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In re Oil Spill By The Oil Rig "Deepwater Horizon" In The Gulf of Mexico

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

June 10, 2015

In Re: Oil Spill by the Oil Rig

ORDER & REASONS

CARL BARBIER, District Judge.

Before the Court is Seacor's[1] Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 13520), [2] DuWayne Mason's Motion to be Recognized as an Opt Out Plaintiff of the Medical Benefits Class Settlement and Alternative Motion to Extend Opt-Out Deadline (Rec. Doc. 14609), and related briefing (Rec. Docs. 14608, 14643). The Court has determined that oral argument is unnecessary; requests for oral argument are denied. As set forth below, the Court grants Seacor's motion, denies DuWayne Mason's motion, and dismisses with prejudiced all claims by DuWayne Mason against Seacor and/or the M/V SEACOR VANGUARD.

BACKGROUND

During all relevant times, Claimant/Plaintiff DuWayne Mason ("Mason") was a member of the crew of the M/V SEACOR VANGUARD, a vessel owned by Seacor. On April 20, 2010, a blowout and explosions occurred aboard the mobile offshore drilling unit DEEPWATER HORIZON ("HORIZON") in the Gulf of Mexico. The M/V SEACOR VANGUARD ("VANGUARD") was dispatched to render assistance, arriving on scene on April 21. The VANGUARD and several other responding vessels attempted to fight the fire by pumping water onto the HORIZON. The rig continued to burn despite these efforts and eventually sank around mid-morning on April 22. During the following months, the VANGUARD engaged in oil spill clean-up operations, including skimming and chemically dispersing oil that had discharged into the Gulf.

On October 20, 2010, Seacor instituted a limitation action under the Shipowner's Limitation of Liability Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30511, and Rule F of the Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims. (C.A. no. 10-3896). On April 13, 2011, Mason filed a claim in the limitation action ("the Limitation Claim") that alleged:

While assisting in firefighting efforts from the [VANGAURD], [Mason] was subjected to intense, prolonged exposure to chemicals, smoke, heat and other noxious by-products of the rig fire resulting in severe and permanent damage to [Mason's] lungs and other parts of his body.
The foregoing resulted from the negligence of [Seacor] and/or from the unseaworthiness of the [VANGUARD].

(Limitation Claim ¶¶ IV, V, Rec. Doc. 1941).[3] Mason simultaneously filed a separate complaint ("the Complaint") against one of the Seacor entities. (C.A. no. 11-826, Rec. Doc. 1). The Complaint repeated the allegations in the Limitation Claim, but it also asserted that Mason was exposed to and injured by oil and/or chemical dispersant while the VANGUARD was engaged in oil spill clean-up work:

During the three to four months after the rig fire was extinguished, the M/V SEACOR VANGUARD and its crew, including [Mason], were sent to assist in the process of skimming oil and dispersant from the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
While engaged in collecting the oil and dispersant, [Mason] was exposed to crude oil, chemical components of the crude oil, chemical dispersant and other noxious by-products of the rig fire and oil spill, resulting in severe and permanent damage to his lungs and other parts of his body.

(Compl. ¶¶ 5-6, C.A. no. 11-826, Rec. Doc. 1). Seacor's limitation action, including Mason's Limitation Claim, and the Complaint were consolidated with the instant multidistrict litigation ("MDL").

On April 18, 2012, Class Counsel and BP filed the Deepwater Horizon Medical Benefits Class Action Settlement ("Medical Settlement" or "Settlement"). (Rec. Doc. 6427-1 (amended version)). The Court granted preliminary approval of an amended version of the Medical Settlement on May 2, 2012 ("Preliminary Approval Order"). (Rec. Doc. 6419). As stated in the Preliminary Approval Order, the Settlement is intended "to resolve the personal and bodily injury claims of certain individuals related to the exposure of oil and/or chemical dispersant." ( Id. at 4). The Medical Settlement contained a procedure for class members to exclude themselves from or "opt out" of the Medical Class and the Medical Settlement. (Medical Settlement § XI.E). The Settlement states that class members "who do not timely and properly Opt Out from the [Medical Class] shall in all respects be bound by all terms of [the] Medical Settlement Agreement... and shall be barred permanently and forever from commencing, instituting, maintaining, or prosecuting any action asserting any Released Claims against any Released Parties in any court of law...." ( Id. § XI.F).[4] The opt-out procedure required in pertinent part that a written request for exclusion, hand-signed by the class member (not the class member's attorney), be sent to the Claims Administrator on or before a date to be set by the Court. The Preliminary Approval Order established October 1, 2012, as the opt-out deadline.[5] (Rec. Doc. 6419 at 26). The Court later extended this deadline to November 1, 2012. (Rec. Doc. 7176).

The Medical Class is defined as including, among others, "all Natural Persons who... [w]orked as Clean-Up Workers at any time between April 20, 2010, and April 16, 2012." (Medical Settlement § I.A.1). This definition, particularly the term "Clean-Up Workers, " is discussed further below. "Released Parties, " as that term is used in Section XI.F of the Settlement, includes Seacor and the M/V SEACOR VANGUARD, among other parties. (Medical Settlement Ex. 6). "Released Claims" includes:

all claims of any nature whatsoever... including admiralty claims [and] claims under maritime law... that have been or could have been brought in connection with... [p]ersonal injury or bodily injury... where such injury... in whole or in part arose from, was due to, resulted from, or ...

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