United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
ORDER & REASONS
M. AFRICK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is defendants LLOG Bluewater Holdings, LLC
(“LLOG Bluewater”) and LLOG Exploration Offshore,
LLC's (“LLOG Exploration”) (collectively, the
“LLOG defendants”) motion for summary judgment. For
the following reasons, the motion is granted.
case arises out of injuries plaintiff Terry Gantt
(“Gantt”) allegedly suffered when responding to a
fire that broke out in an air handling unit on board the M/V
WEST NEPTUNE (the “vessel”) in March
2015. Because the complaint does not specify
which claims pertain to which defendants, the LLOG
defendants' motion addresses all of the claims for relief
listed in the complaint. In his opposition, Gantt clarified
that he is only pursuing general maritime negligence claims
against the LLOG defendants. Therefore, the Court will not
consider the LLOG defendants' arguments as to Gantt's
Jones Act negligence and unseaworthiness
date of the March 2015 fire, Gantt was working aboard the
vessel as an assistant crane operator employed by defendant
Seadrill Americas, Inc. (“Seadrill
Americas”). According to Gantt's account of the
subject incident, the air handling unit's filter material
came into contact with the unit's heater elements,
resulting in a fire because there was no physical barrier
preventing such contact. Gantt alleges that he was one of the
crew members who responded to the fire.
LLOG defendants state that the vessel was operating on a
federal oil and gas lease block as a result of a contract
(the “daywork drilling contract”) between LLOG
Bluewater, the leaseholder, and Seadrill Deepwater
Contracting, Ltd. (“Seadrill Deepwater”), the
drilling contractor. Pursuant to the daywork drilling contract,
Seadrill Deepwater-which is not a party to this lawsuit-was
to furnish the vessel, as well as the drilling equipment,
insurance, and personnel. It is uncontested that the LLOG
defendants had no ownership interest in the
vessel.Rather, the vessel was owned by Seadrill
Neptune Hungary Kft. (“Seadrill
Neptune”). Gantt alleges that the LLOG defendants,
as the leaseholder party to the daywork drilling contract,
“held all rights and obligations.” He seeks to
hold the LLOG defendants liable under a theory of general
judgment is proper when, after reviewing the pleadings, the
discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any
affidavits, the Court determines that there is no genuine
dispute of material fact. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56.
“[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the
initial responsibility of informing the district court of the
basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the
record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a
genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The party seeking
summary judgment need not produce evidence negating the
existence of a material fact; it need only point out the
absence of evidence supporting the other party's case.
Id.; see also Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780
F.2d 1190, 1195 (5th Cir. 1986).
the party seeking summary judgment carries its burden, the
nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing
that there is a genuine dispute of material fact for trial.
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The showing of a genuine issue is
not satisfied by creating “‘some metaphysical
doubt as to the material facts,' by ‘conclusory
allegations,' by ‘unsubstantiated assertions,'
or by only a ‘scintilla' of evidence.”
Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th
Cir. 1994) (citations omitted).
a genuine issue of material fact exists when the
“evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
“Although the substance or content of the evidence
submitted to support or dispute a fact on summary judgment
must be admissible . . ., the material may be presented in a
form that would not, in itself, be admissible at
trial.” Lee v. Offshore Logistical & Transp.,
LLC, 859 F.3d 353, 355 (5th Cir. 2017) (citations
omitted). The party responding to the motion for summary
judgment may not rest upon the pleadings but must identify
specific facts that establish a genuine issue.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The nonmoving
party's evidence, however, “is to be believed, and
all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [the nonmoving
party's] favor.” Id. at 255; see also
Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552 (1999).
principles of negligence guide the analysis of a maritime
tort case.” Casaceli v. Martech Int'l,
Inc., 774 F.2d 1322, 1328 (5th Cir. 1985). Accordingly,
“[t]o establish maritime negligence, a plaintiff must
demonstrate that there was a duty owed by the defendant to
the plaintiff, breach of that duty, injury sustained by [the]
plaintiff, and a causal connection between the
defendant's conduct and the plaintiff's
injury.” Skinner v. Schlumberger Tech. Corp.,
655 Fed.Appx. 188, 192 (5th Cir. 2016) (quoting Canal
Barge Co. v. Torco Oil Co., 220 F.3d 370, 376 (5th Cir.
2000)). The LLOG defendants argue that Gantt's claims
fail because Gantt cannot prove that they owed him a duty-one
of the critical elements of such a negligence
Fifth Circuit has “consistently held that a principal
who hires independent contractors over which he exercises no
operational control has no duty to discover and remedy the
hazards created by its independent
contractors.” Skinner, 655 Fed.Appx. at 192
(quoting Wilkins v. P.M.B. Sys. Eng'g, Inc., 741
F.2d 795, 800 (5th Cir. 1984)). According to the daywork
drilling contract, LLOG Bluewater hired Seadrill Deepwater as
an independent contractor. Seadrill Deepwater was
obligated to carry out the offshore drilling operations,
which included furnishing the vessel that included the
allegedly defective air handling unit. Critically,
Gantt concedes that the LLOG defendants did not exercise
operational control. Instead, Gantt argues that the LLOG
defendants owed him a duty under two different theories,
which the Court will consider in turn.
first argues that the LLOG defendants owed him a duty to
ensure that the vessel's equipment and work areas were in
a safe condition pursuant to 30 C.F.R. §
250.107. Section 250.107 was promulgated pursuant
to the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act
(“OCSLA”). The regulation provides that certain
leaseholders, including the LLOG defendants in this case,
must “[m]aintain[ ] all equipment and work areas in a
safe condition.” 30 C.F.R. § 250.107(1)(2);
see also Voces v. Energy Res. Tech., G.O.M., L.L.C.,
704 Fed.Appx. 345, 348 n.4 (5th Cir. 2017) (noting that 30
C.F.R. § 250.107 applies to “a lessee or its
designated operator under an offshore mineral lease”).
alleges that one of LLOG's company men, Michael Harris
(“Harris”), inspected the vessel numerous times
in 2014 while it was still in its original construction yard
in South Korea. The vessel was constructed at
approximately the same time and in the same place as its
sister vessel, the M/V WEST SATURN (the “WEST
SATURN”). Gantt claims that in 2014, during the
time that Harris was in South Korea purportedly inspecting
the WEST NEPTUNE, a fire broke out on the WEST
SATURN. Gantt alleges that the WEST SATURN fire
was similar to the fire that eventually broke out on the WEST
NEPTUNE in March 2015.
to Gantt, Harris knew about the WEST SATURN fire, but he did
not seek information about it-despite the fact that he
“must have known” that the WEST SATURN and the
WEST NEPTUNE were sister vessels. Gantt argues that Harris,
and hence the LLOG defendants, violated a duty they owed him
pursuant to 30 C.F.R. § 250.107 by failing to
“rectify” what he characterizes as a “known
fire hazard” in one of the WEST NEPTUNE's air
LLOG defendants argue in response that, even if they violated
§ 250.107, the Fifth Circuit has rejected the argument
that OCSLA regulations give rise to a private cause of action
or create a legal duty. They rely primarily on Fruge v.
Parker Drilling Co., 337 F.3d 558 (5th Cir. 2003), in
which the Fifth Circuit held that a violation of OCSLA
regulations does not create a private cause of action.
Id. at 563. The Fruge court also concluded
that the regulations do not create an independent duty under
Louisiana law. See Fruge, 337 F.3d at 563-64.
However, Louisiana law does not govern this case.
all of the cases that the LLOG defendants cited in their
motion for summary judgment to demonstrate that they did not
owe Gantt a duty under 30 C.F.R. § 250.107 are Louisiana
negligence cases, while the motion was pending the Court
ordered the parties to submit additional briefing with
respect to the issue of whether OCSLA regulations may
nevertheless serve as a basis for a duty under general
maritime negligence law.
supplemental brief, the LLOG defendants argue that
Fruge's holding is not limited to Louisiana
negligence claims. They rely exclusively on Creppel v.
Shell Oil Co., 738 F.2d 699, 702 (5th Cir. 1984). In
Creppel, the plaintiff's boat struck a pipe in
navigable waters that had been leased to the defendant.
Id. at 700. Alleging negligence, the plaintiff
predicated the defendant's duty “on its status as
mineral lessee with notice that the potentially hazardous
object was in the water covering a portion of [the
defendant's] lease.” Id. at 700, 701. The
Fifth Circuit held that a defendant may only be liable for
damages resulting from a collision between a boat and an
object in the defendant's waters if the defendant owned,
placed, maintained, or controlled the object. See
Id. at 701-02.
Creppel is most often cited for the foregoing
principle, the Fifth Circuit also held that an OCSLA
regulation similar to the regulation at issue in this case
“does not make lessees insurors of their work areas. .
. . A breach of the regulation provides no federal civil
cause of action.” Id. at 702; see also
Tolar v. McMoran Offshore Prod. Co., 706 F.Supp. 472,
476 (W.D. La. 1987) (applying Creppel to a Texas
strict liability lawsuit and holding that a breach of OCSLA
regulations does not “create[ ] a private right of
action for lessee violations”).
the LLOG defendants fail to mention is that, like
Fruge and the other cases cited in the motion for
summary judgment, Creppel involved a negligence
action under Louisiana law. See Creppel, 738 F.2d at
700 (explaining that the plaintiff sued the defendant
“alleging admiralty as well as diversity jurisdiction
over a Louisiana strict liability cause of action”).
However, the Court nonetheless finds support for the LLOG
defendants' position in Creppel because, in
addition to finding that OCSLA regulations do not create a
private cause of action, the Fifth Circuit explained that
“the[ ] regulations are in no way ‘analogous to
safety regulations which require a specific standard of
conduct in particular situations,' and establish no
special standard of care in a negligence action.”
Id. at 702 (quoting Bourg v. Texaco Oil Co.,
Inc., 578 F.2d 1117, 1120 (5th Cir. 1978)).
Creppel Court reiterated its holding, finding
“no basis in federal regulations or applicable
federal maritime law to impose upon a mineral lessee a
duty to police the waters covered by its lease or to take
steps to remove obstructions which it does not own, has not
placed there, or does not maintain or control.”
Id. (emphasis added). Creppel's
reasoning is not unique to Louisiana negligence law. Gantt
has not offered any reason why Fruge and
Creppel should not apply by analogy to this case.
reasoning in Creppel comports with Bourg,
in which the Fifth Circuit explained that interpreting the
relevant OCSLA regulations to impose a duty under Louisiana
law would be erroneous, “absent a clear indication from
Congress that this was their intent.” Bourg,
578 F.2d at 1121. A review of OCSLA's legislative history
“uncover[ed] no such intent.” Id. at
1121-22. Extrapolating from Bourg, the Court notes
that neither has Congress provided a clear indication that
OCSLA regulations are intended to create a duty under general
maritime law. Nor is there any case suggesting that 30 C.F.R.
§ 250.107 establishes a “special standard of
care” in general maritime negligence cases. See
Creppel, 738 F.2d at 702.
the Fifth Circuit has not directly addressed the issue of
whether OCSLA regulations impose a duty on offshore drilling
leaseholders in general maritime negligence cases, the Court
concludes that Creppel, Fruge, and their
progeny are applicable. Accordingly, the directives set forth
in 30 C.F.R. § 250.107 cannot serve as the basis for
establishing that the LLOG defendants owed Gantt a legal
duty. Cf. Tajonera, 2015 WL 6758258, at *17
(“Without guidance from the Fifth Circuit . . . finding
that the federal regulations create[ ] a private cause of
action, the Court declines to find that they imposed a
statutory duty . . . that may be enforced in this Court by
the . . . Plaintiffs.”).
next argues that a certain agreement between LLOG Bluewater
and Seadrill Deepwater demonstrates that the LLOG defendants
owed him a duty. 30 C.F.R. § 250.1900 provides that
leaseholders “must develop, implement, and maintain a
safety and environmental management system (SEMS)
program.” Pursuant to § 250.1900, LLOG Bluewater
and Seadrill Deepwater signed a contract (the “bridging
agreement”) that “specifies the expectations
regarding safety and environmental management between the
Operator's SEMs and the Contractor's safety and
environmental policies and practices.” The operator
is listed in the bridging agreement as “LLOG, ”
and the contractor is Seadrill Deepwater.
bridging agreement contains a table “indicat[ing]
whether the LLOG or [Seadrill Deepwater] manuals, policies,
responsibilities, and procedures prevail during the term of
[the] agreement.” In the table, an “X” is
placed under LLOG's name for the description “LLOG
and 3rd party owned equipment is fit for purpose and meets
regulatory standards.” The accompanying comment
provides in relevant part, ...