Sam V. Laborde Marine, L.L.C., Civil Action No. H-19-4041, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1585, (S.D. Tex. 2020)
Following removal from State Court, the Plaintiff challenged the federal trial court’s jurisdiction over the Plaintiff’s personal injury claim. Ultimately, the district court concluded that it had jurisdiction under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (“OCSLA”), which grants federal courts jurisdiction over certain disputes arising out of conduct on the Outer Continental Shelf (“OCS”), codified at 43 U.S.C. 1331, et seq.
At the time of his injury, the Plaintiff was working as an inspector on a platform located on the OCS. However, the injury occurred while the Plaintiff was walking down the stairs of a nearby vessel where Plaintiff was being housed during his employment. The Plaintiff claimed that the OCSLA did not apply to his claim because it arose on the vessel, rather than the platform located on the OCS. The Plaintiff claimed that for the OCSLA to apply, his injury must have occurred while he was on a “proper situs.” In other words, the injury had to have occurred on the platform and the fact that it occurred on the vessel precluded federal court jurisdiction.
The district court rejected the Plaintiff’s argument, concluding that the Fifth Circuit has “explicitly rejected the argument that OCSLA jurisdiction includes a situs requirement.” The court noted that there is a perceived conflict between the Fifth Circuit’s 2013 opinion in Barker v. Hercules, which appears to refer to a situs requirement, and the Fifth Circuit’s 2014 opinion in In re Deepwater Horizon, which appears to reject the inclusion of a situs requirement. Rather, In re Deepwater Horizon applied a “but for” test, looking only at whether the facts underlying the action would not have occurred but for an operation on the OCS. The district court harmonized the two Fifth Circuit opinions by concluding that Barker’s “situs” element applied only when determining whether OCSLA’s choice-of-law rules would apply. When the question is focused on jurisdiction, then Deepwater Horizon’s broader “but for” test would apply.
The district court applied the “but for” test and concluded that the Plaintiff’s injuries would not have occurred but for his employment as an inspector on a platform located on the OCS. Accordingly, the district court concluded that it was vested with jurisdiction.