Buxton v. Amoco Oil Co.

Decision Date20 November 1987
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 86-0564.
Citation676 F. Supp. 722
PartiesArthur BUXTON v. AMOCO OIL COMPANY, et al.
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Louisiana

Allen, Gooch, Bourgeois, Beaux, Robison & Theunissen, John H. Hughes, Lafayette, La., for intervenors.

Donald L. Mayeux, Eunice, La., for plaintiff.

Morrow, Morrow, Ryan & Bassett, James P. Ryan, Opelousas, La., for Morrow, Morrow, Ryan & Bassett.

Jones, Walker, Waechter, Poitevent, Carrere & Denegre, John O. Charrier, Jr., New Orleans, La., for Amoco Production Co.

Adams and Reese, Sam A. LeBlanc & Timothy W. Cerniglia, New Orleans, La., for Devoe Paint Co. and Grow Group, Inc.


NAUMAN S. SCOTT, District Judge.

This matter is now before us on separate Motions for Summary Judgment filed by Devoe Marine Coatings Company, a division of Grow Group, Inc. and Grow Group, Inc. (hereinafter referred to as "Devoe"), and by Amoco Production Company (hereinafter referred to as "Amoco").


Plaintiff, Arthur Buxton, has brought this action against Amoco and Devoe primarily pursuant to the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), 43 U.S.C. § 1331, et seq. and the applicable laws of the State of Louisiana. Plaintiff seeks damages for personal injuries he allegedly sustained while working on Amoco's fixed platform located in West Delta Block 35 on the Outer Continental Shelf more than three miles off the coastline of Louisiana.

Prior to plaintiff's injury, Amoco contracted with Devoe to sandblast and paint various Amoco platforms, including the West Delta Block 35 "C" platform. That agreement provided that Devoe "shall be an independent contractor with respect to all work done and services performed under the contract," and that Devoe "shall furnish ... all necessary labor, machinery, equipment, tools, transportation and whatever else is necessary" for the completion of the job. Amoco's Motion for Summary Judgment, Exhibit I "Amoco/Devoe Contract", ¶¶ 1, 6. Devoe, in turn, subcontracted with plaintiff's employer, Lakeside Contractors, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Consolidated Operating Company, Inc. (hereinafter referred to as "Lakeside"). Devoe and Lakeside entered into a subcontract agreement on May 1, 1985 which provided that Lakeside "will supply labor, various material and equipment, and sand" necessary for sandblasting and painting the Amoco platforms. Devoe's Motion for Summary Judgment, Exhibit A "Agreement", ¶ 1. The subcontract agreement also specified that Lakeside was being employed as an "independent contractor," Id. at ¶ 6, that Lakeside would be responsible for the safety of its employees,1 Id. at ¶ 4, and that the agreement itself "shall be governed by, and construed in accordance with, the laws of the Commonwealth of Kentucky." Id. at ¶ 15.

On July 11, 1985 plaintiff was employed by Lakeside as a blasting and painting foreman. Plaintiff was in charge of the four-man Lakeside crew which had been assigned to sandblast and paint the West Delta Block 35 "C" platform. During the course of his work that day, plaintiff climbed onto a water tank situated on a lower deck in order to inspect a beam which ran along the ceiling and supported the upper deck. Plaintiff ascended the ladder attached to the side of the tank, walked across the top of the tank, and then climbed onto some overhead pipes which were three-to-four feet above the tank. After inspecting the beam, plaintiff lowered himself back onto the top of the tank. Plaintiff alleges that at this point the metal top to the tank gave-in beneath his weight and then suddenly sprang back, causing him to be thrown from the top of the tank onto the platform deck, approximately 20-25 feet below. In his Complaint, plaintiff charges that Amoco and Devoe are liable for his damages based upon theories of negligence and strict liability. Plaintiff's Original Complaint at ¶¶ 8-9.

In its Motion for Summary Judgment, Devoe contends that plaintiff has failed to demonstrate two essential elements of his negligence claim against Devoe, i.e., (1) a breach of a legal duty owed by Devoe to plaintiff, and (2) a causal connection between an alleged breach of duty and plaintiff's injury. Devoe asserts that it had no duty to take any affirmative action to protect the employee of its independent contractor injured during the course of the work contracted for, where Devoe did not exercise operational control over the independent contractor. Additionally, Devoe neither owned nor controlled the tank which allegedly caused plaintiff's injury.2 Accordingly, Devoe argues that it is entitled to a summary judgment as a matter of law due to the absence of evidence necessary to support plaintiff's claims against it.

Similarly, in its Motion for Summary Judgment, Amoco maintains that it is entitled to a summary judgment dismissing plaintiff's negligence claim against it for the same reasons asserted by Devoe, i.e., Amoco did not exercise operational control over Lakeside, which was its independent subcontractor. Amoco also argues that the facts alleged by plaintiff do not support his strict liability claim against Amoco under La.C.C. arts. 2317 or 2322.

Plaintiff maintains that genuine issues of material fact exist with regard to his claims against both defendants. Plaintiff argues that both Amoco and Devoe had representatives present on the platform at the time of his injury and these individuals exercised sufficient control over Lakeside's work to render defendants liable for failing to provide a safe place for plaintiff to work and failing to warn him about the defective condition of the water tank. Furthermore, plaintiff argues that the facts support his claim that Amoco's water tank was defective and that such defect caused his injury.


A. Summary Judgment.

Rule 56(c) authorizes summary judgment when "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). When a properly supported Motion for Summary Judgment has been made, the adverse party "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). "The question whether summary judgment is appropriate in any case is one to be decided upon the particular facts of that case." First Nat'l Bank of Arizona v. Cities Service Co., 391 U.S. 253, 259, 88 S.Ct. 1575, 1577, 20 L.Ed.2d 569, 575 (1968). In considering the evidence and the factual inferences arising from it, all reasonable doubt should be resolved in favor of the non-movant. Poller v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc., 368 U.S. 464, 473, 82 S.Ct. 486, 491, 7 L.Ed.2d 458, 464 (1962); Anthony v. Petroleum Helicopters, Inc., 693 F.2d 495, 496 (5th Cir.1982). The Supreme Court recently observed in Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986), that Rule 56(c) by its very terms "provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Id. 477 U.S. at ___, 106 S.Ct. at 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d at 211. The court emphasized the requirement that a factual dispute must be material to the outcome of the action in order to preclude summary judgment. "Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted." Id. A dispute about a material fact is "genuine" "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Id. 477 U.S. at ___, 106 S.Ct. at 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d at 211-12. Therefore, the threshold inquiry to be applied by the court under Rule 56 is whether a genuine issue of material fact remains for trial — "whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 323, 106 S.Ct. at 2511, 91 L.Ed.2d at 213.

In Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986), which was decided the same day as Anderson, supra, the Supreme Court pointed out that while the moving party has the burden of showing the nonexistence of any issue of material fact, this burden may be discharged by showing that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-movant's case. The Motion for Summary Judgment "may, and should, be granted," regardless of whether the moving party accompanies its motion with affidavits, "so long as whatever is before the district court demonstrates that the standard for the entry of summary judgment, as set forth in Rule 56(c), is satisfied." Id. 477 U.S. at ___, 106 S.Ct. at 2553, 91 L.Ed.2d at 274. The court further stated:

In our view, the plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. In such a situation, there can be `no genuine issue as to any material fact,' since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the non-moving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial. The moving party is `entitled to judgment as a matter of law' because the non-moving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof.

Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23, 106 S.Ct. at 2552-53, 91 L.Ed.2d at 273.

B. Plaintiff's Negligence Claim Against Defendants.

In Louisiana, courts employ a "duty risk" analysis in negligence actions in order to determine whether liability exists under the facts of the case. Under this analysis, the plaintiff must prove by...

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