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Spring v. Shell Oil Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

April 23, 2018

CHARLES SPRING
v.
SHELL OIL COMPANY, ET AL.

          RULING AND ORDER

          JUDGE JOHN W. deGRAVELLES UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         I. THE PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS

         In this case, Plaintiff Charles Spring sues “Oil Company Defendants” Shell Oil Company; Shell Offshore Inc.; SWEPI, LP; and Chevron USA, Inc. (Doc. 1-1 at 1).

         This case concerns radioactive scale “co-produced during oil and gas production” that adheres to pipe and other oil production equipment. (Id. at 2). When the scale within a pipe builds up enough to slow the flow of oil or gas, oil companies like Defendants send the pipe to a facility to be de-scaled. (Id. at 2-3).

         Between 1973 and 1983, Plaintiff worked for Shield Coat, Inc., at the French Jordan and Shield Coat Facility (“FJSC facility”) in Houma, Louisiana, which performs pipe descaling work. (Id. at 2). Plaintiff worked with pipe containing scale, and the FJSC facility's pipe cleaning process pulverized the scale and caused it to become airborne, exposing Plaintiff to dangerous levels of radiation. (Id.). The pipe and scale were never marked or otherwise identified as radioactive. (Id. at 3). Defendants owned some of the pipes submitted to the FJSC facility, and Defendants' employees were often present to observe the de-scaling of the pipe. (Id. at 2-3).

         In February 2017, a “lump” was discovered on Plaintiff's thyroid gland, and Plaintiff claims that the lump was caused by radiation exposure. (Id. at 5). Plaintiff also claims that he has an increased risk of cancer and “fear of cancer” and that he has “breathing problems.” (Id. at 4-5).

         Plaintiff alleges, inter alia, that Defendants are “strictly liable for all damages caused by [scale], having garde of the contaminated pipe and although the pipe may have been temporarily in the control of the pipe cleaning yard, the pipe at all times remained under the custody, control, direction, [and] supervision of [Defendants] and [Defendants] controlled what cleaning processes were to be administered to [Defendants'] pipes and controlled its movement and storage.” (Id. at 4). Plaintiff's prayer for compensatory damages includes a request for the costs associated with medical monitoring. (Id. at 5).

         II. DEFENDANTS' MOTION

         The Motion before the Court seeks to partially dismiss this action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (“Motion, ” Doc. 12; see also Doc. 15 (Chevron's request to adopt portions of Motion), Doc. 17 (Order granting request)). Defendants argue that Plaintiff has failed to state a strict liability claim, as he has not plausibly alleged that: (1) the pipe was defective in and of itself, rather than made dangerous by the temporary presence of a foreign substance; (2) any defect caused Plaintiff's injury, as it was not the presence of scale but the cleaning process used at the FJSC facility that pulverized and aerosolized the scale; and (3) at the time when the pipe was cleaned it was in Defendants' garde, rather than in the garde of a pipe cleaning contractor or Shield Coat. (Doc. 12-1 at 5-9).

         Defendants also oppose Plaintiff's request for damages for medical monitoring. (Id. at 9). They maintain that such damages are available only when a disease is presently “manifest, ” and Plaintiff has made only vague and unclear allegations concerning specific medical conditions from which he suffers or his future prognosis. (Id. at 9-10). Defendants also argue that Plaintiff has failed to address factors necessary to support a request for medical monitoring damages, including whether an available and adequate monitoring procedure exists; whether the procedure is reasonably necessary; whether the procedure has been prescribed by a qualified physician; the public's level of risk of contracting any particular disease; Plaintiff's comparative risk; and whether there is some demonstrated clinical value of early detection. (Id. at 10).

         Shell Offshore and SWEPI further claim that they were incorporated and formed in December 1981 and October 1983, respectively, and they cannot be sued for any acts or omissions prior to those dates. (Id. at 4-5).

         Plaintiff does not oppose Shell Offshore and SWEPI's request to dismiss claims against them arising prior to when they were incorporated and formed. (Doc. 22 at 1-2). Otherwise, Plaintiff opposes the Motion, arguing that he has stated a strict liability claim and claim for medical monitoring under the liberal pleadings standards of Rule 12(b)(6). (Id. at 2-5). In reply, Defendants generally contend that Plaintiff's factual allegations in support of his claims are vague and conclusory and are therefore not entitled to a presumption of truth. (Doc. 23 at 1-3).

         III. GENERAL STANDARDS

         In Johnson v. City of Shelby, Miss., --- U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 346 (2014), the Supreme Court analyzed the standards applicable to motions under Rule 12(b)(6), explaining that “[f]ederal pleading rules call for a ‘short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); they do not countenance dismissal of a complaint for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted.” 135 S.Ct. at 346-47 (citation omitted).

         Interpreting Rule 8(a), the Fifth Circuit has explained:

The complaint (1) on its face (2) must contain enough factual matter (taken as true) (3) to raise a reasonable hope or expectation (4) that discovery will reveal relevant evidence of each element of a claim. “Asking for [such] plausible grounds to infer [the element of a claim] does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage; it simply calls for enough facts to raise a ...

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