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Lebrun v. Baker Hughes Inc.

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

November 1, 2017

Baker Hughes Inc et al



         Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment on Medical Causation filed by Plaintiff, Jonathan Lebrun, [Rec. Doc. 80], Defendant, Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling, Inc's (“Transocean”) Memorandum in Opposition [Rec. Doc. 101], and Plaintiff's Reply [Rec. Doc. 104] and Plaintiff's Reply thereto [Rec. Doc. 107]. The Court conducted a hearing with oral argument on the Motion on October 18, 2017. For the oral reasons assigned in the hearing and 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. Plaintiff was assigned to work as a sample catcher or “mudlogger”[1] aboard Transocean's drillship, DEEPWATER CHAMPION, from March 13, 2015 until April 24, 2015. Plaintiff alleges while he was aboard the DEEPWATER CHAMPION he collected the mud samples in an enclosed, air tight “shaker shack” located above the main deck. He further alleges he injured his lower back by having to repeatedly pry open a vacuum sealed, 1/4 inch steel blast-proof shaker house door during his 12-hour shifts. Plaintiff was terminated by Baker Hughes on April 24, 2015 due to a company-wide Reduction in Force.

         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. 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; alternatively, Plaintiff alleged his action arises under the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act (“LHWCA”) and the general maritime law. R. 56. On August 18, 2017, the Court denied Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment for Sieracki Seaman status. R. 109. Thus, Plaintiff retained a negligence claim against Transocean, the owner of the DEEPWATER CHAMPION.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         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).

         III. Legal Analysis

         Plaintiff filed this Motion moving the Court to find that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact that Transocean's negligence substantially caused and/or contributed to Plaintiff's lumbar injuries and resulting surgery. Specifically, Plaintiff contends that there is no genuine dispute that the DEEPWATER CHAMPION's “enclosed, vacuum sealed, air tight shaker shack” sealed the shaker door shut causing Plaintiff “to repeatedly wrench the door open” leading to his back injury.

         Plaintiff claims his lumbar problems began one week after he left the DEEPWATER CHAMPION. He notes that Baker Hughes' Review and Comments in 2014 and early 2015 demonstrate that Plaintiff was “reliable and hard working” with “No accidents” and the company had “No issues w/ Mr. Lebrun. Good solid, dependable, reliable employee.” R. 80-6, Exh. 15. He further notes that he has successfully passed a variety of physical and training tests. Id. at Exh. 16.

         In support of his claim that his repeated opening of the “a vacuum sealed” shaker shack door while he was working on the DEEPWATER CHAMPION caused his lumbar injury, Plaintiff cites the depositions of five co-workers on the DEEPWATER CHAMPION. R. 80-4, Exh. 1, Depo. Of McDonald; 80-5, Exh. 11, Demo. Of Lookofsky; 80-5, Exh. 12, Demo. Of Godin; 80-5, Exh. 13; Demo. Of Raines; 80-7, Exh. 7, Demo. Of Martin. Plaintiff contends that the testimony of these individuals provides that the “shaker shack doors were hard to open.” R. 80-2, p. 7. He further contends that they state that Plaintiff had to exit and reenter the shaker shack to deliver cutting samples about 40 (to 70) times each 12-hour shift. Id. Plaintiff suggests that because none of these employees knew or understood why the shaker shack was enclosed rather than open like those on some vessels, there must have been some negligence on the part of Transocean for enclosing it.

         On April 30, 2015, two weeks after Plaintiff claims his lumbar problems began, he was seen by Dr. Ilyas Munshi, a neurological surgeon.[2] Two weeks later, on May 18, 2015, Dr. Munshi performed a lumbar laminectomy, medial facetectomy and invasive decompression of the spinal cord and nerve roots on May 18, 2015. R. 80-7, Exh. 22. Plaintiff did not return to work after his surgery and states that the Social Security Administrations granted him disability payments beginning November 2015. R. 80-7, Exh. 23. Plaintiff asserts that Dr. Munshi stated in his May 11, 2017 Report:

I conclude with a reasonable degree of medical certainty that the plaintiff's work aboard the last ship where he had to force open an airtight door dozens of times during his work day, for three to four week at a time caused him to become symptomatic to the point of disabling the patient with pain ...

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