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Lebrun v. Baker Hughes Inc.

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

September 18, 2017

Baker Hughes Inc et al



         Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment on the Issue of Plaintiff’s Sieracki Seaman Status filed by plaintiff, Jonathan Lebrun, [Rec. Doc. 59], Defendant, Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling, Inc (“Transocean”) and Baker Hughes Incorporated’s (“BHI”) Memorandum in Opposition [Rec. Doc. 61], and Plaintiff’s Reply [Rec. Doc. 104]. The Court finds that oral argument on this Motion is not necessary. For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, Jonathan Lebrun, worked for Baker Hughes Oilfield Operations, Inc. (“BHOOI”) from December 2005 until April 24, 2015. The affidavit of Jeff Ivory, Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling, Inc.’s Operations Director, states that Plaintiff was assigned to work as a sample catcher or “mudlogger”[1] aboard Transocean’s drillship, the DEEPWATER CHAMPION, from March 13, 2015, until April 24, 2015. R. 61-1, Ivory Aff., p. 1. Ivory attests that, during that entire time, the DEEPWATER CHAMPION was located in the waters above the continental shelf of Guyana, South America, approximately 120 miles northeast of Georgetown, Guyana, and was drilling a hydrocarbon well for ExxonMobil. Id. at pp. 1-2. Plaintiff alleges while he was aboard the DEEPWATER CHAMPION he injured his back. R. 1. In his Motion, Plaintiff contends “the main source of injury to plaintiff’s lower back occurred when plaintiff had to open a sealed door to the enclosed shaker house.” R. 59-1, p. 3.

         Plaintiff filed this action alleging claims under the Jones Act. R. 1. On June 14, 2016, this Court found that Plaintiff was not a Jones Act seaman as he did not demonstrate “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.” R. 44. In his Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleged a claim for unseaworthiness as a Sieracki seaman as well as for negligence and gross negligence under the general maritime law. R. 56. Alternatively, Plaintiff alleged his action arises under the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act (“LHWCA”) and the general maritime law. R. 56.


         Plaintiff filed this Motion urging the Court to find that, at the time he worked on the DEEPWATER CHAMPION, he was a Sieracki seaman. Plaintiff contends that because he was working aboard the DEEPWATER CHAMPION within the waters of Guyana, South America, the LHWCA does not extend to non-Jones Act American maritime workers like Plaintiff working in foreign waters.

         Defendants oppose Plaintiff’s motion arguing that any such injury alleged by Plaintiff would be covered under the LHWCA. They assert that the DEEPWATER CHAMPION was not in the waters of a foreign sovereign, but rather was at all times in the high seas-over 120 miles off the coast of Guyana.


         Summary judgment is appropriate if no genuine issue of material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Under Rule 56(c), the moving party bears the initial burden 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.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); see Stahl v. Novartis Pharms. Corp., 283 F.3d 254, 263 (5th Cir.2002). The party moving for summary judgment must demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact but need not negate the elements of the nonmovant’s case. Exxon Corp. v. Oxxford Clothes XX, Inc., 109 F.3d 1070, 1074 (5thCir.1997). When the moving party, has met its Rule 56(c) burden, the nonmoving party, cannot survive a summary judgment motion by resting on the mere allegations of its pleadings. “[T]he nonmovant must identify specific evidence in the record and articulate the manner in which that evidence supports that party’s claim.” Johnson v. Deep E. Tex. Reg'l Narcotics Trafficking Task Force, 379 F.3d 293, 301 (5thCir.2004).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         After the Court dismissed Plaintiff’s Jones Act claim, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint bringing an unseaworthiness claim under the general maritime law. In the alternative, Plaintiff stated a claim under the LHWCA. Defendants assert that Plaintiff was, at all times, a maritime worker covered by the LHWCA. Plaintiff now contends that he was a Sieracki seaman at the time he served on the DEEPWATER CHAMPION. Essentially, Plaintiff challenges the characterization that his claims arise under the LHWCA. He argues he is properly characterized as a so-called “Sieracki seaman” such that he may bring an action for unseaworthiness against the vessel owner, Transocean, regardless of the traditional limitations on vessel liability afforded under the LHWCA.

         The LHWCA provides a federal recovery scheme to a wide range of maritime workers. Willis v. McDonough Marine Service, 2015 WL 3824366, at *3 (E.D.La.,2015) (citing Thomas J. Schoenbaum, 1 Admiralty and Maritime Law § 7–1 (5th Ed.2014)). The Act was passed primarily to fill a gap created by Supreme Court rulings that application of state workers’ compensation schemes to maritime employees is unconstitutional. Id. Thus, the statutory framework operates as a traditional workers’ compensation scheme under which employers receive immunity from tort liability in exchange for providing no-fault compensation benefits to injured workers.

         In Seas Shipping v. Sieracki, 328 U.S. 85, 99 (1946), the Supreme Court extended the remedy of unseaworthiness to longshoremen “doing a seaman’s work and incurring a seaman’s hazards.” See Schoenbaum, at § 7–10 (citing Sieracki). Thereafter, the 1972 Amendments to the LHWCA effectively created two mutually exclusive categories of maritime workers: seamen and longshoremen. These amendments eliminated the unseaworthiness remedy for any employee covered under the LHWCA by enacting 33 U.S. C. § 905(b) which recognizes a limited statutory cause of action on behalf of injured maritime workers against vessel owners for negligence in maritime tort. Id. Thus, a threshold inquiry for purposes of § 905(b) is as to the existence of a duty of care owed by vessel owners to workers. Id. The Supreme Court has accordingly defined three such narrow duties. See Scindia Steam Nav. ...

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