United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division
TULIP INDUSTRIES, INC.
J. LAUHON LOGGING, INC.
L. HAYES JUDGE
A. DOUGHTY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by
Defendant J. Lauhon Logging, Inc., (“JLL”) [Doc.
No. 27]. Plaintiff Tulip Industries, Inc.,
(“Tulip”) has filed an opposition [Doc. No. 29].
following reasons, JLL's motion is DENIED.
filed this lawsuit against JLL to recover damages, including
clean-up costs, allegedly incurred as a result of JLL's
negligence. Tulip alleges that Zack Lauhon
(“Lauhon”), an employee of JLL, backed a log
cutter over a gas well belonging to Tulip during logging
operations in Morehouse Parish, Louisiana.
originally filed suit in the Fourth Judicial District Court
for Morehouse Parish, Louisiana, on January 16, 2019. JLL
removed the case to this Court on March 1, 2019. [Doc. No.
1]. On March 8, 2019, JLL filed an Answer in which it denied
all liability and alternatively asserted the affirmative
defense of comparative fault [Doc. No. 5].
accident occurred on August 23, 2018. Lauhon was cutting and
stacking trees in his cutter, and the right rear portion of
his machine knocked off the well cap of a Tulip gas well,
causing blue flames, salt water, sand, and natural gas to
erupt from the open wellhead [Doc. No. 27-3]. Tulip contends
that JLL negligently rolled over the wellhead because its
well site was routinely inspected and maintained, the well
was in plain sight, and it had a visible sign marking its
the other hand, contends that the well was not in
plain sight, but was instead concealed inside a thicket and
camouflaged by overgrowth, and, further, it was not properly
marked or maintained. JLL therefore asserts in its Motion for
Summary Judgment that it was not at fault, has no liability,
and is entitled to judgment as a matter of law dismissing all
claims against it.
support of its motion, JLL relies on the testimony of Lauhon
and James Phillips (“Phillips”), the Tulip
employee who was responsible for inspecting and maintaining
Tulip's well sites in Morehouse Parish. Phillips
testified that: (1) the well site was only inspected about
once a year and it had not been inspected since May (more
than 3 months before the accident); (2) he only does physical
inspections when he deems it necessary and he goes by to
check the wells when he feels like the grass may be getting
high and he needs to go; (3) the gas well is only 2 to 2-1/2
feet tall; (4) there is a small sign that hangs on one side
of the well, and it only hangs about 10 inches above the
ground (about mid-calf height); (5) the sign was starting to
get overgrown in May when it was last inspected; and (6)
overgrowth of vegetation is a common problem with well sites
that are located in forested areas. [Doc. No. 27-4]. Lauhon
testified that if the sign had been present, he would not
have run over the well. [Doc. No. 27-3]. Based on the
foregoing, JLL argues there is no basis upon which Tulip can
create an issue of fact as to whether JLL knew or should have
known about the well site and failed to avoid it.
opposes the motion for summary judgment, offering the
declarations of Phillips and Brett Thompson
(“Thompson”). Phillips declares that: (1) anyone
conducting forestry operations in the Monroe Gas Field, where
the incident occurred, should be aware that it is riddled
with producing and non-producing gas wells; (2) Tulip owns
332 wells in the Monroe Gas field; (3) JLL had conducted
forestry operations on the land in 2017 and 2018, using a
dirt road just wide enough for a pickup up truck, leading
from Prairie Debutte Road straight toward the gas well,
curving around to the right to avoid the gas well, and
therefore should have been aware of the presence of the well;
(4) pictures taken on the day of the incident show that the
area was not heavily forested and there was a proper sign on
the well; and (5) in the pictures the well sign is crumpled
and lying beside the well only because it was damaged by JLL.
[Doc. Nos. 32-1]. Thompson, an agent of the Louisiana
Department of Conservation, saw the damaged well head the day
of the incident and took pictures. [Doc. No. 32-3]. Tulip
concludes that it is obvious the damages were caused by the
negligence of JLL, but not obvious enough for Tulip to file
its own motion for summary judgment. Tulip, therefore, seeks
a denial of JLL's motion for summary judgment.
matter has been fully briefed, and the Court is prepared to