430 F.2d 27 (5th Cir. 1970), 28448, Huson v. Chevron Oil Co.

Docket Nº:28448.
Citation:430 F.2d 27
Party Name:Gaines Ted HUSON, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CHEVRON OIL COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee, v. OTIS ENGINEERING CORPORATION etal., Third-Party Defendant.
Case Date:July 14, 1970
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

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430 F.2d 27 (5th Cir. 1970)

Gaines Ted HUSON, Plaintiff-Appellant,


CHEVRON OIL COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee, v. OTIS ENGINEERING CORPORATION etal., Third-Party Defendant.

No. 28448.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit.

July 14, 1970

Rehearing Denied Aug. 10, 1970.

Samuel C. Gainsburgh, New Orleans, La., for appellant.

Lloyd C. Melancon, New Orleans, La., for Chevron.

Blake West, New Orleans, La., for Otis.

Leonard Fuhrer, Alexandria, La., amicus curiae.

Before JOHN R. BROWN, Chief Judge, AINSWORTH and GODBOLD, Circuit judges.

JOHN R. BROWN, Chief Judge:

This case is a fallout from Rodrigue 1 and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. 43 U.S.C.A. § 1331 et seq. As a decision whose major thread in the quest for divination of legislative purpose

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was a conviction that Congress thought the interests of workers on the Outer Continental Shelf would be served best by adopting the law of the adjacent state as controlling federal law, the ink was scarcely dry when it became evident that the result might be quite something else. For against ingrained maritime principles of comparative fault, laches and the like, the Bar of Louisiana soon had to reckon with local restrictive, sometimes prohibitive, principles of contributory negligence as a complete bar, peremptory limitations of short duration in death actions that extinguished the right, 2 prescriptive limitations of short duration in non-fatal injuries, and the peculiar vicarious substituted employer liability of the workmen's compensation statute that virtually extinguishes the now-common third party Sieracki-Ryan-Yaka seamen's suit. 3 Any results so foreign to the Rodrigue declared statutory purpose of improving the lot of adjacent-shore based workers should certainly be avoided unless the tide is overwhelming.

The problem here is not academic, but acute, for a case timely brought in January, 1968 was held by the District Court to be Louisiana time-barred by reason of the subsequent 1969 decision in Rodrigue. As in Continental Oil Co. v. London Steam-Ship Own. Mut. Ins. Ass'n, 4 we decline to let literalisms produce unsound results. We reverse.

On December 17, 1965 Appellant Huson, while employed by the Otis Engineering Corporation, a service contractor, suffered injuries on a fixed oil rig platform in the Outer Continental Shelf off the coast of Louisiana. On January 4, 1968, he instituted this third party damage action against Appellee Chevron Oil Company, the owner and operator of the fixed structure. The suit was timely commenced, for in Snipes 5 we concluded as part of a sweeping declaration, that for the Outer Continental Shelf,

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Congress had mandated 6 federal maritime, not adjacent Louisiana parochial law. Thus the one year time limitation of Louisiana Art. 3536 7 would not bar a suit 8 for platform-based injuries if the claim passed muster under the maritime doctrine of laches. 293 F.2d at 70.

But all that is water over the dam because for platform-based occurrences, 9 Rodrigue rejects maritime 10

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in favor of local, adjacent 'applicable and not inconsistent' law. 'In light of the principles of traditional admiralty law, the Seas Act, and the Lands Act, we hold that petitioners' remedy is under the Lands Act and Louisiana law. The Lands Act makes it clear that federal law, supplemented by state law of the adjacent State, is to be applied to these artificial islands as though they were federal enclaves in an upland State. This approach was deliberately taken in lieu of treating the structures as vessels, to which admiralty law supplemented by the law of the jurisdiction of the vessel's owner would apply. The Hamilton, 207 U.S. 398, 28 S.Ct. 133, 52 L.Ed. 264 (1907). This was done in part because men working on these islands are closely tied to the adjacent State, to which they often commute and on which their families live, unlike transitory seamen to whom a more generalized admiralty law is appropriate. Since the Seas Act does not apply of its own force under admiralty principles, and since the Lands Act deliberately eschewed the application of admiralty principles to these novel structures, Louisiana law is not ousted by the Seas Act, and under the Lands Act it is made applicable.' Rodrigue, supra, 395 U.S. at 355, 89 S.Ct. at 1837, 23 L.Ed.2d at 364.

Several theories are advanced in refutation of the District Court's holding. Huson urges that on usual principles Rodrigue should be applied prospectively and not retroactively. The Amicus contends that Art. 3536 is purely procedural, not a part of the substantive right, so that the federal forum is not bound by it. On argument, we suggested the Continental Oil approach, that with federal resources being adequate the Louisiana law (Art. 3536) was not needed and hence was not 'applicable'. Persuasive as is the equitable appeal of non-retroactivity, 11 we prefer to rest reversal on the other grounds.

In assaying Art. 3536, (note 7, supra) we emphasize two important factors. The first is the role of the federal Trial Court in an Outer Continental Shelf case. It is most certainly not just an Erie Court of the state in which it sits. Rather, it is the Court to which Congress committed primary, if not exclusive, jurisdiction for the enforcement of all federal laws including those adopted from the adjacent state. 12 It is a

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federal Court adjudicating a federal case controlled by direct or adoptive federal law.

Second, we recognize that Rodrigue-Louisiana substantive right begins with 'the quaint codal language of Art. 2315' 13 C/B Mr. Kim, supra. But unlike death actions for which Art. 2315 prescribes both the right and time, non-death rights created by Art. 2315 find their time restrictions in Art. 3536. Whether it is this verbal contiguity versus verbal separatism which leads to the result, it is nevertheless unquestioned Louisiana jurisprudence that for death actions the time is an integral part of the right. Mejia, Kenney, supra note 2.

But not so for Art. 3536. 'For we have held that Art. 3536 is a procedural restraint which bars the remedy, but does not extinguish the right. Page v. Cameron Iron Works, Inc., 5 Cir., 1958, 259 F.2d 420, 422. It is also good Louisiana law, so we have held in an opinion written for the Court by Judge Wisdom that the codal 'Article expresses the general rule, supported by ample Louisiana authority, that prescription is procedural and the law of the forum governs.' Kozan v. Comstock, 5 Cir., 1959, 270 F.2d 839, 841, 80 A.L.R.2d 310.' C/B Mr. Kim, supra, 345 F.2d at 50.

In keeping with accepted conflicts principles 'purely procedural provisions may be overlooked'. Kenney, supra, 349 F.2d at 836. In Levinson v. Deupree, 1953, 345 U.S. 648, 73 S.Ct. 914, 97 L.Ed. 1319, dealing with a claim in a federal Court in which state law was said to be applicable, the Supreme Court asserted that the federal Court must look to the local law to determine the scope of the rights. But the Court was not bound to go beyond that 'to strive for uniformity of results in procedural niceties with the courts of jurisdiction which originated the obligato.' 345 U.S. at 651, 73 S.Ct. at 916, 97 L.Ed. at 1324.

This carries out the legislative aim of (i) a body of substantive law (ii) to be administered by federal Courts as federal law. State law is called on as 'applicable' where it is necessary to 'fill federal voids' and where state law 'supplemented gaps in the federal law'. Where there is a federal 'law' or procedural practice which adequately 'cope(s) with the full range of potential legal problems' 14 the state law-- here prescription-- is not applicable, for 'the deliberate choice of federal law, federally administered, requires that 'applicable' be read in terms of necessity-- necessity to fill a significant void or gap.' Continental Oil, supra, 417 F.2d at 1036.

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Here in rejecting the Louisiana period of limitations we recognize a federal Court in many situations applies the limitations period of the forum state when it acts as a 'state' Court in an Erie sense. For this proposition Chevron cites Wells v. Simonds Abrasive Co., 1953, 345 U.S. 514, 73 S.Ct. 856, 97 L.Ed. 1211; Martin v. Texaco, Inc., 1968, E.D.La., 279 F.Supp. 1015, inter alia. And we recognize also that when applying a federal statute, if that statute does not itself set out a limitation period, we often adopt the periods of the states.

In O'Sullivan v. Felix, 1913, 233 U.S. 318, 34 S.Ct. 596, 58 L.Ed. 980, the Supreme Court set the stage by noting 'That the action depends upon or arises under the laws of the United States does not preclude the application of the statute of limitations of the state is established beyond controversy * * *.' This Court has applied this approach quite frequently in cases arising under the Civil Rights Act in which a federal Court borrows the applicable statute of limitations from the state in which it sits. McGuire v. Baker, 5 Cir., 1970, 421 F.2d 895. See also Beard v. Stephens, 5 Cir., 1967, 372 F.2d 685.

Yet the state limitations have been rejected when a significant federal interest made them inappropriate. Never has this been more evident than in the maritime and quasi maritime area which is traditionally imbued with the laches doctrine and which presents a strong federal urge toward uniformity.

Of course there can be no doubt about the procedural resources of the federal Court. Thus, we rejected the state statute of limitations for the doctrine of laches on the analogy of Jones Act limitations, in Flowers v. Savannah Machine & Foundry, Co., 5 Cir., 1962, 310 F.2d 135, 1962 A.M.C. 2537; and the Supreme Court's adoption of the Jones Act period for federally recognized recovery for unseaworthiness. McAllister v. Magnolia Petroleum Co., 1958, 357 U.S. 221, 78 S.Ct. 1201, 2 L.Ed.2d 1272, 1958 A.M.C. 1754. To make certain that platform workers would...

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