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Batiste v. Quality Construction & Production LLC

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

July 9, 2018

DONALD BATISTE
v.
QUALITY CONSTRUCTION & PRODUCTION LLC, ET AL.

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          PATRICK J. HANNA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Currently pending are the cross-motions for summary judgment that were filed on behalf of Arena Energy, LP and Alliance Offshore, LLC with regard to Alliance's cross-claim against Arena for defense and indemnity. (Rec. Docs. 134 and 140). Considering the evidence, the law, and the arguments of the parties, and for the reasons fully explained below, Arena's motion is DENIED, and Alliance's motion is GRANTED.

         Background

         In October 2013, the plaintiff, Donald Batiste, was employed by 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 Arena Energy, LP. Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Company (“H&P”) was conducting drilling operations on the platform pursuant to a contract with Arena. 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 material baskets to the vessel from the platform. It is undisputed that the vessel was the M/V NICHOLAS C, which was owned by Alliance Offshore, LLC and time-chartered to Arena through an agreement brokered by Kilgore Marine Services, LLC.

         The plaintiff 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 Arena and Kilgore. Kilgore never answered the complaint, and the plaintiff amended his complaint to substitute Alliance for Kilgore. (Rec. Doc. 60). Arena filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted, and the plaintiff's claims against it were dismissed with prejudice. (Rec. Docs. 126, 127). Similarly, Alliance filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted, and the plaintiff's claims against it were dismissed with prejudice. (Rec. Docs. 136, 137). The plaintiff's claim against H&P was settled.

         The instant motions both address Alliance's cross-claim against Arena for defense and indemnity. (Rec. Doc. 75). Alliance argued that the provisions of the time charter agreement entitle it to defense and indemnity from Arena, while Arena argued that Alliance is not entitled to contractual defense or indemnity.

         Analysis

         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. Maritime Law Governs Alliance's Cross-Claim

         As explained in previous rulings, subject-matter jurisdiction in this case is premised on the jurisdictional provision of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (“OCSLA”). But a finding that the court has OCSLA jurisdiction does not determine the law that must be applied by the court in resolving the parties' disputes. Here, the parties agree that general maritime law applies to the contract at issue. An agreement to transport people and supplies in a vessel to and from an offshore drilling rig is a maritime contract, and the construction of a maritime contract is governed by maritime law.[8] Additionally, the time charter agreement at issue in this case expressly states that it “shall be construed in accordance with the admiralty and maritime laws of the United States of America.” (Rec. Doc. 134-2 at 11).

         C. Principles of Contract Law Apply

         Charter party agreements, such as the master time charter agreement in this case, are contracts subject to the general rules of contract law.[9] The interpretation of an indemnity provision in a maritime contract is ordinarily governed by federal maritime law.[10] It is also a matter of law.[11] Under maritime law, “[a] contract of indemnity should be construed to cover all losses, damages, or liabilities which reasonably appear to have been within the contemplation of the parties, but it should not be read to impose liability for those losses or liabilities which are neither expressly within its terms nor of such a character that it can be reasonably inferred that the parties intended to include them within the indemnity coverage.”[12] “A maritime contract should be read as a whole, and a court should not look beyond the written language of the contract to determine the intent of the parties unless the disputed language is ambiguous."[13] The words used in a maritime contract should be given their plain meanings unless the provision is ambiguous.[14] To the extent possible, all terms used in ...


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