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Higgins v. Williams Energy Partner, L.P.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

December 12, 2018

TRAVIS HIGGINS
v.
WILLIAMS ENERGY PARTNER, L.P., WILLIAMS OLEFINS, L.L.C., THE WILLIAMS COMPANY, INC., XYZ INSURANCE COMPANY, CHICAGO BRIDGE AND IRON COMPANY, AND X INSURANCE COMPANY ARTIE HUDSON, JEFFERY D. WELLS
v.
WILLIAMS OLEFINS DEVELOPMENT, L.L.C., WILLIAMS OLEFINS, L.L.C., WILLIAMS OLEFINS FEEDSTOCK PIPELINES, L.L.C., XYZ INSURANCE COMPANY, CAJUN PAVING & CONSTRUCTION OF ACADIANA, L.L.C., X INSURANCE COMPANY, TURNER INDUSTRIES HOLDINGS COMPANY, L.L.C., Y INSURANCE COMPANY, BROCK SERVICES, L.L.C., AND X-Y INSURANCE COMPANY EMILE WADE AND PATRICIA WADE
v.
THE WILLIAMS COMPANIES, INC., WILLIAMS PARTNERS L.P., WILLIAMS OLEFINS, L.L.C., LUMMUS TECHNOLOGY, INC., CB&I, INC. OF TEXAS AND/OR CB&I, INC., TURNER INDUSTRIES GROUP, L.L.C., TURNER INDUSTRIAL MAINTENANCE, L.L.C., DELTA TECH SERVICE, INC., INDUSTRIAL SPECIALTY SERVICES, LLC, GEO HEAT EXCHANGERS, L.L.C., GEO FIELD SERVICES, L.L.C., HONEYWELL INTERNATIONAL, INC., UNION TEXAS PETROCHEMICALS CORPORATION, UNION TEXAS PRODUCTS CORPORATION, UNION TEXAS PETROLEUM CORPORATION, UNION TEXAS PETROLEUM HOLDINGS, INC. LEROY MITCHELL
v.
WILLIAMS COMPANIES, INC., WILLIAMS OLEFINS, L.L.C., WILLIAMS PARTNERS, L.P., WILLIAMS PARTNERS HP, L.L.C., BLACK MARLIN PIPELINE LLC, WILLIAMS OHIO VALLEY MIDSTREAM, LLC, AND TURNER INDUSTRIES GROUP, L.L.C. MARK BATEAST, TERRENCE CROSBY, BLAKE JOSPEH, TYRONE LAWSON, ALVIN LONG, JR., CHERI OWENS-GRIFFIN, MARY ROBINSON, BERNARD SEARS, AARON STAFFORD, DONITELLO THOMAS, CALVIN VANNER, DONALD WHEATON, ASIAG WILLIAMS, MARCUS WILSON AND MARCUS YATES
v.
THE WILLIAMS COMPANIES, INC., WILLIAMS ENTERGY PARTNERS, L.P., WILLIAMS OLEFINS, L.L.C, THE WILLIAMS COMPANY, INC., WILLIAMS PARTNERS, L.P., WILLIAMS PARTNERS GP, LLC, WILLIAMS OHIO VALLEY MIDSTREAM, LLC, DISCOVERY PRODUCER SERVICES, LLC, BLACK MARLINE PIPELINE, L.L.C, TURNER INDUSTRIES GROUP, L.L.C.

          On Appeal from the Twenty-Third Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of Ascension State of Louisiana No. 109, 244 c/w 109, 301, 110, 261, 110, 285, 110, 312, Div. "D" The Honorable Jessie M. LeBlanc, Judge Presiding

          Danial C. Vidrine Baton Rouge, LA Attorney for Plaintiff/Appellant Leroy Mitchell

          Katie D. Bell Lana D. Crump Glenn M. Farnet Amanda M. Collura -Day

          BEFORE: HIGGINBOTHAM, HOLDRIDGE, AND PENZATO, JJ.

          HOLDRIDGE, J.

         The plaintiff, Leroy Mitchell, appeals a trial court judgment granting summary judgment in favor of Williams Olefins, L.L.C., (defendant) and dismissing his claim with prejudice. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This litigation arises out of a June 13, 2013 chemical explosion at the Williams Olefins chemical plant near Geismar, Louisiana that is located in both Iberville and Ascension Parishes. The explosion occurred in connection with the production of propylene in the fractionation area of the plant. Specifically, a reboiler[1] had been improperly cut off from a pressure-relief vent, causing it to over-pressurize and rupture. As a result of the explosion, numerous plaintiffs filed suit against various defendants for the injuries they sustained.[2]

         In the instant matter, the plaintiff was employed by Chicago Bridge and Iron Company (CB&I) as a pipefitter at the defendant's facility at the time of the chemical explosion. The plaintiff was "on top of a scaffold approximately 10 feet off the ground when the chemical explosion occurred." The plaintiff allegedly "suffered severe and debilitating injuries when an area of [the defendant's] refinery known as the propylene fractionation area exploded." On June 12, 2014, the plaintiff filed a petition for damages against the defendant[3] for the injuries he sustained. The plaintiff alleged in his original petition that that the defendant committed an intentional tort. Specifically, the plaintiff argued that the defendant failed to properly maintain, repair, and improve its pipeline and equipment on its premises, resulting in the explosion. On May 3, 2016, the plaintiff filed an amended petition for damages against the defendant that clarified his intentional tort claim.[4] The amended petition stated, in pertinent part:

1.33. ... [The defendant] owned and operated the subject refinery, and it employed the workers at the refinery. [The defendant] controlled the piping from which the propylene leaked on the date in question. [The defendant had] known for years that [EA-425B] was substantially certain and likely to over pressurize. [The defendant's] management ignored that risk over [sic] and over. As a result, eventually [EA-425B] over pressurized and exploded.

         On January 19, 2016, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment to dismiss the plaintiffs intentional tort claim on the grounds that there remained no genuine issue of material fact and that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[5] The defendant argued that the plaintiff could not satisfy his burden of proving his claim for an intentional tort because "[t]he facts show[ed] that the June 13, 2013 incident was a tragic accident" that was caused by the over-pressurization of an out-of-service reboiler that ruptured. Specifically, the defendant argued that the chemical explosion occurred as a result of three separate and distinct events occurring unexpectedly and simultaneously. The defendant submitted the affidavit of Larry Bayer, the Director of Operations and Technical Services for the defendant's facility, to explain the occurrence of the unexpected events. In his affidavit, Mr. Bayer stated, in pertinent part:

4. The over-pressurization of the out-of-service reboiler was caused by the union of three separate and distinct events occurring simultaneously: (1) the out-of-service reboiler (EA-425B) unexpectedly contained liquid propane/propylene despite having its process valves closed; (2) a valve was improperly opened that allowed heated quench water to flow into the out-of-service reboiler; and (3) the pressure relief path for the out-of-service reboiler [EA-425B] was blocked due to the process inlet and outlet valves being closed. All three of these factors had to occur simultaneously for this accident to occur. If any one of them had not happened, the fire would not have occurred. The simultaneous occurrence of three events like this had never occurred in the history of the Geismar facility.
8. In July, 2006, the [defendant] ... began a revalidation of the Process Hazard Analysis ("PHA") Study for various process areas of the plant, one of which included the area where the June 13, 2013 fire eventually occurred. These PHA revalidation studies are part of an on-going process safety management plan that the [defendant's] management team implements at the [defendant's] facility. ... The study ... contain[ed] numerous recommendations ... [and] [t]he specific recommendation at issue here is Recommendation 18, which state[d]: "Consider locking open at least one of the manual valves associated with each of the propylene fractionator reboilers (EA-425 A/B) so that the relief valves on top of the propylene fractionator can provide thermal relief protection for these reboilers."

         Thus, the defendant argued that the unusual, simultaneous occurrence of the three factors solely caused the chemical explosion. The defendant stated as to the first factor, the defendant's investigating committee was unable to determine the precise cause of the presence of the liquid hydrocarbons in the out-of-service reboiler. For the second factor, "the quench water flow valve to the out-of-service reboiler was improperly opened just minutes before the reboiler ruptured. It was opened by an operations department employee who was trouble-shooting quench water problems through the in-service reboiler." For the third factor, the defendant argued that Mr. Bayer's affidavit evidences that the pressure relief path was blocked for the out-of-service reboiler because a PHA recommendation by the defendant's management team was inadvertently implemented in a different manner than recommended. However, this error in implementation was not detected until the chemical explosion occurred three years later.

         In response, the plaintiff filed a memorandum in opposition to the defendant's motion, arguing that the defendant knew with substantial certainty of the dangerous condition associated with the out-of-service reboiler (EA-425B), but failed to address the problem. In support of his memorandum, the plaintiff attached exhibits, which included the expert affidavits of Gregg S. Perkin, an independent engineer consultant employed by Engineering Partners International, LLC, and Greg McCormack, an engineer consultant. The experts' affidavits provided the history of the reboilers' modifications at the defendant's facility. Mr. Perkin stated in his affidavit that around 2001, block valves were added to the inlet and outlet process flow lines for the reboilers. According to Mr. Perkin, this modification left the reboilers in an unsafe condition because they were isolated from the pressure relief system of the defendant's facility, a hazard that would substantially result in over-pressurization.

         Additionally, Mr. Perkin stated in his affidavit that the employees of the defendant knew the substantial risk of over pressurization of the reboilers because the defendant was warned multiple times that pressure relief was needed to the reboilers or they would fail. He stated that in 2006 the defendant underwent a PHA[6] for safety management at its facility. The PHA provided a recommendation to the defendant that it needed to consider locking open at least one of the manual valves associated with each of the reboilers, so that the relief valves on top of the propylene fractionator could provide thermal relief protection for the reboilers. Mr. Perkin further stated in ...


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