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Batiste v. Quality Construction & Production LLC

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

March 26, 2018




         Pending before this Court is the motion for summary judgment that was filed by defendant Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Co. (“H&P). (Rec. Doc. 105). The motion is opposed. Considering the evidence, the law, and the arguments of the parties, and for the reasons fully explained below, the motion is DENIED.


         In October 2013, the plaintiff, Donald Batiste, was employed by defendant Quality Construction and Production, LLC as a rigger. He and his crew were working on a construction project on an offshore platform in the Gulf of Mexico that was owned and operated by defendant Arena Energy, LP. H&P was conducting drilling operations on the platform pursuant to a separate contract with Arena. There is no dispute that H&P and Quality Construction were Arena's independent contractors. H&P contracted with Arena to provide a drilling rig and necessary personnel including crane operator Benny Withers. (Rec. Doc. 105-9). Quality Construction contracted with Arena to provide labor and materials for construction services on Arena's platform including Donald Batiste. (Rec. Doc. 105-5).

         The plaintiff contends that his accident and resulting injuries were caused by the negligence of H&P's crane operator. Specifically, 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 H&P 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.

         The plaintiff asserted negligence claims against several defendants, including H&P. In support of its motion, H&P argued that it is entitled to summary judgment in its favor because it neither owed a duty to the plaintiff nor breached any duty that it might have owed.


         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 Basis for Subject Matter Jurisdiction is a Threshold Issue

         In his 26(f) report, the plaintiff sets forth that jurisdiction is premised on federal question jurisdiction, presumably, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (43 U.S.C. §1331). In his briefing, plaintiff contends the claims against H&P are governed by the general maritime law because the plaintiff was on a vessel in navigable waters at the time of the accident. H&P seems to contend in the 26(f) report that the claims against it are governed by Louisiana state law pursuant to the OCSLA.

         The plaintiff alleged in his complaint that the accident occurred near Eugene Island in the Gulf of Mexico. The 26(f) report identifies the block as EI-314C which is on the OCS and adjacent to the shores of Louisiana. Because the OCSLA would adopt Louisiana state law as surrogate federal law, the choice of law question is whether the plaintiff's claim against H&P in its capacity as the employer of the crane operator is governed by Louisiana substantive law or the general maritime law. That inquiry necessarily requires a look at subject matter jurisdiction.

         1. OCSLA Jurisdiction Over Claims Against H&P

         The Fifth Circuit has explained the scope of OCSLA jurisdiction as follows:

The jurisdictional grant, contained in 43 U.S.C. §1349(b)(1), is very broad. With exceptions not relevant here, the statute provides that “the district courts of the United States shall have jurisdiction of cases and controversies arising out of, or in connection with (A) any operation conducted on the outer Continental Shelf which involves exploration, development, or production of the minerals, of the subsoil and seabed of the outer Continental Shelf, or which involves rights to such minerals, or (B) the cancellation, suspension, or termination of a lease or permit under this subchapter.

         Tennessee Gas Pipeline v. Houston Casualty, Co., 87 F.3d 150, 154 (5th Cir. 1996).

         The Fifth Circuit uses a “but for” test to determine whether OCSLA provides a basis for federal court jurisdiction. Simms v. Roclan Energy Services, Inc., 137 F.Supp.2d 73, 734 (W.D.La. 2001), citing Tennessee Gas, 87 F.3d at 155. “A plaintiff's claims arise under OCSLA if 1) plaintiff's employment furthered mineral development on the Outer Continental Shelf, and 2) plaintiff's injury would not have occurred “but ...

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