BSEE

By Michael J. O’Brien

Scott Angelle, a native of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, has been appointed by the Trump Administration to head the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (“BSEE”).  Mr. Angelle first held public office in the late 1980’s. He has since served as a Parish President, Secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Natural Resources, and, most recently, as Chairman of the Louisiana Public Service Commission. Under his leadership as Louisiana’s Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, the state’s coastal permitting system was reformed, providing for efficient permitting while increasing drilling rig counts in Louisiana by more than 150 percent during his tenure. Mr. Angelle has also served as Chairman of the Louisiana State Mineral Board, and as a member of the Louisiana State University Board of Supervisors, Southern States Energy Board, and the Louisiana Coastal Port Advisory Authority.

Mr. Angelle will become BSEE’s fourth director since it was established six years ago. BSEE was formed after the Deepwater Horizon explosion to promote safety, protect the environment, and conserve resources offshore through “vigorous regulatory oversight and enforcement.”

BSEE is headquartered in Washington D.C. and supported by regional offices in New Orleans, Louisiana, Camarillo, California, and Anchorage, Alaska.  These regional offices review applications for permits to drill, ensure safety requirements are met, conduct inspections of drilling rigs and offshore production platforms, investigate offshore accidents, issue Incidents of Non-Compliance and have the authority to fine companies through civil penalties for regulatory infractions.

Mr. Angelle’s post does not require Senate confirmation; as such, he will start working as the head of BSEE Tuesday, May 23, 2017. Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, issued the following statement about Mr. Angelle: “Scott Angelle brings a wealth of experience to BSEE, having spent many years working for the safe and efficient energy production of both Louisiana’s and our country’s offshore resources. As we set our path towards energy dominance, I am confident that Scott has the expertise, vision, and the leadership necessary to effectively enhance our program, and to promote the safe and environmentally responsible exploration, development, and production of our country’s offshore oil and gas resources.”

 

structure

By Matthew C. Meiners

In targeting a company for purchase, many buyers prefer to purchase the assets of a company, as opposed to the stock (or other equity) of the company because, as a general rule, the buyer of assets in an asset acquisition does not automatically assume the liabilities of the seller.  Accordingly, an asset acquisition generally allows the buyer and seller to select which assets and liabilities will be transferred.  However, in certain circumstances, the buyer can be held responsible for liabilities of the seller if a court determines that certain exceptions are met.  Louisiana courts have been willing to impose liability on asset-sale successors on the following grounds:

  1. The buyer assumed the liabilities;
  2. The transaction was entered into to defraud the seller’s creditors;
  3. The buyer company is a “mere continuation” of the seller company; and
  4. The transaction was “in fact” a merger.

The “mere continuation” exception is probably the most likely to catch a buyer off guard.  Louisiana courts, in considering whether an asset-sale successor is a “mere continuation” of the seller company, have considered the extent to which the buyer company has retained the same employees, supervisory personnel, company name, and physical location as the seller company.  Further, prior business relationships may be considered, as well as the continuity of general business operations and the identity of the business in the eyes of the public.  A threshold requirement to trigger a determination of whether successor liability is applicable under the “mere continuation” exception is that one company must have purchased all or substantially all the assets of another.

If you plan to purchase all or substantially all of the assets of a company, especially if your goal in choosing an asset purchase over a stock purchase is to avoid or minimize your liability for the seller’s liabilities, you should carefully consider the ways in which you could be seen as merely continuing the seller’s business under the factors described above.  You may be signing on for more liability than you anticipate.

By J. Eric Lockridge

Large and small offshore service companies are turning to the Bankruptcy Code for help with restructuring their balance sheet, and turning to Washington for help with generating more work.

One of the largest offshore service companies in the world, Tidewater, announced this week that it will file a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition in Delaware on or before May 17, 2017. This is not a surprise to the markets. Tidewater received notice from the New York Stock Exchange in April that it is at risk of being delisted before the end of the year because its average stock price sat below $1.00 per share for too long. Tidewater’s press release announcing the upcoming bankruptcy says the company has secured broad support from secured creditors for a pre-packaged plan that will effectuate a form of debt-for-equity swap. The plan will also reject certain sale-lease back agreements for a portion of Tidewater’s fleet. Expect a fight over lease-rejection damages.

A smaller operator focused on the Gulf of Mexico, GulfMark Offshore, also announced this week that it is planning a Chapter 11 filing. Offshore Support Journal reported that GulfMark Offshore’s most recent SEC filing discloses the company will likely file a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition on or before May 21, 2017. The company is working with advisors to secure support for a restructuring agreement that will include a backstop commitment from certain note holders and a debt-for-equity swap.

Some in the offshore industry are lobbying the White House and others to extend the “America First” agenda to the offshore-service industry in hopes that might provide a boost. For example, see Harvey Gulf’s recent open letter to President Donald Trump here. Many in the offshore service industry would like to see the current administration enforce regulations requiring proper plugging and abandonment (P&A) of many non-producing or low-producing wells in the Gulf of Mexico’s shallow water. They have to be careful about how loudly they push that agenda, however, or they may alienate the very exploration and production (E&P) companies that would hire them. Many E&P companies would like to see enforcement of those regulations delayed as long as possible, and at least until the price of oil is higher.

Enforcing P&A obligations would likely create thousands of jobs and boost the economy along the Gulf Coast, where President Trump received strong electoral support. The House Majority Whip, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), represents a district along the Louisiana coast that is home to scores of offshore service companies and their vendors, which gives that industry some important clout on Capitol Hill. Delaying enforcement of P&A obligations and/or making them less onerous might be more consistent with a “regulation-roll-back” agenda and with the interests of many E&P companies, several of which have strong ties to the current administration and deep relationships in Congress.

Will Washington take any action to provide some relief for offshore service companies, their employees, vendors, and lenders? How will an increase in Chapter 11 cases for offshore service companies affect the industry and the companies that have (so far) avoided bankruptcy? Kean Miller and many of our clients will keep a close watch as events unfold.

 

DEQ

By Tokesha Collins-Wright

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) derives its enforcement power and ability to assess penalties from La. R.S. §§ 30:2025, 30:2050.2, and 30:2050.3. The typical chronology for the administrative enforcement process is that LDEQ will first issue a notice of potential penalty (NOPP), compliance order (CO), or consolidated compliance order & notice of potential penalty (CCO/NOPP) for alleged violations of the Louisiana Environmental Quality Act (LEQA). The Respondent then has the opportunity to appeal or settle the matter. The CCO/NOPP has typically been divided into four sections:

  1. Findings of Fact;
  2. Compliance Order;
  3. Further Notice, and;
  4. Notice of Potential Penalty.

Recently, however, LDEQ added a new section to its CCO/NOPPs entitled, “Request to Close.” The main effect of this new section is to allow the Respondent to indicate whether there is any interest in discussing settlement and, if so, to present the Department with a settlement offer.

The new Request to Close section is divided into three parts:

  1. Statement of Compliance;
  2. Settlement Offer, and;
  3.  Certification Statement.

The Statement of Compliance portion contains a checklist for the Respondent to ensure that it has provided the LDEQ with all of the information that was requested in the Compliance Order section. The Settlement Offer portion is optional and allows the Respondent to indicate whether there is any interest in entering into settlement negotiations with the LDEQ, with the understanding that the Department has the right to assess civil penalties based on LAC 33:I.Subpart I.Chapter 7. The section also provides an opportunity for the Respondent to make an offer of settlement on the form itself to close the matter out. If the Respondent chooses this option, then the Department will review the settlement offer and will later notify the Respondent as to whether or not the offer has been accepted. Additionally, if the Respondent decides to include a Beneficial Environmental Project (BEP) in its settlement offer, then the Respondent can provide a justification and description of its proposed BEP. The third and final portion of the Request to Close is the Certification Statement. In this section, the Respondent certifies that, among other things, based on reasonable inquiry, the information being provided to the Department is true, accurate, and complete.

 

whistle

By Erin L. Kilgore

The Louisiana Environmental Whistleblower Statute, La. R.S. 30:2027, protects employees who, in good faith, disclose, or threaten to disclose, acts they reasonably believe to be in violation of an environmental law, rule, or regulation.  It also protects employees who testify or provide information to a public body about such acts.  An employer may not retaliate against an employee who engages in activity protected by the statute.  The statute provides for the trebling of certain damages awarded to a prevailing plaintiff.

Last week, the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal reversed a $750,000 judgment against the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (“DNR”), finding that the plaintiffs were independent contractors of the State – not employees – and, therefore, outside the scope of the statute’s protection.

Earlier in the suit, the jury found that the plaintiffs were employees of DNR; that they reported what they believed to be environmental violations; and as a result of their reports, DNR retaliated against them.  The jury awarded the plaintiffs $250,000 in lost wages, which was then tripled to $750,000 by the statute’s trebling provision.  On appeal, the court found that the plaintiffs were independent contractors, rather than employees of DNR.  As a result of this finding, the plaintiffs were outside the scope of La. R.S. 30:2027, and the case was dismissed.

Additional information can be found here  and a copy of the decision can be found here.

 

socmed

By Erin L. Kilgore and A. Edward Hardin, Jr.

It appears that an announcement regarding the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation into the shooting death of Alton Sterling may be forthcoming, and many employers in the Baton Rouge-area are considering how the city and their employees may react.  As a general practice, employers should take steps to remind employees to treat one another with dignity and respect, both in personal interactions and social media, and remind employees regarding workplace policies that demonstrate these values.  Employers should anticipate issues so that the employer places itself in a position to diffuse issues before they arise.

In charged and emotional situations, like the news related to the Sterling shooting, employees and others often flock to social media to share views and experiences, vent frustrations, or to express support for a position to which they are aligned.  Employees often fail to consider that what they say or do on social media may lead to hurt feelings or spark disagreements in the workplace, or that their personal commentary can potentially negatively reflect on their employers.

An employer cannot prevent its employees from expressing personal or political views on social media during the employee’s off-duty time and when an employee uses his or her personal devices.  Yet, there are countless instances in which an employee’s personal posts have come to an employer’s attention, through another employee or a member of the public urging the employer to take some kind of action in response to the post.

Depending on its substance, on-line commentary – even commentary that includes vulgar language or profanity – may (in some instances) be protected by law.  Therefore, if an employee posts what could be perceived as objectionable or antagonistic content on social media regarding the Sterling investigation, employers should remain calm and must consider the substance of the post.

In instances where a member of the public complains to an employer about an employee’s post or negatively comments about an employee’s post, it may be appropriate for the employer to designate a spokesperson to respond on the employer’s behalf with a short statement acknowledging the inquiry or comment, thanking the commentator for bringing the matter to the employer’s attention, stating that the employer takes all inquiries and complaints seriously, and stating that the employer will look into the issue further.  It may also be appropriate to suggest that the commentator contact the employer’s spokesperson by telephone to further discuss the matter and attempt to resolve the issue.  In many instances, it is better to take the merits of the discussion off-line, rather than to prolong the on-line life of a thorny issue raised in a post.

Louisiana

By William J. Kolarik, II

On April 25, 2017, State Representative Sam Jones requested that the Louisiana House Committee on Ways and Means voluntarily defer HB628, which would have imposed a commercial activity tax upon many business organizations doing business in Louisiana.  The Committee’s vote to voluntarily defer the bill means that the proposed commercial activity tax is likely dead for the 2017 legislative session.  The proposed commercial activity tax was the centerpiece of Louisiana Governor Edwards’ tax package and the deferral of the proposed bill means that Governor Edwards and Louisiana legislators will need to resolve Louisiana’s current budget crisis through other means.  The Kean Miller State and Local Tax team is reviewing proposed Louisiana tax legislation and will update its blog when our review is complete.

fifth

By Chase Zachary

On April 18, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit released a published opinion in Guilbeau v. Hess Corp.[1] The court affirmed the application of Louisiana’s subsequent purchaser doctrine to claims for environmental damages allegedly caused by activities of a former mineral lessee prior to the date that the plaintiff owned the property. Although the Fifth Circuit previously reached a similar conclusion in an unpublished decision,[2] Guilbeau is the court’s first precedential opinion addressing the subsequent purchaser doctrine.

As discussed on Kean Miller’s Louisiana Law Blog, here[3] and here,[4] the subsequent purchaser doctrine bars a plaintiff’s claims for property damages that occur prior to the plaintiff’s ownership of the property. The Louisiana Supreme Court provided a “thorough analysis”[5] of the doctrine in Eagle Pipe & Supply, Inc. v. Amerada Hess Corp.[6] There, the court “clarified that damage to property creates a personal right to sue, which unlike a real right, does not transfer to a subsequent purchaser ‘[i]n the absence of an assignment or subrogation.’”[7] However, plaintiffs have argued that the Eagle Pipe opinion did not address whether the subsequent purchaser doctrine applies “to fact situations involving mineral leases or obligations arising out of the Mineral Code.”[8]

The facts of Guilbeau are straightforward. Defendant Hess Corporation’s (“Hess’s”) predecessors operated until 1971 on the property-in-suit under several mineral leases.[9] All of those leases expired in 1973.[10] The plaintiff purchased the property-in-suit in 2007.[11] The “sale did not include any assignment of rights to sue for pre-purchase damages.”[12] After the plaintiff sued Hess for alleged contamination to the property, the federal district court granted Hess’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the plaintiff’s claims based on the subsequent purchaser doctrine.[13] The Fifth Circuit affirmed.[14]

Making an “Erie guess” of how the Louisiana Supreme Court would decide the issue,[15] the Fifth Circuit identified a “clear consensus . . . among all Louisiana appellate courts that have considered the issue . . . that the subsequent purchaser rule does apply to cases . . . involving expired mineral leases.”[16] After tracing those Louisiana appellate decisions,[17] the Court found “no occasion to depart from the above-described precedent” and held that the subsequent purchaser doctrine barred the plaintiff’s claims.[18] The Court also noted that “the Louisiana Supreme Court has had multiple opportunities to consider this issue and has repeatedly declined to do so.”[19] Notably, the Fifth Circuit declined to certify the subsequent purchaser issue to the Louisiana Supreme Court on the basis that “[w]hen, as here, the appellate decisions are in accord, the law is not unsettled, and certification is unwarranted.”[20]

The Fifth Circuit is simultaneously considering a companion case, Tureau v. Hess Corp.[21] That suit involves an identical issue—i.e., whether the district court correctly applied the subsequent purchaser doctrine to dismiss claims for alleged property damage against former mineral lessees. The Fifth Circuit previously held Tureau in abeyance pending its decision in Guilbeau, and a decision in Tureau is expected shortly.

The Fifth Circuit’s Guilbeau opinion affirmatively resolves, for Louisiana federal courts, whether the subsequent purchaser doctrine applies to property damage claims against current and former mineral lessees. The decision accordingly provides much-needed certainty to both property owners and oil and gas operators involved in “legacy” litigation.

_____________________________

[1] No. 16-30971, — F.3d –, 2017 WL 1393709 (5th Cir. Apr. 18, 2017), http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/16/16-30971-CV0.pdf

[2] See Broussard v. Dow Chem. Co., 550 F. App’x 241 (5th Cir. 2013).

[3] http://www.louisianalawblog.com/coastalwetlands-issues/louisiana-supreme-court-expands-judicial-limitations-on-landowner-tort-claims/.

[4] http://www.louisianalawblog.com/energy/louisiana-second-circuit-court-of-appeals-upholds-application-of-subsequent-purchaser-doctrine-in-oilfield-legacy-case/.

[5] Guilbeau, 2017 WL 1393709, at *2.

[6] 79 So. 3d 246 (La. 2011).

[7] Guilbeau, 2017 WL 1393709, at *2 (quoting Eagle Pipe, 79 So. 3d at 279) (emphasis in original).

[8] 79 So. 3d at 281 n.80.

[9] Guilbeau, 2017 WL 1393709, at *1.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id. at *2.

[17] Id. at *2-4.

[18] Id. at *4.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] No. 16-30970.

la house of reps

By William J. Kolarik, II

On April 17, 2017, the legislation that composes the centerpiece of Governor Edwards’ proposed tax reforms was filed in the Louisiana House of Representatives.  House Bill 628, introduced by state Rep. Sam Jones, contains the legislation that would establish the commercial activity tax.  The Kean Miller State and Local Tax team is reviewing the proposed legislation and will update its summary of the proposed Louisiana tax reform package after our review is complete.

 

Industrial Strength Graphic Only

By Greg Anding

For years, plaintiffs in asbestos litigation have been filing suit in the plaintiff-friendly jurisdictions of St. Louis, Missouri and Madison County, Illinois.  Some estimate that more than half of all mesothelioma claims filed in the United States are filed in Illinois and Missouri.  Many of those claims arise out of alleged exposures completely outside of those two states: some sources cite as many as 72%.  Under guidance from the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S. Ct. 746 (2014), Missouri appears to be bringing that trend to an end, which will likely mean an increase in filings in states such as Louisiana where the alleged exposures actually occurred.  A similar issue is currently pending in Illinois, and a similar ruling would likely mean more filings in Louisiana as well.

On February 28, 2017, the Missouri Supreme Court, in State ex rel. Norfolk So. Ry. Co. v. Hon. Colleen Dolan, No. SC95514 (2/28/2017), applying the United States Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Daimler, dismissed plaintiff’s suit for lack of personal jurisdiction.  Russel Parker, plaintiff, was an Indiana resident who was allegedly injured in Indiana while employed by Norfolk Southern Railway Company (“Norfolk”), a Virginia corporation with its principal place of business in Virginia.  The court found that although Norfolk owned and operated railroad tracks in Missouri, Mr. Parker’s suit did not arise out of or relate to Norfolk’s activities in Missouri, and therefore, Missouri had no specific jurisdiction.  More significant was the court’s finding of no general jurisdiction despite Norfolk’s “substantial and continuous business in Missouri” as demonstrated by its ownership of 400 miles of railroad tracks in Missouri, 590 employees in the state and generation of approximately $232 million in annual revenue from its Missouri operations.  Finding that Norfolk also conducted “substantial and continuous business in at least 21 other states,” and its Missouri business amounted to only 2 percent of its total business, the court held this was insufficient to establish general jurisdiction over Norfolk.  The court also noted that Norfolk did not consent to suit over activities unrelated to Missouri simply by complying with Missouri’s foreign corporation registration statute.

For more information, please contact any member of our Louisiana Asbestos Defense and Occupational Exposure team.

Norfolk Opinion.