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Skinner v. Schlumberger Technology Corp.

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette Division

June 2, 2015

Skinner,
v.
Schlumberger Technology Corp., et al.

MEMORANDUM RULING

RICHARD T. HAIK, Sr., District Judge.

Before the Court is a Motion For Summary Judgment On Plaintiff's Jones Act Claim filed by defendant, Schlumberger Technology Corporation ("Schlumberger") [Rec. Doc. 72], Plaintiff, Richard Skinner's opposition [Rec. Doc. 79], Schlumberger's Reply [Rec. Doc. 89] and Plaintiff's Sur-reply [Rec. Doc. 99]. No oral argument is necessary. For the following reasons, Schlumberger's motion will be granted.

Background

In his Declaration dated December 24, 2013, Plaintiff states he was hired to work for Schlumberger "as a Coiled Tubing supervisor trainee, the position that [he] held on the day [he] was injured." R. 9-2, Plaintiff's Declaration. Plaintiff further states he "worked for Schlumberger from December of 2010 until [he] was injured on the Hercules lift boat, the L/B Bull Shark, on January 8, 2012, while [he] was employed by Schlumberger." Id. Plaintiff originally filed this action in the Fifteenth Judicial District Court, Lafayette Parish, alleging that at the time of the incident, he was a Jones Act Seaman and Schlumberger was his employer. R. 1-3. Schlumberger removed the case to this Court on November 27, 2013, asserting that Plaintiff's Jones Act claims were fraudulently pled. R. 1. On February 25, 2014, the Court entered an order denying plaintiff's motion to remand as the record before it did not support Plaintiff's claims as a Jones Act Seaman. R. 26. In particular, the Court held that because the record established that "plaintiff did not serve a vessel or group of vessels under the control or ownership of one entity for more than 30% of his work time" for Schlumberger, plaintiff did not qualify as a Jones Act Seaman. Id.

This motion for summary judgment was filed on October 17, 2014, without opposition. The Court entered judgment granting the motion on November 21, 2014. On December 20, 2014, plaintiff moved for a new trial, stating that his intention to file an opposition in response to the motion for summary judgment was hindered by counsel for Schlumberger and submitted a memorandum as to what would have been his response. R. 77. The Court granted the motion for new trial on March 18, 2015 and ordered that it would consider plaintiff's response and allow Schlumberger to file a reply brief. R. 86. Schlumberger filed its reply on April 17, 2015. R. 89. On April 23, 2015, the Court granted Plaintiff's motion for an extension of time to file a sur-reply. R. 91. Plaintiff filed a surreply on May 19, 2015. R. 99. The Court will address Schlumberger's motion in light of the briefs filed by both parties.

Legal Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "A genuine dispute of fact exists when evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party, and a fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit." Willis v. Cleco Corp., 749 F.3d 314, 317 (5th Cir.2014). "A party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the record which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." EEOC v. LHC Group, Inc., 773 F.3d 688, 694 (5th Cir.2014). If the moving party meets this initial burden, "the onus shifts to the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. The Court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Id.

Analysis

Schlumberger maintains that all of the evidence in this case support its position that Plaintiff cannot met the seaman duration rule - that an employee seeking Jones Act seaman status must be able to demonstrate he spends at least thirty percent of his work in service of a vessel in navigation. Schlumberger further maintains that Plaintiff was always employed as a coiled tubing worker and was assigned to work on a number of vessels including the LOUIS J. EYMARD, BENGAL 160, OLIVIA GRACE, A.J. BOURG, JUAN, WYATT LEE, DEEPWATER and BULL SHARK.

Plaintiff argues the coiled tubing work he performed after his work on the BENGAL 160, between August 1, 2011 and January 14, 2012, constituted a new assignment and his seaman status should be evaluated using only the total hours he worked during that period of time. Plaintiff further contends that all of his work at Schlumberger's District Office located in Maurice, Louisiana, was in the service of a vessel or fleet of vessels and should be considered in calculating his work on vessels in determining his seaman status.

Hence, the issue before the Court is whether or not Plaintiff has proven that he is a seaman - that is, (1) he contributed to the function of a vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission, and (2) he was assigned permanently to the vessel or spent a substantial part of his total work time (30%) aboard the vessel or an identifiable fleet of vessels. Schlumberger does not dispute the first prong of the seaman test, but maintains that all of the records support that Plaintiff spent less that 30% of his work with Schlumberger aboard a vessel or fleet of vessels. If Plaintiff fails to demonstrate at least a genuine dispute as to a material fact with respect to the second prong, Schlumberger is entitled to summary judgment.

The Fifth Circuit most recently addressed seaman status in Alexander v. Express Energy Services Operating, L.P., ___ F.3d ___, 2015 WL 2151773 (5th Cir. 2015). Emphasizing the basic understanding of the law required to determine whether or not the plaintiff was a seaman, the court stated as follows:

To maintain a cause of action under the Jones Act, the plaintiff must be a seaman. Land-based workers are not seaman. To qualify as a seaman, a plaintiff must prove that he meets both prongs of the test set out by the Supreme Court in Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347, 115 S.Ct. 2172, 132 L.Ed.2d 314 (1995). First, he must prove that his duties contribut[e] to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission, ' which does not necessarily require that the plaintiff aid in navigation or contribute to the transportation of the vessel, ' but does require that he be doing the ship's work.'
Second, and most important for our purposes here, a seaman must have a connection to a vessel in navigation (or to an identifiable group of such vessels) that is substantial in terms of both its duration and its nature. The fundamental purpose of this substantial connection requirement is to give full effect to the remedial scheme created by Congress and to separate the sea-based maritime employees who are entitled to Jones Act protection from those land-based workers who have only a transitory or sporadic connection to a vessel in navigation, and therefore whose employment does not regularly expose them to the perils of the sea. See 1B A. Jenner, Benedict on Admiralty ยง 11a, pp. 2-10.1 to 2-11 (7th ed. 1994) (If it can be shown that the employee performed a significant part of his work on board the vessel on which he was injured, with at least some degree of regularity and continuity, the test for seaman status will be satisfied' (footnote omitted)). This requirement therefore determines which maritime employees in Wilander's broad category of persons eligible for seaman status because they are doing ...

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