Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals

refinery1a

By R. Lee Vail, P.E., Ph.D.

At the very end of 2016, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated two Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) citations against an employer that allegedly failed to timely resolve open findings and recommendations from Process Hazard Analysis (PHA). The 2008 citation related to multiple PHAs that occurred over a decade (with the last being 2005) and a 2005 compliance audit. In doing so, the Court narrowed these process safety management requirements to no more than addressing and resolving the findings in a timely manner:

Neither Section 1910.119(e)(5) nor (o)(4) mandates that the employer actually remedy the issues addressed in a PHA or audit recommendation. See 29 C.F.R. § 1910.119(e)(5), (o)(4). Subsection (e)(5) directs the employer to “address” the findings from a PHA and to “resolve[ ]” them in a timely manner. Likewise, subsection (o)(4) directs employers to “determine and document an appropriate response” to the audit compliance findings.

Delek Ref., Ltd. v. Occupational Safety & Health Review Comm’n, 845 F.3d 170, 178 (5th Cir. 2016)

This case followed AKM LLC dba Volks Constructors v. Sec’y of Labor, 675 F.3d 752 (D.C. Cir. 2012), where the Court concluded the obligation to create a record was a onetime event and that OSHA was barred from citing a facility six months after that record should have been created. In considering PHA recommendations, the Fifth Circuit concluded:

Just as a single violation “occurr[ed]” in Volks when the company failed to create the records within the prescribed time-period, so too a violation of subsections (e)(5) and (o)(4) “occur[s]” within the meaning of Section 658(c) when an employer does not “promptly” or “timely” do as Section 1910.119 directs.

Id. at 176–77.

OSHA’s argued that the “address and resolve” obligation was continuous and that any failure was a continuing violation. Arguably, if the violation is continuing, a violation accrues on the first non-timely day and every day thereafter. According to the holding in this case, six months after that first non-timely day, OSHA is barred from issuing a citation. So what is timely? The Fifth Circuit noted that OSHA has historically placed this timely obligation at 1 – 2 years.

The Secretary has, on at least one occasion, taken the position that a response to PHA and audit recommendations is “timely” when it is done within “one to two years.” See Secretary of Labor v. BP Prods. N. Am., Inc., 2013 WL 9850777, at *37 (OSHRC Aug. 12, 2013). We need not address this issue here, however, because the Secretary has not argued that the citations underlying Items 4 and 12 would be timely under the interpretation of Section 658(c) we now adopt, even if Section 1910.119’s references to “timely” or “prompt” action afforded an employer more than one or two years to resolve open PHA or audit recommendations.

Id. at 177.

As such, if two years is timely, a citation issued within two years of the PHA recommendation would be premature; a citation issued after two and a half years would be barred. Such will likely place OSHA in a quandary . . . in order to argue that similar PHA citations are not time barred, OSHA may need to provide more time to “address and resolve.” Even then, an action becomes barred six months after whatever OSHA defines as timely. Only a six month window exists where OSHA can issue a citation with the big question being “where does the window start?”

This decision could have a much broader effect. For example, is the failure to conduct a pre-startup review no longer citable six months after startup?

LouisianaPaddleboatStamp

By Mallory McKnight Fuller

When two parties agree to arbitrate, the obvious hope of the prevailing party is that the losing party will voluntarily comply with the arbitrator’s decision. This article is directed towards the situation in which the losing party refuses to so comply, and the prevailing party must petition the appropriate court system to “enforce” the arbitrator’s award.

Until confirmation, modification, or correction by a court of competent jurisdiction, an arbitration award is unenforceable under the law. The process for enforcing an arbitration award in Louisiana depends on whether the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) or the Louisiana Binding Arbitration Law (“BAL”) applies.[1]

CONFIRMING ARBITRATION AWARDS

Whichever law applies, a party wishing to confirm an arbitration award must file a proceeding requesting confirmation of the award in a court of competent jurisdiction within one year of the award’s issuance.[2] While this one-year period is mandatory under the BAL, the federal courts of appeals are split on whether the same period is mandatory under the FAA. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which is the appellate court of federal jurisdiction over Louisiana, has implied that the one year limitations period is mandatory.[3]

In federal court, the FAA requires a party to begin the process of confirming an arbitration award by filing (and serving) either a petition or motion to confirm in the appropriate federal district court.[4]  Unlike the BAL, however, the FAA does not create independent subject matter jurisdiction, so the applicant must show that the federal district court has original subject matter jurisdiction over the dispute.[5]  The federal court has personal jurisdiction over the necessary parties once a party serves notice of the confirmation application on all parties.[6]

In both federal and state court, the confirmation of an arbitration award is a summary proceeding.[7]  The appropriate court will confirm the arbitration award (by granting the applicant’s motion) if no party challenges the enforcement of the award, and the court finds no grounds for vacating, modifying, or correcting the award.[8]  The court enters judgment on the award, which has the same force and effect as an ordinary judgment.[9]

VACATING, MODIFYING, OR CORRECTING AN ARBITRATION AWARD

Both the FAA and the BAL permit a party to challenge or request vacation, modification, or correction of an arbitration award.[10]  A notice of a motion to vacate, modify, or correct an arbitration award must be served upon the adverse party within three months after the award is issued.[11]  The grounds upon which an arbitration award can be changed or overturned are narrow and well-defined. Practically, this makes it very rare and difficult to alter an arbitration award.

Because arbitration is favored, both federal and state courts presume that an arbitration award is valid. Under the FAA and BAL, a court has authority to vacate an award only upon the following grounds:

  1. where the award was procured by corruption, fraud, or undue means;
  2. where there was evident partiality or corruption in the arbitrators, or either of them;
  3. where the arbitrators were guilty of misconduct in refusing to postpone the hearing, upon sufficient cause shown, or in refusing to hear evidence pertinent and material to the controversy; or of any other misbehavior by which the rights of any party have been prejudiced; or
  4. where the arbitrators exceeded their powers, or so imperfectly executed them that a mutual, final, and definite award upon the subject matter submitted was not made.[12]

The FAA and BAL also limit a court’s authority to modify or correct an arbitration award. An award can be modified or corrected only:

  1. Where there was an evident material miscalculation of figures or an evident material mistake in the description of any person, thing, or property referred to in the award.
  2. Where the arbitrators have awarded upon a matter not submitted to them, unless it is a matter not affecting the merits of the decision upon the matter submitted.
  3. Where the award is imperfect in matter of form not affecting the merits of the controversy.[13]

If one of these two grounds apply, the courts will modify or correct arbitration awards “so as to effect the intent thereof and promote justice between the parties.”[14]

AWARDS AND ORDERS SUBJECT TO APPEAL

Both the FAA and the BAL permit the appeal of certain arbitration orders, including any order confirming, modifying, correcting, or vacating an award.[15]  Under the BAL, a party appeals from an arbitration order or judgment entered on an award in the same manner as a party appeals from an ordinary order or judgment.[16]  The federal courts and Louisiana appellate courts review a trial court’s confirmation of an arbitration award de novo.[17]

**********

[1] Chapter 1 of the FAA governs domestic arbitrations and applies to maritime disputes and contracts “involving commerce.” 9 U.S.C. §§ 1-16. The BAL governs arbitration in Louisiana, unless preempted by the FAA. La. R.S. §§ 9:4201-9:4271.

[2] 9 U.S.C. § 9; La. R.S. 9:4209.

[3] Bernstein Seawell & Kove v. Bosarge, 813 F.2d 726, 731 (5th Cir. 1987) (noting the complaint to enforce the arbitration award was filed within one year “As required by 9 U.S.C. § 9”).

[4] If the arbitration agreement does not specify the particular court, the party applying for confirmation of the award may file in any court in the district where the award was issued. 9 U.S.C. § 9.

[5] Vaden v. Discover Bank, 556 U.S. 49 (2009).

[6] 9 U.S.C. § 9.

[7] Id.; La. R.S. § 9:4209; see also Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital v. Mercury Construction Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 22-23 (1983).

[8] 9 U.S.C. §§ 10-11; La. R.S. §§ 9:4205 and 9:4209.

[9] 9 U.S.C. § 13; La. R.S. § 9:4214.

[10] 9 U.S.C. § 11; La. R.S. § 9:4211.

[11] 9 U.S.C. § 12; La. R.S. § 9:4213.

[12] 9 U.S.C. § 10; La. R.S. § 9:4210.

[13] 9 U.S.C. § 11; La. R.S. § 9:4211.

[14] Id.; Gilbert v. Robert Angel Builder, Inc., 45,184 (La. App. 2 Cir. 4/14/10); 24 So. 3d 1109, 1113.

[15] La. R.S. § 9:4215; 9 U.S.C. § 16.

[16] La. R.S. § 9:4215.

[17] NCO Portfolio Mgmt., Inc. v. Walker, 08-1011 (La. App. 3 Cir. 2/4/09); 3 So. 3d 628, 632; Sarofim v. Trust Company of the West, 440 F.3d 213 (5th Cir. 2006)