555 F.3d 426 (5th Cir. 2009), 06-60766, Coastal Production Services Inc. v. Hudson

Docket Nº:06-60766.
Citation:555 F.3d 426
Party Name:COASTAL PRODUCTION SERVICES INC.; Forest Oil Corporation; ACE American Insurance Company, Petitioners, v. Terry W. HUDSON; Director, Office of Worker's Compensation Programs, U.S. Department of Labor, Respondents.
Case Date:January 14, 2009
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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Page 426

555 F.3d 426 (5th Cir. 2009)

COASTAL PRODUCTION SERVICES INC.; Forest Oil Corporation; ACE American Insurance Company, Petitioners,

v.

Terry W. HUDSON; Director, Office of Worker's Compensation Programs, U.S. Department of Labor, Respondents.

No. 06-60766.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit.

January 14, 2009

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Christopher Leonard Zaunbrecher (argued), Briney & Foret, Lafayette, LA, for Petitioners.

Arthur Joseph Brewster (argued), Law office of Arthur J. Brewster, Metairie, LA, for Terry W. Hudson.

Matthew W. Boyle (argued), Mark Ambrose Reinhalter, Donald Shire, Richard Anthony Seid, U.S. Dept. of Labor, Thomas O. Shepherd, Jr., Clerk, Benefits Review Board, Washington, DC, David Duhon, U.S. Dept. of Labor, Employment Standards Admin., New Orleans, LA, for Director, Office of Worker's Compensation Programs.

Petition for Review from the Benefits Review Board, U.S. Department of Labor.

Before WIENER, DeMOSS, and PRADO, Circuit Judges.

WIENER, Circuit Judge:

Petitioners Coastal Production Services Inc. (" Coastal" ), Forest Oil Corporation, and ACE American Insurance Company (collectively, " Petitioners" ) seek our review of an order of the Benefits Review Board (" BRB" ) affirming the determination of the Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ" ) that Respondent Terry Hudson (" Hudson" ) is entitled to benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (" LHWCA" or " Act" ), 33 U.S.C. § 901 et seq. Perceiving no error in the determinations of the ALJ and the BRB that Hudson was a maritime employee who was injured on a maritime situs, we deny the petition for review.

I. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

In January 2001, Hudson began working as a junior contract platform operator for Coastal. He was assigned to the Saturday Island facility in Barataria Bay, Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana.1 The Saturday Island field comprises (1) a large platform with living quarters (the " Saturday Island platform" ), (2) fourteen satellite wells that are connected to the platform by horizontal subsurface piping, and (3) a sunken oil storage barge (" the Cherokee" ) that is adjacent to the platform. The satellite wells pipe their production (a mixture of oil, gas, and saltwater) to the Saturday Island platform, where the components are separated. The required amount of the separated gas is re-distributed throughout the oil field for gas-lift purposes, and the remainder is piped to a Southern Natural Gas pipeline for resale. The separated saltwater is injected into disposal wells. The separated oil is first piped into holding tanks on the platform, then is periodically transferred to larger storage tanks on the Cherokee. When the Cherokee's storage tanks are full, the oil is transferred into customers' transport barges for delivery onshore. All oil produced from the Saturday Island field's satellite wells is ultimately shipped ashore by transport barge.

Hudson's job entailed several different duties. He (1) checked the satellite wells daily by " jo-boat" and was responsible for their maintenance and upkeep, (2) serviced

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and maintained the Saturday Island platform, (3) transferred oil from the platform's holding tanks to the storage tanks on the Cherokee approximately three to four times per week, (4) performed daily inspections and maintenance of the Cherokee, including inspecting its lines for leaks, checking its gauges, and maintaining its engines, and (5) assisted in the loading of oil from the Cherokee into the transport barges when they came to pick up the oil. Hudson testified that in performing this last duty, he would place a walk-board between the Cherokee and the arriving transport barge, hook up pipelines and hoses to transfer oil, disconnect and reconnect the hoses and pipelines as the Cherokee's holding tanks emptied, and monitor the tank levels. According to Hudson, he took part in many, if not all, of the oil transfers that occurred while he was working.

On August 11, 2001, Hudson was injured when the saltwater disposal pump on which he was working exploded.2 That pump was located on the Saturday Island platform, which is located approximately 30 to 40 feet from the Cherokee and connected to it by a permanent walkway and oil transfer pipes.

Hudson filed a claim for benefits under the LHWCA. Petitioners contested coverage, arguing that pursuant to Herb's Welding, Inc. v. Gray, 3 Thibodeaux v. Grasso Production Management Inc., 4 and Munguia v. Chevron USA, Inc., 5 the Saturday Island platform did not qualify as a maritime location. Petitioners also contended that Hudson did not qualify as a maritime employee because his employment activities furthered the non-maritime purpose of oil production; moreover, they argued that any job-related maritime activities performed by Hudson were minimal and not a regular part of his duties.

The ALJ ruled that Hudson satisfied both the situs and status requirements of the LHWCA. With respect to situs, the ALJ concluded that the Cherokee's docking facility-which was used to load oil into transport barges-qualified as an " other adjoining area customarily used by an employer in loading" a vessel, and that the Cherokee and the Saturday Island platform were component parts of a single area. The ALJ distinguished the Saturday Island platform from the fixed platforms in Herb's Welding , Thibodeaux , and Munguia on the basis of function: The Saturday Island platform and the Cherokee comprised a single facility, the maritime purpose of which is the loading of cargo (already extracted oil) onto vessels.6

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With regard to status, the ALJ determined that Hudson met the requirements for land-based maritime employment because his assisting in the loading of oil and maintaining the loading equipment was essential to the cargo loading process. Additionally, the ALJ concluded that Hudson's maritime activities were routine and recurring, not episodic, momentary, or incidental to his non-maritime work.

On appeal, the BRB affirmed the ALJ's holding as to both situs and status. The BRB adopted the ALJ's reasoning that the Saturday Island platform was a covered situs because (1) it is surrounded by navigable water and (2) functions as a facility for loading cargo (oil) onto vessels. The BRB determined that the Cherokee and the Saturday Island platform could not be classified as separate areas because they are permanently connected to each other through a system of pipes and a walkway. The BRB also concluded that Hudson's work in loading oil into the transport barges and maintaining the pipes and equipment necessary to the loading process constituted maritime employment and that the ALJ rationally computed the amount of time that Hudson spent in the performance of these activities.

II. ANALYSIS

1. Standard of Review

Our review of the BRB's decision is limited in scope to " considering errors of law, and making certain that the BRB adhered to its statutory standard of review of factual determinations, that is, whether the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence and [are] consistent with the law." 7 " Substantial evidence is that relevant evidence-more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance-that would cause a reasonable person to accept the fact finding." 8 We review the BRB's legal conclusions de novo. 9 Although perhaps somewhat quizzical in light of the typical understanding of the difference between conclusions of law and findings of fact, we decided in Texports Stevedore Co. v. Winchester that the determination of situs by the ALJ is one of fact.10 Status

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determinations are also findings of fact, unless made under an erroneous legal standard.11

2. Analysis

For a claimant to be eligible for benefits under the LHWCA (1) his injury must occur on a maritime situs, and (2) his status must be that of a maritime employee.12 Both requirements must be met for the claimant to receive benefits under the Act.13

a. Situs

Section 3(a) of the LHWCA states that a claimant is eligible for benefits " only if the disability or death results from an injury occurring upon the navigable waters of the United States (including any adjoining pier, wharf, dry dock, terminal, building way, marine railway, or other adjoining area customarily used by an employer in loading, unloading, repairing, dismantling,

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or building a vessel )." 14 As the Saturday Island platform does not meet the definition of any of the kinds of facilities specifically listed in the statute, it must qualify as an " other adjoining area" to be considered a maritime situs.

To qualify as an " other adjoining area," the situs must be located in proximity to navigable waters (i.e., possess a geographical nexus) and have a maritime nexus-here, " customarily used by an employer in loading ... a vessel." 15 The situs need not be used exclusively or even primarily for maritime purposes, as long as it is customarily used for significant maritime activity.16 No party disputes that the Saturday Island platform adjoins navigable waters, so the geographic nexus prong of the test is satisfied; the only open question is whether it is within an area with a maritime nexus.17

At the outset, we must define the relevant area and then ask whether it is customarily used for loading a vessel or other maritime activities listed in § 3(a) of the LHWCA. There are several levels of generality that could, as a theoretical matter, be used to define the area. We could consider (1) the exact locus of the injury (the saltwater pump), (2) the Saturday Island platform, (3) the Saturday Island facility (i.e., the platform plus the Cherokee), (4) the entire Saturday Island field...

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