748 F.3d 1202 (D.C. Cir. 2014), 12-1375, SeaWorld of Florida, LLC v. Perez

Docket Nº12-1375
Citation748 F.3d 1202
Opinion JudgeRogers, Circuit Judge:
Party NameSEAWORLD OF FLORIDA, LLC, PETITIONER v. THOMAS E. PEREZ, SECRETARY, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, RESPONDENT
AttorneyEugene Scalia argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Baruch A. Fellner and Daniel P. Rathbun. Amy S. Tryon, Attorney, U.S. Department of Labor, argued the cause for respondent. With her on the brief were Joseph M. Woodward, Associate Solicitor, Charles F. James, Counsel for ...
Judge PanelBefore: GARLAND, Chief Judge, and ROGERS and KAVANAUGH, Circuit Judges. Kavanaugh, Circuit Judge, dissenting:
Case DateApril 11, 2014
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals, United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)

Page 1202

748 F.3d 1202 (D.C. Cir. 2014)

SEAWORLD OF FLORIDA, LLC, PETITIONER

v.

THOMAS E. PEREZ, SECRETARY, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, RESPONDENT

No. 12-1375

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

April 11, 2014

Argued November 12, 2013.

Page 1203

On Petition for Review of a Final Order of the Occupational Safety & Health Review Commission.

Eugene Scalia argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Baruch A. Fellner and Daniel P. Rathbun.

Amy S. Tryon, Attorney, U.S. Department of Labor, argued the cause for respondent. With her on the brief were Joseph M. Woodward, Associate Solicitor, Charles F. James, Counsel for Appellate Litigation, and Kristen M. Lindberg, Attorney.

Before: GARLAND, Chief Judge, and ROGERS and KAVANAUGH, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 1204

Rogers, Circuit Judge:

SeaWorld of Florida, LLC, operates a theme park in Orlando, Florida, that is designed to entertain and educate paying customers by displaying and studying marine animals. Following the death of one of SeaWorld's trainers while working in close contact with a killer whale during a performance, the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission found that SeaWorld had violated the general duty

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clause, § 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, 29 U.S.C. § 654(a)(1), by exposing the trainers to recognized hazards when working in close contact with killer whales during performances, and that the abatement procedures recommended by the Secretary of Labor were feasible. SeaWorld challenges the order with respect to one citation. Concluding its challenges are unpersuasive, we deny the petition for review.

I.

On February 24, 2010, SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau was interacting with Tilikum, a killer whale, during a performance before a live audience in a pool at Shamu Stadium in Orlando. Ms. Brancheau was reclined on her back on a platform a few inches below the water surface. Tilikum was supposed to mimic her behavior by rolling over. Instead, the killer whale grabbed her and pulled her off the platform into the pool, refusing to release her. She suffered traumatic injuries and drowned as a result of Tilikum's actions.

The Secretary of Labor issued three citations to SeaWorld after an investigation by an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (" OSHA" ) compliance officer. Only the second citation is at issue. It alleged two instances of a " willful" violation of the general duty clause for exposing animal trainers to the recognized hazards of drowning or injury when working with killer whales during performances. The first instance related to animal trainers working with Tilikum being exposed to " struck-by and drowning hazards" by being " allowed unprotected contact with Tilikum" while conducting " 'drywork' performances on pool ledges, slideouts and platforms." Citation 2, Instance (a). In SeaWorld's terms, when trainers are out of the pool or on submerged ledges called " slideouts" in water no deeper than their knees, their interactions with killer whales are called " drywork." Any interaction in deeper water is " waterwork." According to the Secretary, " [a]mong other methods, one feasible and acceptable means of abatement would be to not allow animal trainers to have any contact with Tilikum unless they are protected by a physical barrier." Id. The second instance concerned animal trainers working with killer whales other than Tilikum who were exposed to struck-by and drowning hazards when they were " allowed to engage in 'waterwork' and 'drywork' performances with the killer whales without adequate protection." Citation 2, Instance (b). The Secretary listed as possible abatement methods " prohibit[ing] animal trainers from working with killer whales, including 'waterwork' or 'dry work,' unless the trainers are protected through the use of physical barriers or through the use of decking systems, oxygen supply systems or other engineering or administrative controls that provide the same or greater level of protection for the trainers." Id. The Secretary proposed a penalty of $70,000.

Following an evidentiary hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ" ) found that on February 24, 2010, a " performance" was still in progress when Tilikum seized Ms. Brancheau and pulled her into the pool water. SeaWorld of Fla., LLC, 2012 WL 3019734, at *12 (No. 10-1705, 2012). (A customer had taken a video of the performance.) The ALJ found that the first and third elements of a violation of the general duty clause -- existence of a workplace condition presenting a hazard that likely caused death or serious physical harm -- were established by the events on February 24, 2010: Ms. Brancheau's death demonstrated that close contact with killer whales was a hazard likely to cause death or serious injury. Based on evidence regarding

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three previous deaths involving killer whales (beginning in 1991 with Tilikum), SeaWorld's written training manuals and safety lectures as implemented specifically to Tilikum, and SeaWorld's incident reports, the ALJ found that the Secretary had established by " abundant" record evidence that " SeaWorld recognized the hazard created when its trainers worked in close contact with Tilikum during drywork performances," satisfying the second element of a violation. [WL] at *19. Further, the ALJ found that evidence, including SeaWorld's incident reports, established that SeaWorld recognized the hazard when trainers worked in close contact with other killer whales; SeaWorld's statistics regarding the predictability of killer whale behavior, on the other hand, were unpersuasive because not based on rigorous, scientific data. The ALJ concluded that SeaWorld's claim that " it was unaware working with killer whales presents a recognized hazard is difficult to reconcile with numerous comments made over the years by SeaWorld management personnel, including [two] corporate curators of animal training . . . [whose] comments were documented and circulated among all of the SeaWorld parks." [WL] at *22.

The ALJ also found that the Secretary had established the fourth element of a violation: feasible abatement of the hazard for trainers working with Tilikum and other killer whales. SeaWorld had not argued, the ALJ noted, that it is infeasible to install barriers or implement a minimum distance between trainers and whales, but rather " considers the extensive safety training of its trainers and the operant conditioning of its killer whales to be an adequate means of abatement that materially reduces the hazard the killer whales present to the trainers." [WL] at *25. The ALJ found the Secretary had met her burden to show SeaWorld's safety program is inadequate. Despite SeaWorld's contention that its operant conditioning " materially reduces the recognized hazard," id., the ALJ concluded that " SeaWorld's reliance on its trainers to recognize precursors and prevent unpredictable behavior by the killer whales runs counter to the requirements of the Act. 'The duty to comply with section 5(a)(1) . . . rests with the employer.'" [WL] at *27 (quoting Armstrong Cork Co., 8 BNA OSHC 1070, 1074, 1980 WL 10754, at *5 (No. 76-2777, 1980)). The ALJ further concluded that " SeaWorld holds trainers to a near-impossible standard set by upper management, who engage in a form of Monday morning quarterbacking." [WL] at *28. Additionally, the ALJ noted that SeaWorld had already implemented the means of abatement recommended by the Secretary for trainers working with Tilikum -- namely, maintaining a minimum distance from the killer whale, or imposing a physical barrier between the killer whale and trainers -- and concluded the same or similar abatement involving other killer whales was no less feasible.

Although crediting the testimony of a SeaWorld curator of animal training regarding the educational and inspirational justification for continuing " waterwork" with killer whales, the ALJ concluded that justification " must be measured against the risk incurred by allowing trainers to interact closely with killer whales." [WL] at *31. Observing that OSHA has " no specific standard" regulating employees working in close contact with killer whales, and that the Secretary had presented no evidence SeaWorld had a " heightened awareness of the illegality of its conduct" or manifested " plain indifference to employee safety," [WL] at *33, the ALJ found that violations were " serious," not " willful," and imposed a fine of $7,000 for the general duty clause violation in Citation

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2, emphasizing that his order was limited to show performances. [WL] at *34-35. SeaWorld unsuccessfully sought discretionary review by the Commission, whereupon the ALJ's decision and order became final. See 29 C.F.R. § 2200.90(d). SeaWorld petitions for review of the general duty violation.

II.

The general duty clause, § 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, provides: " Each employer [ ] shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees." 29 U.S.C. § 654(a)(1). As explained by the House Committee on Education and Labor, " [b]earing in mind the fact that there is no automatic penalty for violation of the general duty, this clause enables the Federal Government to provide for the protection of employees who are working under such unique circumstances that no standard has yet been enacted to cover this situation." H.R. Rep. No. 91-1291, at 21-22 (1970) (emphasis in original). In a seminal case this court, in turn, observed that " [t]hough novel in approach and sweeping in coverage, the legislation is no more drastic than the problem it aims to meet." Nat'l Realty & Constr. Co. v. OSHRC, 489 F.2d 1257, 1260-61, 160 U.S.App. D.C...

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2 practice notes
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    ...hazard'' under the General Duty Clause is a question of fact that must be decided in each individual case. See SeaWorld of Florida LLC, 748 F.3d at 1208. In the case of a COVID-19-related citation, this means [[Page 61443]] not just that the virus is a hazard as a general matter--a fairly i......
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    ...\152\ See American Textile Mfrs. Inst. v. Donovan, 452 U.S. 490, 509 (1981); Seaworld of Florida, LLC v. Perez, 748 F.3d 1202, 1215 (D.C. Cir. \153\ OSHA CPL 02-00-159, Field Operations Manual 3-22 (2015); Avcon, Inc., 23 O.S.H. Cas. (BNA) 1440, 1454 n.24 (O.S.H.R.C. Apr. 5, 2011). --------......

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