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Hurst v. Baker Hughes, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 16, 2015




Presently pending before the Court is a "Motion for Summary Judgment"[1] filed by Defendant Baker Hughes Oilfield Operations, Inc. ("BHOOI"). Having reviewed the motion, the memorandum in support, the memorandum in opposition, the record, and the applicable law, the court will deny the pending motion.

I. Background

A. Factual Background

In his amended complaint, Hurst alleges that he was a Jones Act Seaman employed by BHOOI and assigned to the West Esperanza, a vessel allegedly owned and/or operated by Defendant Seadrill Americas, Ltd. ("Seadrill").[2] According to Hurst, the West Esperanza and its crew were hired by Hess to perform a workover of a Hess oil well off the coast of Equatorial Guinea, during which operation the West Esperanza was stationed next to a Tension Leg Platform ("TLP") that housed the derrick for the well.[3] According to Hurst, a Hess supervisor, or "company man, " supervised operations on the drilling floor at all relevant times.[4]

Hurst contends that while the West Esperanza was stationed next to the TLP, a Seadrill employee was tasked to work on a broken "hawkjaw" apparatus, a heavy hydraulic device used to move pipe into place on the derrick.[5] Hurst alleges that this employee left the device's telescoping arm improperly secured above the derrick structure, did not "tag out" the cable used to secure it, and did not warn workers located below that the device was at risk of falling.[6] Hurst contends that the hawkjaw's arm subsequently fell to the deck of the TLP, striking a glancing blow to his upper back, and thereby causing his injuries.[7]

B. Procedural Background

Hurst filed a complaint in this matter on August 11, 2014.[8] Defendant Baker Hughes, Inc. ("Baker Hughes") filed a "Rule 12 Motion to Dismiss" on September 9, 2014.[9] On September 10, 2014, Hurst filed an amended complaint, in which he identifies BHOOI as his employer and as the Baker Hughes entity allegedly liable in this matter.[10] On October 30, 2014, BHOOI filed an answer.[11] On December 9, 2014, Hess filed an answer.[12] On February 13, 2014, with leave of Court, ACE American Insurance Company ("ACE") filed a "Complaint of Intervention." On June 2, 2015, BHOOI filed the instant motion.[13] On June 9, 2015, Hess filed a "Motion for Summary Judgment."[14] On July 1, 2015, Hurst filed an opposition to the instant motion. On July 13, 2015, the Court granted Baker Hughes's "Rule 12 Motion to Dismiss" and Hess's "Motion for Summary Judgment."[15]

II. Parties' Arguments

A. BHOOI's "Motion for Summary Judgment" [16]

In the instant motion, BHOOI contends that Hurst "does not qualify as a seaman under the Jones Act, " and that the Court should therefore grant it judgment as a matter of law.[17] In support of this assertion, BHOOI first contends that "[i]t is long and well-settled in the jurisprudence that oilfield service company workers" like Hurst, "who do not work for the vessel-owning drilling company, but rather work for service companies like BHOOI, and perform their specialized service work on different rigs contracted to the well operators who hire their rigs, are not Jones Act seamen."[18] BHOOI argues that it did not own the vessels upon which Hurst worked during his tenure as Rig Site Coordinator with BHOOI, and that "[i]t is simply not in the cards" for employees like Hurst to be assigned to a single drilling rig, or fleet of drilling rigs, after BHOOI has completed a particular work assignment.[19] Here, BHOOI contends, if Hurst had not been injured, he would have continued to work on the West Esperanza "only so long as the West Esperanza continued to work for Hess."[20]

Second, BHOOI argues that Hurst spent "significantly less" work time aboard a vessel "than the 30% rule-of-thumb required to qualify for seaman status."[21] Nonetheless, BHOOI contends, the issue of how much time Hurst spent offshore is not material, because the West Esperanza was "not owned or operated by his employer, and was not part of any fleet' owned or operated by his employer."[22] According to BHOOI, courts have "summarily reject[ed] seaman status claims for oilfield service company workers like Hurst, who work on different vessels owned by different companies."[23]

Third, BHOOI argues that TLPs, such as the one "which Hurst was assigned to-and physically standing on at the time of his accident-are not vessels."[24] On this point, BHOOI contends that the facts of the instant case are "entirely indistinguishable" from the facts in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit's decision in Hufnagel v. Omega Service Industries, Inc , [25] in which the court allegedly found that the issue of seaman status was not "even arguable" where the plaintiff: (1) worked for an oilfield service company hired to perform repairs on another entity's fixed offshore platform; (2) lived on a vessel provided by a third entity hired by the platform owner; and (3) was injured while working aboard the platform.[26]

BHOOI argues that even if Hurst contends that he was a seaman because he was assigned to work "exclusively" aboard the West Esperanza for a lengthy period of time, the "jurisprudence is clear that the vessel owner/operator and the plaintiff's employer must be one and the same, " unless one of three "very narrow sets of special circumstances" are present.[27] Specifically, BHOOI contends, seaman status may be found where the vessel owner or operator does not employ the plaintiff when: (1) the vessel owner or operator is the plaintiff's "borrowing employer;" (2) the plaintiff's employer "has effectively manipulated his status by choosing not to own or operate the vessels aboard which the employee performs traditional, blue water seaman work, " such as anchor handling; or (3) the plaintiff "is employed by a contractor providing a necessary galley function to the vessel owner or operator, " such as cooks or galley hands employed by a caterer.[28]

According to BHOOI, none of these exceptions are present here.[29] BHOOI argues that Hurst was not Seadrill's borrowed employee, because he was paid by BHOOI, took his instruction from BHOOI, "worked solely with BHOOI's equipment and tools, " and "was doing BHOOI's work at all times."[30] BHOOI further contends that it has not effectively manipulated Hurst's seaman status by choosing not to own or operate the vessels aboard which Hurst worked, because BHOOI "does not own, and never charters or borrows, any drilling vessels, " and "has absolutely no control over" what entity is chosen by its customer to provide the rig.[31] Finally, BHOOI argues that Hurst "is in no way analogous to a contract catering employee, " because Hurst's "connection was not to the West Esperanza, " but rather to "his employer, BHOOI, " and because Hurst "was not performing work typically done by the Seadrill crew, " rendering the third exception inapplicable here.[32] Thus, BHOOI contends, Hurst "is not a seaman, " and his claims against BHOOI should be dismissed.[33]

B. Hurst's Opposition

In opposition to the instant motion, Hurst contends that in Offshore Co. v. Robison , the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that the issue of Jones Act seaman status should, "in all but the most extreme cases, " be decided by the jury.[34] Hurst argues that although the Fifth Circuit's Hufnagel decision, cited by BHOOI, illustrates that certain offshore oil workers may be excluded from the Jones Act as a matter of law in "extreme" cases, the present case falls more closely in line with Robison, foreclosing this Court from determining, as a matter of law, that Hurst was not a Jones Act seaman.[35]

According to Hurst, the United States Supreme Court's Chandris v. Latsis decision sets forth two factors that guide the Court's inquiry on the instant issue: (1) whether the plaintiff does "the ship's work;" and (2) whether the plaintiff has "a connection to the vessel which is significant in both time and nature."[36] As to the first Chandris factor, Hurst argues that his "duties furthered the purpose of the West Esperanza and the accomplishment of its mission, " because "it is undisputed that the vessel's purpose was to deliver and support equipment needed for the completion of Hess's oil wells, " and because it is also undisputed that Hurst's duties "were to oversee, coordinate, and supervise well completion activities."[37] Hurst contends that while the plaintiff in Hufnagel was "a roughneck assigned to assist welders and fitters" whose duties were therefore "relevant only to the platform itself" rather than to the vessel, Hurst "could not accomplish his mission without the drilling rig package delivered and supported by the West Esperanza, and the West Esperanza could not accomplish its mission without coordination and oversight of its equipment by [Hurst]."[38] Hurst further argues that the drilling rig package was equipment, or an appurtenance, of the West Esperanza, because it is uncontested that "the rig remained connected to pumps on the tender."[39] Thus, Hurst argues, because he was responsible for overseeing and coordinating the usage of the drilling rig package, "it is clear that he was furthering the purpose of the West Esperanza and the accomplishment of its mission."[40]

As to the second Chandris factor, Hurst argues that his "connection to the West Esperanza was significant in both duration and nature"[41] for several reasons. First, Hurst argues, he spent a "significant portion of his time aboard the vessel, " because: (1) his prior land-based assignment-preparing equipment to be loaded on the West Esperanza-was separate from his assignment to work on the West Esperanza, and BHOOI's own supporting affidavit indicates that this assignment ceased, and his assignment to work on the West Esperanza began, when that vessel became moored to the TLP on November 25, 2013; and (2) "Passenger on Board" sheets prepared by Seadrill list him along with the ship's crew.[42] Thus, Hurst contends, "it is only appropriate to consider the working days in the time period after November 25, 2013, " during which time he spent 34 ...

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