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Batiste v. Quality Construction & Production LLC

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

February 28, 2018




         Pending before this Court is the motion for summary judgment that was filed by defendant RCI Consultants, Inc. (Rec. Doc. 98). The motion is unopposed. Considering the evidence, the law, and the arguments of the parties, and for the reasons fully explained below, the motion is GRANTED, and the plaintiff's claim against RCI is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.


         On October 26, 2013, the plaintiff, Donald Batiste, was employed by Quality Construction and Production, LLC as a rigger. At that time, he and the other members of his crew were working on a construction project on an offshore platform in the Gulf of Mexico that was owned and operated by Arena Energy. The crew was supervised by Quality Construction employee David Franks. Arena had also contracted with RCI Consultants, Inc. to provide an individual to oversee the construction work that Quality Construction was doing. At all relevant times, RCI's employee Mitch Migues filled that role.

         The plaintiff claims that he was injured on October 26, 2013 while standing on the deck of a vessel engaged in the task of backloading the vessel from the platform. He contends that he gave an “all stop” signal that was ignored by the crane operator and that the crane operator proceeded to set a material basket down on a pipe that was laying on the vessel's deck. In his complaint, the plaintiff alleged that he was injured when the basket's contact with the pipe caused him to be flung into the side of the basket and also caused the pipe to rise up into the air and strike him in the head.

         In his original complaint, the plaintiff asserted negligence claims against three defendants - his employer, Quality Construction and Production, LLC; the drilling company, Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Company; and the owner and operator of the platform, Arena Energy. (Rec. Doc. 1). The plaintiff's claim against Quality Construction was voluntarily dismissed. In his first supplemental and amending complaint, the plaintiff added negligence claims against WDS Global Partners, LLC, which employed simultaneous operations coordinator Gordon Sand; RCI Consultants, Inc., which employed construction inspector Mitch Migues; and Kilgore Offshore, Inc., which was then believed to operate the vessel on which the accident occurred. (Rec. Doc. 44). In his second supplemental and amending complaint (Rec. Doc. 60), the plaintiff substituted Alliance Offshore, L.L.C. for Kilgore Marine and alleged that Alliance was the operator of the vessel on which the accident allegedly occurred.

         In support of the instant motion, RCI argued that, under RCI's contract with Arena, RCI employee Mitch Migues's job was to oversee the construction work that was being performed by Quality Construction and to ensure that the work was completed in conformity with Arena's specifications but not to control the way that Quality Construction's employees performed individual tasks. RCI further argued that the plaintiff's claims against it should be dismissed because RCI's employee Mr. Migues had no responsibility for the manner in which the backloading operation was performed, owed no duty to the plaintiff, breached no duty that he might have owed to the plaintiff, and played no role in causing the plaintiff's alleged accident and resulting injuries.


         A. The Summary Judgment Standard

         Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under the applicable governing law.[1] A genuine issue of material fact exists if a reasonable jury could render a verdict for the nonmoving party.[2]

         The party seeking summary judgment has the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those parts of the record that demonstrate the absence of genuine issues of material fact.[3] If the moving party carries its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue of a material fact.[4] All facts and inferences are construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.[5]

         If the dispositive issue is one on which the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its burden by pointing out that there is insufficient proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim.[6] The motion should be granted if the nonmoving party cannot produce evidence to support an essential element of its claim.[7]

         B. The Applicable Law

         In his complaint, the plaintiff alleged that the accident occurred near Eugene Island in the Gulf of Mexico. The complaint does not expressly state whether Arena's platform is located in state waters or in federal waters and no further factual detail was provided. Consistent with this lack of detail, the plaintiff alleged that his claims are either governed by the general maritime law or, alternatively, by Louisiana state law pursuant to the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. In support of its motion, RCI argued that the plaintiff failed to establish a valid negligence claim under either the general maritime law or under Louisiana law.

         To state a claim for negligence under the general maritime law, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, the defendant breached the duty, the plaintiff sustained an injury, and there is a causal connection between the defendant's conduct and the plaintiff's injury.[8] “Under maritime law, a plaintiff is owed a duty of ordinary care under the circumstances.”[9] Whether a duty is owed is a legal question; whether the defendant breached a duty is a question of fact.[10]Under the general maritime law, a party's negligence is actionable only if it is a legal cause of the plaintiff's injuries.[11] To be the legal cause of the plaintiff's injuries, the defendant's negligence must be a substantial factor in causing the injuries.[12]

         The elements of a negligence claim under Louisiana state law are virtually identical. To establish a negligence claim under Louisiana law, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant had a duty to conform his conduct to a specific standard, the defendant breached that duty, the defendant's substandard conduct was a cause-in-fact of the plaintiff's injures, the defendant's substandard conduct was a legal cause of the plaintiff's injuries, and the plaintiff sustained damages.[13] Under Louisiana law, ...

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