135 F.3d 344 (5th Cir. 1998), 97-30008, Manuel v. P.A.W. Drilling & Well Service, Inc.

Docket Nº:97-30008.
Citation:135 F.3d 344
Party Name:Arabie J. MANUEL, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. P.A.W. DRILLING & WELL SERVICE, INC.; Westwood Insurance Company, Ltd., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:March 02, 1998
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

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135 F.3d 344 (5th Cir. 1998)

Arabie J. MANUEL, Plaintiff-Appellant,


P.A.W. DRILLING & WELL SERVICE, INC.; Westwood Insurance

Company, Ltd., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 97-30008.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

March 2, 1998

Page 345

William Neville Gee, III, Lafayette, LA, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Page 346

Anthony John Staines, Valerie Anne Young, Staines, Eppling & Myers, Metairie, LA, for Defendants-Appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Before JOLLY, DAVIS and BARKSDALE, Circuit Judges.

W. EUGENE DAVIS, Circuit Judge:

Arabie J. Manuel appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment to his employer, P.A.W. Drilling & Well Service, Inc., and its insurer dismissing Manuel's action on the ground that he was not a seaman because the barge upon which he worked was not a vessel. We reverse, render, and remand.


Arabie Manuel began his employment with P.A.W. Drilling & Well Service, Inc. ("P.A.W.") in June of 1995, approximately two months before his alleged injury. Manuel worked during these two months as a floorhand on a workover rig identified as "Rig 3." Rig 3 consisted of a portable truck-mounted workover rig owned by P.A.W. that was driven onto the deck of a leased barge and bolted into place. The summary judgment evidence established that the workover rig had been bolted to this particular barge for more than two years. The leased flat-deck barge was equipped with spuds used to secure the barge to the water bottom once it reached the worksite.

Rig 3 had no motor power and was moved by tugboat from location to location. The barge itself did not contain any steering mechanisms, navigational devices, bilge pumps, or crew quarters, except for a small shed in which the crew changed clothes. The barge had a keyway in its stern to allow the barge to be positioned over the wellhead. As a workover rig, Rig 3 was equipped with essentially the same type of equipment as a drilling rig. This included a derrick with traveling block, a drawworks-type winch to run the traveling block up and down the derrick, a driller's console, a mud pump and mud tank, a cement unit for pumping cement into wells, and a crane. P.A.W. used Rig 3 primarily to plug and abandon wells.

Rig 3's crew consisted of four men: a toolpusher, a driller, and two floorhands. The crew did not live aboard Rig 3. Each morning, a small boat picked up the crew at a dock and transported them to wherever Rig 3 was located. Upon arriving on Rig 3, the crew would raise the derrick and anchor the barge by dropping the spuds. Each evening, the transport boat would return the men to land, where they slept in lodgings provided by P.A.W. The crew usually did not remain on Rig 3 while it was under tow to a different location.

In the two years before August of 1995, Rig 3 worked at 19 different locations, all over water. It performed work on 63 different wellheads. 1 Work on each wellhead lasted anywhere from one day to thirty-five days. In the two months from June to August of 1995 that Manuel spent working for P.A.W., Rig 3 worked on several sites near Avery Island, Amelia, and Cut Off, Louisiana. On August 6, 1995, Rig 3 was performing a plug and abandon job on a well near Cut Off, Louisiana. The crew was running production tubing in and out of the well to pump cement and mud into the well. Manuel allegedly hurt his back when he and a co-worker, Lionel Leblanc, attempted to pick up a joint of tubing that had fallen from the barge.

In November of 1995, Manuel filed suit against P.A.W. and its insurer under the Jones Act, 46 App. U.S.C. § 688, and the general maritime law to recover for his injuries. Manuel alleged that he was a member of the crew of Rig 3. Both Manuel and P.A.W. filed motions for summary judgment addressing Manuel's status as a seaman. P.A.W. argued that Rig 3 was not a vessel as a matter of law, and, therefore, Manuel's Jones Act claim failed because he could not establish that he was assigned to a vessel in navigation. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of P.A.W. and dismissed

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all of Manuel's claims. This appeal followed.



We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. Pavone v. Mississippi Riverboat Amusement Corp., 52 F.3d 560, 565 (5th Cir.1995). We determine whether all of "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). We view this evidence and the inferences to be drawn from it in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Pavone, 52 F.3d at 565.


To recover as a seaman under the Jones Act, a plaintiff must demonstrate an "employment-related connection to a vessel in navigation." Chandris Inc. v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347, 368-72, 115 S.Ct. 2172, 2189-91, 132 L.Ed.2d 314 (1995). This "employment-related connection" has two basic elements: First, an employee's duties must contribute to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission. Second, the connection to the vessel in navigation must be substantial in terms of both its duration and its nature. Chandris, 515 U.S. at 368-69, 115 S.Ct. at 2189-90. Obviously, the existence of a vessel to which the employee is connected is a fundamental prerequisite to a Jones Act claim. Burchett v. Cargill, Inc., 48 F.3d 173, 176 (5th Cir.1995). The sole issues in this appeal are whether the district court correctly concluded, as a matter of law, that Rig 3 was not a vessel and, therefore, that Manuel was not a seaman.


A "vessel" traditionally refers to structures designed or utilized for "transportation of passengers, cargo or equipment from place to place across navigable waters." Cook v. Belden Concrete Prods., 472 F.2d 999, 1002 (5th Cir.1973); see also Bernard v. Binnings Constr. Co., Inc., 741 F.2d 824, 828-29 (5th Cir.1984); 1B BENEDICT ON ADMIRALTY § 11a, at 2-7 (7th ed. rev.1996); GRANT GILMORE & CHARLES L. BLACK, JR., THE LAW OF ADMIRALTY § 1-11, at 33 (2d ed.1975). This is consistent with the statutory definition which defines the word "vessel" as including "every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water." 1 U.S.C. § 3. The determination of whether a given craft is a vessel is ordinarily resolved as a matter of law. Our cases have recognized, however, that at the margin, fact issues may be presented. See Ducote v. V. Keeler & Co., Inc., 953 F.2d 1000, 1002 (5th Cir.1992) ("marginal claims are properly left for jury determination"); Gremillion v. Gulf Coast Catering Co., 904 F.2d 290, 292 (5th Cir.1990); Bernard, 741 F.2d at 829.

In evaluating whether a structure is a vessel, we begin by examining "the purpose for which the craft is constructed and the business in which it is engaged." The Robert W. Parsons, 191 U.S. 17, 30, 24 S.Ct. 8, 12, 48 L.Ed. 73 (1903); see also Burchett, 48 F.3d at 176. In applying this test, two divergent lines of cases have emerged. In one line of cases, we have concluded that special purpose structures such as jack-up rigs, mobile, submersible drilling barges, derrick barges, spud barges, and others are vessels as a matter of law, even though they also served, in part, as work platforms. 2 Conversely, in the second line of cases, we have held that a variety of structures utilized predominately as work platforms are not vessels. 3

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  1. In a long line of cases, we have held a variety of special purpose structures, far removed from the conventional notion of ships and seagoing barges, to be vessels. 4 As previously stated, "unconventional craft [such] as submersible drilling barges and floating dredges which are designed for navigation and commerce are vessels within general maritime and Jones Act jurisdiction and retain such status even while moored, dry-docked...

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