issue currently before the Court, the Court feels it is useful to examine the OCSLA legislative text, history, and related jurisprudence. Congress passed the OCLSA in 1953. In pertinent part, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act provides:

To the extent that they are applicable and not inconsistent with [federal law and federal regulations], the civil and criminal laws of each adjacent State . . . are hereby declared to be the law of the United States for that portion of the subsoil and seabed of the outer Continental Shelf, and artificial islands and fixed structures erected thereon, which would be within the area of the State if its boundaries were extended seaward to the outer margin of the outer Continental Shelf, and the President shall determine and publish in the Federal Register such projected lines extending seaward and defining each such area.

43 U.S.C. § 1333(a)(2)(A). Sixteen years after the law's passage, in Rodrigue v. Aetna Casualty and Surety Company, the Supreme Court first considered the extent to which the OCSLA adopts state law for fixed structures on the OCS. 395 U.S. 352 (1969). In Rodrigue, the Supreme Court analyzed in detail the legislative history of, and congressional intent behind, the OCSLA. Rodrigue involved two wrongful death suits stemming from federal district courts in Louisiana. Id. at 353. The accident in each case took place on a fixed platform in the Gulf of Mexico. Both plaintiffs filed causes of action under (1) the Death of the High Seas Act; and (2) Louisiana law under the OCSLA.

The Supreme Court held that these tort claims were governed by the OCSLA and state law, not maritime law, which was inapplicable. In reaching this conclusion, the Court explained that Congress designed the OCSLA to provide a body of law applicable to the seabed, the subsoil and fixed platforms on the OCS. Id. A ...


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