As we learned during the flooding in South Louisiana in August of 2016, the help of our neighbors and friends in Texas and around the country strengthened us, and allowed our communities to rebuild and flourish. That’s part of the reason Kean Miller donated a total of $25,000 this week to the Greater Houston Community Foundation, the United Way of Greater Houston, and the American Red Cross in lieu of our fall client event originally scheduled for today, September 16th.

Our thoughts and prayers are with our friends, colleagues and peers in Houston and Southeast Texas today, and in the weeks and months ahead.

People First.

By Maureen N. Harbourt

Just a quick reminder that in 2007, the Louisiana State Police (“LSP”) adopted regulations requiring special reporting requirements for persons “engaged in the transportation of hazardous materials by railcars, vessels, or barges, or the temporary storage of hazardous materials in any storage vessel not permanently attached to the ground” if that activity is within “a parish affected, or projected to be affected, by a Category 3 or higher hurricane for which a mandatory evacuation order has been issued.”  LAC 33:V.11103.  Hazardous materials are those materials listed in 40 C.F.R. Part 355, Appendix A.  Temporary storage is defined as storage in a portable container, and excludes any storage in pipelines or any other storage vessel permanently attached to the ground.

At the present time (11 a.m, CST, August 25, 2017),  Hurricane Harvey is a Category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph; but, it is projected that Harvey will strengthen to a Category 3 Hurricane by the time of landfall, which is projected to occur between Corpus Christi and Houston, Texas, late evening on August 25, 2017.  It is also projected that the hurricane will affect southwest and south central Louisiana parishes.  In fact, the Governor of Louisiana has issued an executive order that puts the entire State of Louisiana under a declaration of emergency.  Yesterday evening, Cameron Parish entered a mandatory evacuation order for all areas of the parish south of the Intracoastal Waterway, effective at 6 a.m., CST, August 25, 2017.   We are not aware of any mandatory evacuation orders for any other Louisiana parishes at this time.  The following is a link to all parish emergency response offices which will provide contact information to inquire about any orders issued: http://gohsep.la.gov/about/parishpa.

If a mandatory evacuation order is issued for any Louisiana parishes due to a Class 3 or higher category hurricane, the rules (LAC 33:V.11105) require the following:

  • Notification shall be given to the DPS, via electronic submittal, to the 24-hour Louisiana Emergency Hazardous Materials Hotline email address at emergency@la.gov within 12 hours of a mandatory evacuation order issued by the proper parish authorities.
  • For persons engaged in the transportation activities noted above, the report must include the following information:
    • the exact nature of, and the type, location, and relative fullness of the container (i.e., full, half-full, or empty) of all hazardous materials that are located within a parish subject to the evacuation order;
    • the primary and secondary contact person’s phone, e-mail, and fax number; and
    • whether the facility will be sufficiently manned such that post-event assessments will be performed by company personnel (as soon as safely practicable) and that any releases and/or hazardous situations will be reported in accordance with existing Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) and State Police reporting requirements.
  • For those materials that are stored, it shall be necessary to only report those hazardous materials that were not reported in the annual SARA inventory report (40 CFR Parts 312/313) and those that are in excess of what is typically stored at the facility.

In addition to the notification to the LSP, “within a reasonable period of time” persons subject to the rule “shall perform a post-event assessment of those hazardous materials that were actually present in the affected area and to what degree, if any, those materials were compromised by said event and their current condition.”  Such information must be available for review by both the LSP and the LDEQ shall have access to this information.

By Tyler Kostal

Consistent with public comments that it will pursue all available appellate remedies, today the South Louisiana Flood Protection Authority filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court, to seek review of the decision in Board of Comm. of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East v. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, LLC,  850 F.3d 714 (5th Cir. 2017).

The questions presented focus on claims arising under federal law pursuant to the standard developed in Grable & Sons Metal Prods. v. Darue Engineering & Manufacturing, 125 S. Ct. 2363, 2368 (2005), and succeeding cases.  Specifically, the questions presented are:

  1. Whether the “substantial[ity]” and “federal-state balance” requirements of Grable are satisfied whenever a federal law standard is referenced to inform the standard of care in a state-law cause of action, so long as the parties dispute whether federal law embodies the asserted standard.
  2. Whether a federal court applying Grable to a case removed from state court must accept a colorable, purely state-law claim as sufficient to establish that the case does not “necessarily raise” a federal issue, even if the court believes the state court would ultimately reject the purely state-law basis for the claim on its merits.

It remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will accept this case for review.

See prior post on this topic hereClick here for a copy of the petition.

Louisiana State Capital

By Matthew C. Meiners

Under Louisiana law, workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy that an employee may assert against his employer or fellow employees for work-related injury, unless he was the victim of an intentional act. That exclusive remedy also extends to statutory employers.

Workers’ compensation legislation was enacted to provide social insurance to compensate victims of industrial accidents, and it reflects a compromise between the competing interests of employers and employees: the employer gives up the defense it would otherwise enjoy in cases where it is not at fault, while the employee surrenders his or her right to full damages, accepting instead a more modest claim for essentials, payable regardless of fault and with a minimum of delay. However, due to the fear that employers would attempt to circumvent that liability by interjecting between themselves and their workers intermediary entities which would fail to meet workers’ compensation obligations, the law provides that some principals are by statute deemed, for purposes of liability for workers’ compensation benefits, the employers of employees of other entities. This is what is known as statutory employment, and it is intended to provide greater assurance of a compensation remedy to injured workers.

Under Louisiana law, there are two bases for finding statutory employment:

First Basis: The existence of a written contract recognizing the principal as the statutory employer. A “principal” is any person who undertakes to execute any work which is a part of his trade, business, or occupation in which he was engaged at the time of the injury, or which he had contracted to perform and contracts with any person for the execution thereof. Such a contractual provision creates a rebuttable presumption of a statutory employer relationship between the principal and the contractor’s employees, whether direct or statutory employees. This presumption may be overcome only by showing that the work is not an integral part of or essential to the ability of the principal to generate that individual principal’s goods, products, or services.

Second Basis: Being a principal in the middle of two contracts, referred to as the “two contract theory.” The two contract theory applies when: (1) the principal enters into a contract with a third party; (2) pursuant to that contract, work must be performed; and (3) in order for the principal to fulfill its contractual obligation to perform the work, the principal enters into a subcontract for all or part of the work performed. The two contract statutory employer status contemplates relationships among at least three entities: a general contractor who has been hired by a third party to perform a specific task, a subcontractor hired by that general contractor, and an employee of the subcontractor.

A statutory employer is liable to pay to any employee employed in the execution of the work or to his dependent, any compensation under the Louisiana Worker’s Compensation Act which the statutory employer would have been liable to pay if the employee had been immediately employed by the statutory employer. In exchange, the statutory employer enjoys the same immunity from tort claims by these employees as is enjoyed by their direct employer. Additionally, when a statutory employer is liable to pay workers’ compensation to its statutory employees, the statutory employer is entitled to indemnity from the direct employer and has a cause of action therefor.

Statutory employer status can provide very valuable protection to companies who contract for work to be performed in Louisiana; however, you should consult your attorney to make sure you meet the legal requirements, and to properly draft the necessary contractual provisions.

 

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.”

 

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.

 

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.

 

Day

By Michael D. Lowe

Last week, thousands of employees throughout the county skipped work as part of “a day without immigrants” demonstration. The employees were protesting the Trump administration’s recent actions regarding immigration. The stated intent was to negatively impact the nation’s economy in an effort to highlight the contributions of immigrant labor. Restaurants were the primary target. Businesses from New York to San Francisco were forced to temporarily close as employees either failed to report to work or “walked out.” In many cases, the protesting employees included both immigrants and their co-workers.

Several employers embraced the protests and promised not to discipline the participating employees. However, many employers took the opposite approach. According to various media reports, hundreds of employees in a number of different cities were terminated after they refused to report to work. With reports that additional demonstrations are likely, employers should prepare for the possibility that one or more employees might choose to participate.

As an initial matter, an employer should communicate its expectations to its employees in advance of any demonstration. If possible, this communication should be documented by internal memo, email, or even text message. Employees should also be reminded of any applicable attendance policies.

While the refusal to report to work is a legitimate non-discriminatory basis to terminate an employee, an employer must be consistent in its response. An employer that terminates some employees, while excusing the absences of others, may face a claim of disparate treatment. Those employers with a unionized workforce should consult labor counsel with regard to any collectively bargained rights.

Finally, affected employers should prepare for media coverage and press inquiries. The demonstrations have already garnered international attention as the debate regarding the Trump administration’s immigration policies shows no signs of slowing down. Employers should clearly define who within its organization may respond to media inquiries and what information will be shared. Any comments made following an employee’s termination will almost certainly be used in any resulting legal action.

liquor-bottles

By Jill Gautreaux

The City of New Orleans (“the City”) has amended and re-enacted a gallonage tax on alcoholic beverages of low and high alcoholic content. A “gallonage tax” is a tax on alcoholic beverages based upon the amount, calculated in gallons, of alcoholic beverages sold. The current ordinance became effective on January 1, 2017, but industry members have sought to enjoin the implementation of this “new” tax. The ordinance closely follows the wording of the State gallonage tax statutes, which causes the tax to apply to wholesalers or Louisiana manufacturers because they are the first parties to come into possession of the alcoholic beverages in the State of Louisiana. The City ordinance does not have the effect that it apparently intended, and is worded as follows:

Section 10-511 – Who is liable for tax.

The taxes levied in sections 10-501 and 10-502 of this division shall be collected, as far as practicable, from the dealer who first handles the alcoholic beverages in the city. If for any reason the dealer who first handled the taxable alcoholic beverages has escaped payment of the taxes, those taxes shall be collected from any dealer in whose hands the taxable beverages are found.

On February 9, 2017, the City Council introduced an ordinance to amend Section 10-511, which qualified the word “dealer” in the first sentence and the first phrase of the second sentence with “wholesale”. Nevertheless, according to the current wording of the ordinance, if the wholesale dealer has “escaped” the tax, the retailer will be responsible for paying the tax to the City.

There is a strong likelihood that New Orleans alcoholic beverage retailers will end up having to pay some of this tax if the ordinance is enacted and enforced as currently written. Several large wholesale companies, including Southern Glazers, Southern Eagle, and Republic, do not have any physical presence within the City of New Orleans, and therefore should not be subject to the tax.

A few trade organizations have challenged the enforceability of the ordinance in Orleans Parish Civil District Court. The plaintiffs were successful in obtaining a temporary restraining order, but were denied a preliminary injunction. The temporary restraining order has lapsed, but, as of this date, the City has indicated that it will not collect the tax until the litigation has concluded. One City official has suggested that if the City prevails, that the tax due will be retroactive to January 1, 2017.

 

port

By Stephen C. Hanemann and Edward H. Warner

On Wednesday, February 24, 2016, President Obama signed H.R. 644, known as the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act (“Customs Bill”). For Louisiana’s vast number of companies operating in the agribusiness, seafood processing, and related industries, the signing of the bill is a significant milestone. The Customs Bill sets forth principal objectives concerning: (1) general trade policy efficiency; (2) trade protection (leveling the playing field for local workers dealing with foreign competitors); and (3) strengthening of the Trade Promotion Authority Statute. The following represents Customs Bill considerations that Louisiana businesses will find pertinent.

What are the major components of the Customs Bill that Louisiana businesses must know?

The Customs Bill creates a coordinated effort for trade facilitation. The primary agency funded under the Customs Bill is the United States Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”). The bill modernizes the CBP’s Automated Commercial Environment (“ACE”) which will be used to track and process imports and exports.  The International Trade Data System (“ITDS”), also known as the “single window,” will eventually be used to submit all trade documentation. Cooperative efforts among trade enforcement agencies and the efficient-electronic filing of trade documents are both important goals of the Customs Bill.

The Customs Bill also strengthens the enforcement of U.S. international-trade laws. The bill expands requirements on imports to ensure health, safety, and the protection of intellectual property rights. The bill includes provisions, which prevent dumping and currency manipulation. The bill also includes “miscellaneous” provisions pertaining to expansions on the requirements for the United States Trade Representative to resolve foreign country practices that create barriers to U.S. goods and services. A portion of the bill also encourages more Americans to engage in global commerce through the internet by availing themselves of an internet tax moratorium.

How does the Customs Bill specifically help Louisiana’s local businesses?

The Customs Bill enforces U.S. trade laws which directly impact Louisiana’s local businesses. For example, “dumping,” a method of predatory pricing used by foreign companies to undercut local markets and drive away competition, has hurt critical Louisiana industries in the past. The Customs Bill requires CBP to investigate evasion of antidumping or countervailing duties. The bill also contains the legislative language of the PROTECT Act which would require annual reporting on CBP policies regarding antidumping evasion.  The Customs Bill’s antidumping provisions are particularly important for protecting Louisiana’s seafood, agriculture, and food-processing businesses.  Louisiana’s manufacturing sector also serves to benefit as that sector is often most impacted by unfair trade practices.

Louisiana’s seafood industry will also benefit from other measures in the bill.  The bill requires the CBP to train personnel for the detection and seizure of illicit fish and wildlife being imported into the U.S.

Finally, the Customs Bill should improve health and safety at Louisiana’s ports, and enhance port-related infrastructure.  Louisiana’s shallow-draft-inland ports are largely cargo and industrially focused, while the coastal ports serve as support sites for offshore-related industries. The Customs Bill requires CBP to coordinate federal responses to cargo entering the United States that pose a threat to the health and safety of U.S. consumers. CBP will also be required to provide effective training to its personnel assigned to U.S. ports of entry to ensure the safe and expeditious entry of merchandise into the United States. Each of these measures should ultimately help improve the safety of Louisiana ports, related-supporting businesses, and essential personnel.

What are the legal implications of the Customs Bill moving forward?

The Customs Bill is one of a number of bills which represents comprehensive U.S. trade reform in connection with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (“TPP”).[1]  The Customs Bill should improve the nation’s enforcement of trade laws which is integral to Congress passing the TPP.  The bill should also increase transparency, accountability, and coordination among U.S. agencies working in trade enforcement. The signing of the Customs Bill may be a step in the right direction in protecting certain of America’s target industries and ensuring the benefits of international trade in the 21st century.

[1] The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a trade agreement involving twelve Pacific Rim countries signed on February 4, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand after seven years of negotiations. It is not yet in effect.