Herb Welding, Inc v. Gray

Decision Date18 March 1985
Docket NumberNo. 83-728,83-728
Citation470 U.S. 414,105 S.Ct. 1421,84 L.Ed.2d 406
PartiesHERB'S WELDING, INC., et al., Petitioners v. Robert H. GRAY, Jr., et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

The Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA), as amended in 1972, provides compensation for the death or disability of any person engaged in "maritime employment" (status requirement), if the disability or death results from an injury incurred upon the navigable waters of the United States or any adjoining pier or other area customarily used by an employer in loading, unloading, repairing, or building a vessel (situs requirement). Respondent Gray (hereinafter respondent), who worked for petitioner Herb's Welding, Inc., was injured while welding a gas flow line on a fixed offshore oil-drilling platform in Louisiana territorial waters. When petitioner United States Fidelity & Guaranty Co., the workers' compensation carrier for Herb's Welding, Inc., denied LHWCA benefits, respondent filed a complaint with the Department of Labor. Administrative proceedings ultimately resulted in the conclusion that respondent could recover by virtue of a provision of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (Lands Act) that grants LHWCA benefits to offshore oil workers injured on the Outer Continental Shelf, since even though respondent had been injured in state waters rather than on the shelf, his injury could be said to have occurred "as a result of" operations on the shelf. The Court of Appeals affirmed, but relied directly on the LHWCA rather than on the Lands Act, concluding that both the status and the situs requirements of the LHWCA were met.

Held: Because respondent's employment was not "maritime," he does not qualify for benefits under the LHWCA. Pp. 419-427.

(a) The Court of Appeals' construction of the LHWCA—that offshore drilling is maritime commerce and that anyone performing any task that is part and parcel of that activity is in maritime employment for LHWCA purposes—is foreclosed by earlier decisions of this Court, and the legislative history of both the 1972 Amendments to the LHWCA and the Lands Act. Congress' purpose under the 1972 Amendments to the LHWCA was to cover those workers on a covered situs who are involved in the essential elements of the loading or unloading, or construction, of vessels. Respondent's welding work was far removed from such traditional LHWCA activities. Pp. 421-426.

(b) The argument that to deny coverage to someone in respondent's position would result in the sort of inconsistent, checkered coverage that Congress sought to avoid in 1972 is not compelling. The inconsistent coverage here results primarily from the explicit geographic limitations to the Lands Act's incorporation of the LHWCA. If Congress' coverage decisions are mistaken as a matter of policy, it is for Congress to change them. Pp. 426-427.

703 F.2d 176 (5th Cir.1983) and 711 F.2d 666 (5th Cir.1983), reversed and remanded.

Wood Brown, III, New Orleans, La., for petitioners.

Carolyn F. Corwin, Washington, D.C., for federal respondent.

T. Gerald Henderson, Alexandria, La., for respondent Robert H. Gray, Jr.

Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA or Act), 44 Stat. 1424, as amended, 33 U.S.C. § 901 et seq., provides compensation for the death or disability of any person engaged in "maritime employment," § 902(3), if the disability or death results from an injury incurred upon the navigable waters of the United States or any adjoining pier or other area customarily used by an employer in loading, unloading, repairing, or building a vessel, § 903(a).1 Thus, a worker claiming under the Act must sat- isfy both a "status" and a "situs" test. The court below held that respondent Robert Gray, a welder working on a fixed offshore oil-drilling platform in state territorial waters, was entitled to benefits under the Act. We reverse for the reason that Gray was not engaged in maritime employment.

I

Respondent Gray worked for Herb's Welding, Inc., in the Bay Marchand oil and gas field off the Louisiana coast. Herb's Welding provided welding services to the owners of drilling platforms. The field was located partly in Louisiana territorial waters, i.e., within three miles of the shore, and partly on the Outer Continental Shelf. Gray ate and slept on a platform situated in Louisiana waters. He spent roughly three-quarters of his working time on platforms in state waters and the rest on platforms on the Outer Continental Shelf. He worked exclusively as a welder, building and replacing pipelines and doing general maintenance work on the platforms.

On July 11, 1975, Gray was welding a gas flow line on a fixed platform 2 located in Louisiana waters. He burnt through the bottom of the line and an explosion occurred. Gray ran from the area, and in doing so hurt his knee. He sought benefits under the LHWCA for lost wages, disability, and medical expenses.3 When petitioner United States Fidelity & Guaranty Co., the workers' compensation carrier for Herb's Welding, denied LHWCA benefits, Gray filed a complaint with the Department of Labor. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), relying on our decision in Rodrigue v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 395 U.S. 352, 89 S.Ct. 1835, 23 L.Ed.2d 360 (1969), ruled that because Gray's work was totally involved in the exploration for, and development and transmission of, oil and gas from submerged lands, it was not relevant to traditional maritime law and lacked any significant maritime connection. Gray therefore did not satisfy the LHWCA's status requirement.

The Benefits Review Board reversed on other grounds. 12 BRBS 752 (1980). By a vote of 2-1, it concluded that irrespective of the nature of his employment, Gray could recover by virtue of a provision of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, 67 Stat. 462, 43 U.S.C. § 1331 et seq. (Lands Act), that grants LHWCA benefits to offshore oil workers injured on the Outer Continental Shelf.4 Although Gray had been injured in state waters, the Board felt that his injury nonetheless could be said to have occurred, in the words of the statute, "as a result of" operations on the outer shelf. It considered his work "integrally related" to such operations. 12 BRBS, at 757. The dissenting Board member argued that the Lands Act provides LHWCA benefits only for injuries actually occurring in the geographic area of the outer shelf. Id., at 761-763.

The Board reaffirmed its position after the case was remanded to the ALJ for entry of judgment and calculation of benefits, and petitioners sought review in the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. That court affirmed, relying directly on the LHWCA rather than on the Lands Act. 703 F.2d 176 (1983). With regard to the Act's situs requirement, it noted that this Court had compared drilling platforms to wharves in Rodrigue v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., supra. Given that the 1972 Amendments to the LHWCA extended coverage to accidents occurring on wharves, it would be incongruous if they did not also reach accidents occurring on drilling platforms. Also, since workers injured on movable barges, on fixed platforms on the Outer Continental Shelf, or en route to fixed platforms, are all covered, there would be a "curious hole" in coverage if someone in Gray's position was not. 703 F.2d, at 177-178. As for Gray's status, the Court of Appeals, differing with the ALJ, held that Gray's work bore "a realistically significant relationship to traditional maritime activity involving navigation and commerce on navigable waters," id. at 179-180, because it was an integral part of the offshore drilling process, which, the court had held in Pippen v. Shell Oil Co., 661 F.2d 378 (1981), was itself maritime commerce. We granted certiorari. 465 U.S. 1098, 104 S.Ct. 1589, 80 L.Ed.2d 122 (1984).

II
A.

When extractive operations first moved offshore, all claims for injuries on fixed platforms proceeded under state workers' compensation schemes. See Hearings, at 396, 409, 411. See also Robertson 993. With the 1953 passage of the Lands Act, Congress extended LHWCA coverage to oil workers more than three miles offshore. 43 U.S.C. § 1333(b). Because until 1972 the LHWCA itself extended coverage only to accidents occurring on navigable waters, 33 U.S.C. § 903 (1970 ed.), and because stationary rigs were considered to be islands, Rodrigue v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., supra, oil rig workers inside the 3-mile limit were left to recover under state schemes. See, e.g., Freeman v. Chevron Oil Co., 517 F.2d 201 (CA5 1975); Gifford v. Aurand Mfg. Co., 207 So.2d 160 (La.App.1968). Any worker, inside or outside the 3-mile limit, who qualified as a seaman was not covered by the LHWCA, but could sue under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 688, the Death on the High Seas Act, 46 U.S.C. § 761 et seq., and the general maritime law. Hearings, at 411-414, 450-459, 487; see n. 1, supra. See also Wright, Jurisdiction in the Tidelands, 32 Tulane L.Rev. 175, 186 (1958).

So matters stood when Congress amended the LHWCA in 1972. What is known about the congressional intent behind that legislation has been amply described in our prior opinions. See, e.g., Director, OWCP v. Perini North River Associates, 459 U.S. 297, 103 S.Ct. 634, 74 L.Ed.2d 465 (1983); Sun Ship, Inc. v. Pennsylvania, 447 U.S. 715, 717-722, 100 S.Ct. 2432, 2434-2438, 65 L.Ed.2d 458 (1980); Northeast Marine Terminal Co. v. Caputo, 432 U.S. 249, 256-265, 97 S.Ct. 2348, 2353-2358, 53 L.Ed.2d 320 (1977). The most important of Congress' concerns, for present purposes, was the desire to extend coverage to longshoremen, harborworkers, and others who were injured while on piers, docks, and other areas customarily used to load and unload ships or to repair or build ships, rather than while actually afloat. Whereas prior to 1972 the Act reached only accidents occurring on navigable waters, the amended 33 U.S.C. § 903 expressly extended...

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