337 F.3d 558 (5th Cir. 2003), 02-30659, Fruge ex rel. Fruge v. Parker Drilling Co.

Docket Nº:02-30659
Citation:337 F.3d 558
Party Name:Fruge ex rel. Fruge v. Parker Drilling Co.
Case Date:July 23, 2003
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Page 558

337 F.3d 558 (5th Cir. 2003)

Carl FRUGE, on behalf of Casey FRUGE; Darla Monk Fruge, on behalf of Casey Fruge; Derrick Fruge, Plaintiffs-Appellants,


PARKER DRILLING COMPANY, et al., Defendants,

Anadarko Petroleum Corporation; Stokes & Spiehler USA Incorporated; Greg Zielinski Incorporated, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 02-30659.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

July 23, 2003.

Page 559

J.B. Jones, Jr., Jennifer Ann Jones (argued), Jones Law Firm, Cameron, LA, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

Bradford Hyde Felder (argued), John A. Jeansonne, Jr., Jeansonne & Remondet, Lafayette, LA, for Anadarko Petroleum Corp.

Melvin A. Eiden (argued), H. Lee Leonard, Leonard & Leonard, Lafayette, LA, for Stokes & Spiehler USA, Inc.

W. Gerald Gaudet (argued), Voorhies & Labbe, Lafayette, LA, for Greg Zielinski Inc.

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Appeals from the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.

Before DUHÉ, EMILIO M. GARZA and DeMOSS, Circuit Judges.

DUHÉ, Circuit Judge:

In this suit involving personal injuries on a drilling platform on the outer continental shelf off the coast of Louisiana, y fodistrict court granted summary judgment to the platform owner and two independent contractors whom the owner had hired to monitor the drilling operation. Holding as a matter of law that Appellees are not subject to strict liability, are not guilty of negligence, nor responsible for the negligent acts, if any, of the drilling contractor (another independent contractor not appearing in this appeal), or for loss of evidence, we affirm.


Defendant-Appellee Anadarko Petroleum Corporation ("Anadarko") as principal contracted with Parker Drilling Offshore Corporation ("Parker") as drilling contractor to complete a well on Anadarko's stationary platform. Plaintiff's employer, M-I, LLC, was under contract with Anadarko to provide filtration services for the project. Plaintiff-Appellant Carl Fruge was operating a filter unit on the platform when a discharge hose which was part of Parker's rig ruptured and injured him.

The ruptured hose was not produced for examination despite Plaintiff's demands. The hose is lost. The on-site supervisors saw the ruptured hose at the time of the accident and several times after the accident. Those supervisors were employees of Defendants-Appellees Stokes & Spiehler USA, Inc., and Greg Zielinski, Inc., with whom Anadarko had contracted to provide company men for on-the-job supervision.

Fruge sued Parker, Anadarko, Stokes & Spiehler, and Zielinski, among others. Anadarko, Stokes & Spiehler, and Zielinski moved for summary judgment on the basis that they were not negligent and did not exercise operational control over Parker's drilling operations so bore no responsibility for Parker's alleged negligence.

The district court granted all three motions. Fruge's claims against Parker remain in the district court. 1

This Court reviews grants of summary judgment de novo, applying the same standard as the district court, viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-movant. Coulter v. Texaco, 117 F.3d 909, 911 (5th Cir. 1997); Coleman v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 113 F.3d 528, 533 (5th Cir. 1997).


Federal jurisdiction is predicated on the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OSCLA), 43 U.S.C. § 1331 et seq. OCSLA adopts the law of the adjacent state (Louisiana) as surrogate federal law, to the extent that it is not inconsistent with other federal laws and regulations. Bartholomew v. CNG Producing Co., 832 F.2d 326, 328 (5th Cir. 1987); 43 U.S.C. § 1333(a)(2)(A). Thus the law applicable is "federal law, supplemented by state law of the adjacent state." Rodrigue v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 395 U.S. 352, 355, 89 S.Ct. 1835, 1837, 23 L.Ed.2d 360 (1969).

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Bearing in mind these principles, we are first asked to determine whether federal regulations create civil liability beyond the liability under state law as enunciated in Coulter v. Texaco. Applying Louisiana negligence law, Coulter held that a principal is not liable for the actions of its independent contractor unless the principal retained "operational control" over the contractor's work (discussed infra) or expressly or impliedly approved its unsafe work practice that led to an injury. Coulter, 117 F.3d at 912.

Fruge argues that Coulter is not an appropriate precedent because it did not deal with federal Minerals Management Service ("MMS") regulations enacted after Coulter. Those regulations, according to Plaintiff, place primary responsibility on the mineral lessee (Anadarko) and its agents (Zielinski and Stokes & Spiehler) for supervising the operations and maintaining safety over the operations and equipment--without any regard to "operational control" or authorization of an unsafe work practice. If a mineral lessee establishes that it did not maintain operational control, according to Fruge, it has necessarily violated the federal regulations, creating liability as a matter of law. The key regulation, in Plaintiff's view, charges that the lessee, the operator, and the person actually performing the activity "are jointly and severally responsible" for complying with the offshore MMS regulations. 30 C.F.R. § 250.146(a) & (c). This regulation further allows the Regional Supervisor to require any or all co-lessees to fulfill obligations under the regulations or the lease, if the designated operator fails to fulfill obligations under the regulations. Id. § 146(b). 2

The MMS regulations in place at the time of Coulter similarly carried the concept of responsibility on the parts of both the lessee and the operator for obligations under the lease and the regulations. 3 The Secretary has considered the law to have provided for joint and several liability of

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co-lessees and the operator since the enactment of OCSLA (1953) and the common law, through the present date. 4 Although

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the regulations have been modified a number of times, the regulations and commentary mainfest the intention to retain this shared liability over the years. Nothing in the 2002 regulations preempts Coulter, and Coulter is therefore still precedent.

Additionally, this Court has held that a violation of the MMS regulations does not give rise to a private cause of action. Romero v. Mobil Exploration & Producing North America, Inc., 939 F.2d 307, 310-11 (5th Cir. 1991). The regulations govern the parties' joint and several liabilities vis-à-vis the Government, 5 not amongst themselves. 6 This principle also defeats Fruge's contention that Anadarko had a duty under the regulations to use the best available and safest technology to test the hose. Under the drilling contract, the obligation to maintain and repair Parker's equipment and to comply with applicable safety regulations rested on Parker's shoulders. 7 The OCSLA regulations do not create an independent duty under Louisiana negligence law. Dupre v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc., 109 F.3d 230, 231 (5th Cir...

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