Admiralty and Maritime

By: R. Chauvin Kean

Generally, a contract is the law between parties, which has long been the position of the U.S. Supreme Court. However, as most well know, this principle is not without limitation. On January 15, 2019, in New Prime v. Oliveira, the Court unanimously held that disputes concerning contracts of employment involving transportation workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce cannot be compelled to arbitrate. 586 U.S. —, 4, 2019 WL 189342, at * — (2019). Also, despite strong, express language in an agreement ordering the parties to arbitrate any of their disputes, a court – not the arbitrator – is the appropriate forum to review and decide the applicability of the Arbitration Act to any contract.

The Federal Arbitration Act declares that an express arbitration clause in a maritime transaction involving commerce shall be valid and enforceable provided the Act does not further limit its application. 9 U.S.C. §§ 1 – 2 (West 2019). However, §1 declares that “nothing contained [in this Act] shall apply to contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” 9 U.S.C. § 1 (West 2019). Specifically, the Court in New Prime resolved a longstanding issue of whether a “contract of employment” concerned any type of contract for work (such as one involving independent contractors) or only those contracts between an employee – employer. The Supreme Court affirmed the First Circuit’s ruling that in 1925, at the time of the Act’s inception, “contract of employment” was not a term of art; it was a phrase used to describe “agreements to perform work” and was not limited to agreements only between employees and employers as a modern jurist might first think.

New Prime provides two important lessons: first, no contract provision – however ironclad – is immune from court oversight and interpretation. Parties to a contract may attempt to limit their litigation exposure, but cannot be immune from all possibilities, especially when they try to contract around statutes. New Prime is a great example of limited application of a broad federal statute, which, even though is favored by the courts, is limited by Congress. Second, New Prime provides greater clarity in the realm of contracts for work relating to transportation workers. Any “contract for employment” concerning workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce cannot be contractually compelled into arbitrations regardless of contractual provisions that state otherwise. New Prime, 586 U.S. at 15. It’s also worth noting that the type of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce has vastly expanded over time as our society grows further connected. Thus, companies should be mindful that even though contracts of employment might attempt to limit litigation through arbitration provisions, a court may not be inclined to order the parties into arbitration based on New Prime and the employee’s/independent contractor’s scope of work.

By: Tod J. Everage

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the Writ of Certiorari in the Dutra v. Batterton case, setting the stage for a resolution of the Circuit Split between the US Fifth and Ninth Circuits on whether punitive damages are available to a seaman on an unseaworthiness claim. A more thorough review of the Dutra case and the anticipated fight can be found in our previous blog post here.

 

By Amanda Howard Lowe

In a decision of first impression interpreting the meaning of “operating” under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (“OPA,” 33 U.S.C. §§2701 et seq.), the U.S. Fifth Circuit held the owner and operator of a tugboat liable as the “responsible party” for a spill emanating from a tank barge in its tow, and consequently found the owner ineligible for reimbursement for the cleanup costs. See U.S. v. Nature’s Way Marine, LLC, 904 F.3d 416 (5th Cir. 2018).

The underlying incident occurred in January 2013 when a tug owned by Nature’s Way was moving two oil carrying tank barges owned by Third Coast Towing, LLC (“TCT”), down the Mississippi River. The barges allided with a bridge over the Mississippi River, resulting in a release of over 7,000 gallons of oil into the river. The Coast Guard designated both Nature’s Way and TCT as “responsible parties” under OPA §2702(a). Nature’s Way and its insurers spent nearly $3 million in clean-up costs and the federal government incurred another $792,000.

Following settlement of auxiliary disputes between Nature’s Way and TCT, in May 2015, Nature’s Way submitted a claim to the National Pollution Funds Center (“NPFC”)[1] seeking reimbursement of over $2.13 million it spent in clean-up on the grounds that its liability (if any) should be limited to the tonnage of the tug alone, and not the tonnage of the barges. OPA limits liability of a “responsible party” based on tonnage of the vessel it was operating. While Nature’s Way admitted it operated the tugboat, it contested its status as operator of the oil-discharging barge. The NPFC rejected the request to decrease the limit of liability, concluding instead that Nature’s Way was the “operator” of the barges under §2702(a) and thus both barges were properly included in the limitation assessment.

In light of the NPFC dispute, the United States sued Nature’s Way and TCT in the Southern District of Mississippi to recover the $792,000 in cleanup costs directly funded by the federal government. Nature’s Way denied liability, and counterclaimed against the government asserting that the NPFC’s “operator” determination was wrong and violated the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) by erroneously applying §2702(a).

The U.S. moved for partial summary judgment on the sole question of whether the NPFC violated the APA by declaring that Nature’s Way was the “operator” of the barge. In opposition, Nature’s Way argued that TCT was actually the “operator” of the barge as it was responsible for instructing when the barge would be loaded, unloaded, and moved.  The district court disagreed with Nature’s Way, holding that a “common sense” interpretation of “operator” as used in the statute supports the conclusion that a “dominant mind” tug moving “dumb” barges (lacking the ability for self-propulsion or navigation) through the water is “operating” those barges. Nature’s Way appealed.

The Court focused on the express language of the statute, which defines an “operator” as “any person … operating” a vessel and a “responsible party” as “any person owing, operating, or demise chartering the vessel.” Though both terms use the word “operating,” the Fifth Circuit noted that “operating” is not defined within the statute. The Fifth Circuit also relied on Supreme Court jurisprudence construing the definition of “operator” in the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (“CERCLA”) as any person “who directs the workings of, manages, or conducts the affairs of” the facility/equipment in question.” U.S. v. Bestfoods, 524 U.S. 51, 66 (1998). Given that OPA and CERCLA have common purposes and a shared history, the Court found the parallel language between the statutes significant. The Fifth Circuit concluded that the ordinary and natural meaning of “operating” a vessel under OPA would thereby include the act of piloting or moving a “dumb” vessel like the TCT tank barges. The Court held that because “Nature’s Way had exclusive navigational control over the barge at the time of the collision, and, as such… was a party whose direction (or lack thereof) caused the barge to collide with the bridge,” Nature’s Way was the “operator” of the barges under OPA.

Significantly, the Fifth Circuit has now recognized the potential increased liability for negligent vessel operators who cause spills subject to OPA, as the Court has very plainly held that a tug pushing loaded “dumb” barges can only limit its liability to the full value of the entire flotilla. With the potential for increased exposure, this decision will obviously impact vessel operators and the oil and gas industry, as well as their respective insurers. Additionally, the ruling does not appear to foreclose the argument that the barge owner might also be considered an operator under OPA 90, if its actions also rise to the level of “operating.”

*******************************************

[1] The National Pollution Funds Center oversees the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, 26 U.S.C.§9509, an OPA-created mechanism, funded by inter alia OPA civil penalties, from which faultless or partially at-fault “responsible parties” can recoup, to the extent of their non-fault, clean-up costs paid out pursuant to their strict OPA liability, see 33 U.S.C. §2708(a), 26 U.S.C. §9509)

By Tod J. Everage

The modern day contract is a direct result of trial and error. Generally speaking, transactional lawyers try to negotiate “bulletproof” contracts providing exactly what their client wants or needs. Despite their best efforts, litigators in later disputes try their level best to find the “errors” in those contracts that could benefit their client. Then the pattern repeats. Take Seismic Wells, LLC v. Sinclair Oil and Gas Co., 2018 WL 43377234 (5th Cir. 9/13/2018), for example. In that dispute, the parties had included a “prevailing party” fee provision in their Joint Operating Agreement (JOA): “In the event any party is required to bring legal proceedings to enforce any financial obligation of a party hereunder, the prevailing party in such action shall be entitled to recover … a reasonable attorneys’ fees.” At first blush, this provision appears fairly standard and innocuous. But, with over $1 million at stake in attorneys’ fees, the meaning of every word in that provision is fair game.

The facts leading up to the dispute aren’t relevant here, other than Seismic sued Sinclair under various agreements when it was concerned that Sinclair would not be holding up their end of the bargain. Seismic’s amended complaint included 17 counts, including claims of fraud, breach of contract, conspiracy, tortious interference, defamation/libel, and business disparagement. At the end of Seismic’s case at trial, the court granted Sinclair’s motion for judgment as a matter of law. Sinclair then moved for over $1 million in attorneys’ fees incurred in defending itself, citing specifically to the prevailing party provision in the JOA. The district court denied the motion for three reasons: (1) failure to properly plead under RFCP 9(g) (failure to plead special damages); (2) the provision did not apply because Seismic’s suit was not a legal proceeding brought to enforce a “financial obligation under the JOA”; and (3) Sinclair did not adequately segregate its fee to isolate the work performed defending fee-eligible claims. The Fifth Circuit only addressed the second issue.

The Fifth Circuit agreed that Sinclair was obviously the “prevailing party,” a decision the Court had previously affirmed. The operative question though was whether Sinclair was the prevailing party in a lawsuit “to enforce any financial obligation of a party” under the JOA. The first issue was one of context. How was the dispute brought? The prevailing party provision applies when a party brings a legal proceeding to enforce a financial obligation. The Court noted that many of the claims Seismic brought against Sinclair alleged fraud that induced Seismic to sign the contracts; those claims sought to void the contracts, not enforce them. In other words, those claims sought to render the contract unenforceable and therefore would not satisfy the fee provision.

Two other claims though asserted breach of contract allegations; however, only one of those claims was grounded in the JOA, so the Court focused in there. Count 12 provided that Sinclair breached the JOA by refusing to assign Seismic a leaky well or operate that well on its terms. So, it appeared that this provision did seek to enforce the JOA. But, that was not enough because the legal proceeding must be brought to enforce a financial obligation under the JOA. The Fifth Circuit noted that “financial obligation” is synonymous with “monetary obligation,” and was not persuaded that Seismic’s claim seeking monetary damages made this claim a financial one. Rather, this claim was to turn over a leaky well, which the Court held was not a financial obligation. As such, the prevailing party fee provision was not triggered.

Seismic filed this lawsuit, lost, then got away without having to pay for Sinclair’s attorneys’ fees under a provision that Seismic probably would have sought to enforce itself if it had won at trial. Without knowing anything about the negotiations, including the term “financial obligation” in the JOA’s prevailing party provision narrowed the remedies available to either party in this dispute. Using the term “enforce” arguably did as well given Seismic’s attempts to invalidate the contract. Whereas, had the parties used the more boilerplate language awarding attorneys’ fees to the prevailing party in any legal proceeding brought by “any party arising under this Agreement,” Sinclair may have recovered. Well, assuming that was their original intent.

This case presents a good example of the interplay between the words used in the contract, and the words used in the complaint filed to enforce/or invalidate that same contract. Both transactional lawyers and litigators should take note.

By Zoe Vermeulen

Indemnity provisions are widely used in the energy industry as a method of contractually apportioning liability between parties.  These provisions are a staple in Master Service Agreements and can be unilateral or mutual.  Often, agreements contain knock-for-knock provisions where each party assumes responsibility for claims made by its own employees or subcontractors.  When disputes arise, indemnity provisions are often the first thing reviewed, because of their potential to dramatically affect the liability (or lack thereof) of one of the contracting parties.  But many states limit contractual indemnity agreements, particularly those that attempt to indemnify a party for its own negligence.  And four states – Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas, and Wyoming – have “anti-indemnity” acts specific to oilfield contracts.

While the primary purpose and language of these Oilfield Anti-Indemnity Acts are similar, there are some significant differences between them.  Some of the biggest differences relate to what agreements are covered, the treatment of property damage claims, and whether additional insured/waiver of subrogation provisions are permitted to cover indemnity obligations.  Given the importance of these indemnity provisions, oil and gas transactional and litigation attorneys should be well-versed in the laws governing them.

A brief treatment of the four Oilfield Anti-Indemnity Acts follows, but there are various nuances to each and years of case law that are beyond the scope of this article.  Contract drafters and litigators alike should familiarize themselves with the statute for the state in which their contract work is performed.  This is particularly important with Anti-Indemnity Acts because courts typically reject attempts to avoid such acts through choice-of-law provisions selecting more favorable state laws or general maritime law.

Texas Oilfield Anti-Indemnity Act

The Texas Oilfield Anti-Indemnity Act (“TOAIA”) applies to agreements pertaining to a well for oil, gas, or water or to a mine for a mineral.[1]  The TOAIA applies not only to agreements for production activities at the wellhead, but also to agreements for collateral services including furnishing or renting equipment, incidental transportation, and other goods and services furnished in connection with such services.  But the TOAIA expressly excludes construction, repair, and maintenance of pipelines.

The TOAIA voids indemnification obligations that purport to indemnify a person against loss or liability for damage that (1) is caused by or results from the sole or concurrent negligence of the indemnitee; and (2) arises from (a) personal injury or death; (b) property injury; or (c) other loss, damage, or expense that arises from personal injury, death or property injury.

The TOAIA is the only Oilfield Anti-Indemnity Act that expressly allows limited insurance coverage of indemnity agreements that are otherwise void under the Act.  With respect to a mutual indemnity obligation, the indemnity obligation is limited to the extent of the coverage and dollar limits of insurance or qualified self-insurance each party (as indemnitor) has agreed to obtain for the benefit of the other party (as indemnitee).  If the indemnity obligation is unilateral, the amount of insurance required may not exceed $500,000.

Additionally, for any indemnity provision to be valid in Texas, Texas case law requires that it comply with fair notice and conspicuousness requirements.  Generally the contract must clearly establish the indemnitor’s express intent to indemnify for the indemnitee’s own negligence, and the indemnity language must be conspicuous enough to put a reasonable person on notice that the obligation provides indemnity for the other party’s own negligence.  For this reason, many Texas-based indemnity provisions are written in some combination of all capital letters, bold, and underline – or all three.

Louisiana Oilfield Anti-Indemnity Act

The Louisiana Oilfield Anti-Indemnity Act (“LOAIA”) applies to agreements pertaining to a well for oil, gas, or water, or drilling for minerals.[2]  The LOAIA prohibits indemnification for an indemnitee’s own negligence or fault that causes death or bodily injury to another person.  Unlike the other three Oilfield Indemnity Acts, the LOAIA does not prohibit indemnification for property damage.

The LOAIA also differs from the TOAIA because it expressly prohibits agreements requiring waivers of subrogation, additional named insured endorsements, or any other form of insurance protection that would frustrate or circumvent the prohibitions on defense and indemnity agreements.  In other words, contracting parties cannot avoid the LOAIA by merely requiring insurance coverage to support indemnity obligations.  But, there is an important jurisprudential exception to this insurance prohibition, known as the Marcel exception.[3]  Under the Marcel exception, the LOAIA will not invalidate an indemnity provision and additional insured coverage if the party being indemnified pays the premiums for the insurance and no material part of the cost of the insurance is borne by the party procuring the coverage.

New Mexico Oilfield Anti-Indemnity Act

The New Mexico Oilfield Anti-Indemnity Act (“NMOAIA”) also applies to oilfield services, but its application is limited to production activities at the well head and does not cover all services rendered in connection with the well.[4]  New Mexico case law has provided that the NMOAIA does not apply to the distribution, processing, or transportation of oil or gas.  Unlike the LOAIA, the NMOAIA is not expressly limited to death or bodily injury, but, instead applies generally to “loss or liability for damages.”

The NMOAIA also prohibits additional insured provisions or waivers of subrogation that would have the effect of imposing a duty of indemnification on the primary insured party.

Wyoming Oilfield Anti-Indemnity Act

The Wyoming Oilfield Anti-Indemnity Act (“WOAIA”) applies to agreements pertaining to any well for oil, gas or water, or mine for any mineral.[5]  The WOAIA prohibits agreements that purport to relieve the indemnitee from loss or liability for his own negligence.  It also applies to death or bodily injury to persons, property damage, and any other loss, damage or expenses arising from death or bodily injury or property damage.

The WOAIA contains no language specifically addressing the effect of the Act on insurance coverage for an indemnity agreement prohibited under the Act.  It simply states that the anti-indemnity act “shall not affect the validity of any insurance contract or any benefit conferred by the Worker’s Compensation Law . . . of this state.”

Construction Anti-Indemnity Acts

While this article specifically addresses Oilfield Anti-Indemnity Acts, practitioners are cautioned that many more states have enacted construction anti-indemnity statutes.  While not specifically targeted to oilfield contracts, some of these construction anti-indemnity statutes can certainly apply to work in the energy industry.  Imagine, for example, an indemnity provision in a Louisiana contract for sandblasting and painting an offshore platform.  While this may or may not be a contract “pertaining to a well,” it arguably could be considered a “construction contract” under Louisiana’s definition, and the indemnity provision could be invalidated by the construction anti-indemnity act.

Like the Oilfield Anti-Indemnity Acts, these construction anti-indemnity acts vary widely from state to state and have many exceptions and nuances.  And awareness of and familiarity with these statutes is also critical to adequately evaluating the viability of a contractual indemnity provision.

**********************************************************

[1] Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 127.001, et seq.

[2] La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 9:2780.

[3] Marcel v. Placid Oil Co., 11 F.3d 563, 569–70 (5th Cir. 1994).

[4] N.M. Stat. Ann. § 56-7-2.

[5] Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 30-1-131.

 

By Anjali Gillette

On August 29, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction involving the issue of whether a vessel’s primary and excess insurers may limit their liabilities to the same extent available to the vessel. See SCF Waxler Marine, L.L.C. v. ARIS T M/V, No. 17-30805 (5th Cir. August 29, 2018). SCF Waxler addressed the interplay between the Louisiana Direct Action Statute, La. R.S. § 22:1269, that allows third party claimants to bring claims directly against a tortfeasor’s insurer and the U.S. Shipowner’s Limitation of Liability Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30501, a federal statute that permits a vessel owner (and some vessel charterers) to limit their liability to the post-casualty value of the vessel and the pending freight.

SCF Waxler involved an accident in which the M/V ARIS T collided with multiple vessels and facilities along the Mississippi River, allegedly resulting in damages expected to exceed $60 million. The M/V ARIS T blamed the accident on unsafe maneuvering by two tugs.  The owner and operator of one of the tugs, Cenac Marine Services (“Cenac”), filed a Limitation action in defense of the claims against it seeking to limit its liability to the value of the vessels involved. Claims were filed against Cenac’s primary and excess insurers directly pursuant to the Louisiana Direct Action Statute. Cenac’s insurers filed defenses arguing that their liability, if any, was derived solely from their policies’ terms and conditions and that they were entitled to limit their liability to the extent Cenac was entitled to limit its liability to the subject vessels and pending freight.

In a motion for partial summary judgment, Claimants asked Judge Zainey to resolve whether the excess insurers could limit their liability to the value of Cenac’s insured vessel. They argued that Cenac’s insurance policies did not contain the requisite language allowing them to limit their liability vis-à-vis an injured third party (the primary insurers advised that they had no interest in the outcome of motion because their primary $1 million limits of coverage were less than the $14.6 million limitation fund posted by Cenac). Judge Zainey rejected their arguments holding that the policies in question were excess follow-form policies, and accordingly the legal question turned on the language of the primary P&I cover to which they followed form. Judge Zainey noted controlling U.S. Fifth Circuit precedent, which provides that a P&I insurer “may limit its liability to that of the vessel owner’s liability when the terms of the policy allow it to do so.”

Claimants appealed, asserting that the Fifth Circuit had jurisdiction to hear an appeal of that interlocutory order under 28 U.S.C. §1292(a)(3), which provides that appellate courts may entertain appeals from district courts’ interlocutory orders that determine the rights and liabilities of the parties to admiralty cases. The Fifth Circuit stated that “the heartland of this court’s jurisdiction over an interlocutory appeal under § 1292(a)(3) is a conclusive determination of the rights and liabilities as to the claim on appeal.” Claimants argued that because the district court, in denying their motion for partial summary judgment, granted the excess insurers rights to limit their liability, then that determination was the final order on the extent of the excess insurers’ liability in this case. Because the district court’s order determined “the rights and liability of the parties” in an admiralty case, Claimants contend that section 1292(a)(3) applied and the Fifth Circuit was afforded jurisdiction over the case.

The Fifth Circuit disagreed with their contentions. Instead, the Court focused on whether Claimants were legally permitted to recover anything from the excess insurers and if so, the amount of that liability. The Circuit Court determined that the limitation of liability question was ancillary to the main question regarding the extent of the insurer’s liability. Further, the Court found no compelling reason to distinguish between a district court’s determination of a contractual entitlement rather than statutory entitlement to limit liability. The Court joined the Eleventh Circuit in holding that neither decision was reviewable on appeal under section 1292(a)(3).

Conversely, the Court stated that if the district court had decided that the excess insurers were not entitled to limitation of liability, jurisdiction would be appropriate. A denial of exoneration or limitation of liability would require a district court to conclude that a party was negligent and not entitled to limitation.

Thus, the Fifth Circuit would not exercise jurisdiction when a district court determines whether a party may, under a contractual provision, limit his liability should the liability question be determined in that party’s favor. The Fifth Circuit’s decision to not exercise jurisdiction in cases where a final adjudication of the liability has not been made is not surprising considering their history in narrowly construing section 1292(a)(3). However, it assists in guiding vessel owners and insurers on the costs involved in doing business in the maritime arena.

By Stephen C. Hanemann

“A big day for trade!” was President Donald Trump’s enthusiastic announcement concerning the bilateral negotiations recently reached between the United States and Mexico on August 27, 2018, merely three months away from the North American Free Trade Agreement’s 25th birthday.

While ratified by the Legislatures of Canada, Mexico, and the United States in 1993, and signed into law by President Bill Clinton on December 8, 1993, NAFTA, which became effective on January 1, 1994, traces its direct origins to 1980 when the three North American nations first sought an accord to establish mutual trading, cost reduction, increased business investment, and heightened competition in the global market place. Shortly thereafter, President Ronald Reagan – whose campaign platform included provisions advancing a North American common market – supported the 1984 Congressional passage of the Trade and Tariff Act, which gave the U.S. President unilateral authority to negotiate free trade agreements. The Act facilitated the U.S. Chief Executive’s ability to expedite trade negotiations. Since its passage, Congress retains only the ability to approve or reject the complete agreement as negotiated, but not to alter it or suggest revisions. President Reagan and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney negotiated a Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in 1998, which was signed in that year, and went into effect in 1999. Reagan’s successor, President George H. W. Bush, negotiated with Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari to reduce Mexican tariffs on U.S. imports, which before NAFTA were 250% higher than U.S. tariffs on Mexican imports. In conjunction with the Bush-Salinas negotiations, in 1991, Canadian Prime Minister Mulroney requested a trilateral agreement, from which NAFTA was born.

Citing a compelling need to revitalize and modernize the aging NAFTA content, the United States and Mexico recently commenced and completed preliminary negotiations in support of a mutually-beneficial trade agreement to promote vibrant economic growth, balanced trade, and less-restricted markets to help North America keep pace with the 21st century-global economy. The recent discussions, which excluded Canada, have seemingly created more of a path to replace NAFTA than to revise it. In fact, President Trump has been quite vocal about the name of the new agreement, which he says will not be NAFTA.

The negotiations seek to modernize NAFTA to conform with recent technological, digital, and environmental innovations, as well as address the arenas of intellectual property, copyright, digital trade, and financial services. Other developments focus on eliminating customs duties on low-valued goods, levying prohibitions on local data storage requirements for information accessible to financial regulators, and establishing new trade rules of origin, vastly improving the North American labor force benefits and upping local content requirements in the automotive industry. Bolstering their commitment to technological and ever-changing labor market advancements, the United States-Mexico negotiations also brought to bear a heavy import on environmental concerns and obligations pertaining to wildlife, timber, fish, and air quality.

Despite the newly-developed and comprehensive enforcement provisions pertaining to intellectual property and trade secret protections, the key points of negotiations also involved added benefits for innovators and stronger disciplines on digital trade; all of which tend to provide a firm foundation for the expansion of trade and investment in products and services where the United States has a competitive advantage.

An additional noteworthy development involves the increased de minimis shipment value of cross-border goods, which will facilitate greater trade between the United States and Mexico by reducing or eliminating customs duties and taxes on shipments valued up to $100. Increasing the de minimis value will significantly lower costs to small and medium-size enterprises, which do not have the resources to pay shipping costs on small shipments. The cost savings will also trickle down to the new traders entering Mexico’s market, and of course, the consumers.

On the labor front, the new trade rules of origin in the automotive manufacturing industry will require at least 75% of a car’s value to be manufactured in North America (compared to 62.5% previously). And at least 40% of each vehicle manufactured in North America must be made by workers earning at least $16 per hour. These and other labor revisions seek to create more U.S. jobs carrying competitive wages, as well as stimulate the domestic automotive industry’s overall production and global competitiveness.

The proposed content of the environmental chapter marks the first ever articles of a Free Trade Agreement to directly improve air quality, prevent and reduce marine litter, support sustainable forest management, and to create and implement procedures for environmental impact studies and assessments, and modernize mechanisms for public participation and environmental cooperation.  Other enforceable-environmental obligations seek to combat unlawful trafficking in wildlife, timber, and fish, and address pertinent environmental issues related to air quality and marine dumping.

Indeed, Canada’s absence during the NAFTA re-negotiations likely bodes well in favor of a NAFTA replacement rather than revision. While Mexico’s administration has contacted Canada requesting a return to the negotiating table, in hopes of a trilateral NAFTA deal, the Trump administration has unequivocally expressed its concerns about multi-lateral agreements and voiced a strong preference for bilateral ones.

By Michael J. O’Brien

A “no claims bonus” is an attractive carrot that insurers can write into a policy to attract more customers. Indeed, the recovery of a “no claims bonus” can result in a substantial payoff for an insured. Given the maxim: “accidents happen”, the question arises, can the “no claims bonus” be recovered as an element of damages if a third party causes you to forfeit the bonus through their fault. Currently, this exact issue is making its way through the Eastern District of Louisiana in Cox Operation, LLC v. Settoon Towing, LLC et al., Civil Action No. 17-1933 c/w 17-2087.

Cox Operation concerns a September 13, 2016, accident where a Settoon vessel allided with a well owned by Cox. In addition to its property damage claims, Cox seeks to recover the loss of its “no claims bonus”, allegedly due to Settoon’s neglect.

Specifically, Cox had insured the well with a policy that provided a “10% no claims bonus payable at expiry subject to a total gross earned premium exceeding USD 2,000,000 hereon.” Accordingly, if Cox submitted no claims under the applicable policy, then the insurer would refund Cox 10% of the total premium amount for the policy period, assuming that total premium amount exceeded two million dollars (which it did). If Cox submitted a claim during the policy period, then no refund would issue. Interestingly, Cox also insured the potential loss of its “no claims bonus” through a separate policy.

As a result of the subject allision, Cox was forced to submit a claim under the policy. It then became obligated to repay the “no claims bonus” which the insurer had prepaid to Cox. Critically, the claim associated with the allision was the only claim Cox filed during the applicable policy period. Thus, it was Cox’s contention that Settoon’s negligence caused a loss/damage to Cox in the amount of the loss “no claims bonus.” Settoon challenged Cox’s entitlement to the “no claims bonus” and moved for summary judgment arguing that Cox was precluded as a matter of law from pursuing recovery of the “no claims bonus.” Settoon also put at issue the policy insuring Cox’s loss of the bonus, which Cox argued should be excluded as a collateral source.

Settoon argued that Cox could not recovery the no claims bonus under either the General Maritime Law or the Oil Pollution Act (OPA). Cox did not address Settoon’s arguments that the no claims bonus was not recoverable under the OPA. Instead, Cox focused on the recoverability of the “no claims bonus” under the General Maritime Law.

In analyzing this issue, the EDLA cited the U.S. Fifth Circuit’s opinion in Louisiana ex rel., Guste v. M/V TESTBANK, 752 F.2d 1019 (5th Cir. 1985) (en banc), which holds that “physical injury to a proprietary interest is a pre-requisite to recovery of economic damages in cases of unintentional maritime tort.” Next, the District Court reviewed Corpus Christi Oil & Gas Co. v. Zapata Gulf Marine Corp., 71 F.3d 198, 203. (5th Cir. 1995) where the Fifth Circuit interpreted the TESTBANK rule and held that simply meeting the requirement of showing physical damage of a proprietary interest does not automatically open the door to all foreseeable economic consequences.” Rather, “economic consequences” must be “attendant” to the physical damage to a Plaintiff’s own property to be recoverable economic damages under TESTBANK.

Based on the facts that had been established to date, the District Court held that TESTBANK’s pre-requisites were satisfied. Thus, the door to the recoverability of the “no claims bonus” was opened.  The alleged damage to Cox’s well constituted physical damages to Cox’s own property. Cox’s loss of the “no claims bonus” was tied to the physical damage to Cox’s well. Bottom line: if Cox suffered physical damage to its property and suffered an economic loss that was attendant to that damage, then “all of the TESTBANK rules boxes have been checked.” As such, Cox could pursue recovery of the “no claims bonus.”

After concluding that recovery of the “no claims bonus” was an allowable element of damages, the District Judge next addressed whether the Collateral Source Rule barred Settoon from introducing evidence of the separate insurance policy that insured Cox against the loss of the bonus. It is longstanding jurisprudence that the Collateral Source Rule bars a tortfeasor from reducing the quantum of damages owed to a Plaintiff by the amount of recovery the Plaintiff receives from other sources of compensation that are independent of (or collateral to) the tortfeasor. Davis v. Odeco, Inc., 18 F.3d 1237, 1243 (5th Cir. 1994). The underlying rationale of the Collateral Source Rule is that Plaintiffs should not be penalized because they have the foresight and prudence (or good fortune) to establish and maintain collateral sources of compensation, such as insurance. Insurance policies, such as the one purchased by Cox, clearly fall within the definition of a collateral source. As such, the District Court concluded that Settoon could not introduce – and the Court could not consider – evidence that Cox was, in fact, insured against the loss of the “no claims bonus.”

Ultimately, Cox was not legally precluded from seeking recovery of the no claims bonus. However, at trial Cox must still prove the value of its loss related to the “no claims bonus” in order to recover that loss. Be on the lookout for future updates as this matter proceeds to a final resolution.

By Tod J. Everage

Contractual indemnities are important and valuable in the oil patch. When they are enforceable, they have the potential to end litigation completely or at least the financial burden for a particularly well-positioned indemnitee. But, with “anti-indemnity” statutes in play in several jurisdictions (including Louisiana), the enforceability of these indemnity provisions rely (barring exceptions) on the application of general maritime law.

It is a common practice to select general maritime law as the governing law in any oilfield MSA – at least within the Fifth Circuit – but simply saying it applies doesn’t actually make it so. As a result, jurisprudential tests have emerged to determine what law actually applies to torts depending on where the incident occurred, as well as to the contracts themselves. When the services provided under the contract are obviously maritime in nature, such as a contract for vessel support services, there is little to dispute. But, especially when there is a high-dollar potential exposure riding on the enforceability of an indemnity obligation, there have been persuasive arguments made on both sides of the maritime vs. state law debate governing contracts for other, less obvious, oilfield services.

Most recently, the US Fifth Circuit addressed this dispute over plugging and abandoning services (“P&A work”) on three wells in coastal Louisiana waters in In re: Crescent Energy Services, No. 16-31214 (5th Cir. July 13, 2018). Crescent agreed, amongst other things, to provide three vessels to perform the work and to indemnify Carrizo against any claims for bodily injury, death, or damage to property. One of Crescent’s employees was injured on one of Carrizo’s fixed platforms during the P&A work, and unsurprisingly, Carrizo’s indemnity demand from the resulting claim was denied by Crescent under the Louisiana Oilfield Indemnity Act. The district court, applying the former Davis & Sons test, found the contract between Carrizo and Crescent to be a maritime contract and granted summary judgment in favor of Carrizo on its indemnity claim.

In January, the US Fifth Circuit pared down its maritime contract test (from Davis & Sons) to focus on only two factors: (1) “is the contract one to provide services to facilitate the drilling or production of oil and gas on navigable waters?” and (2) “does the contract provide or do the parties expect that a vessel will play a substantial role in the completion of the contract?” In re Larry Doiron, Inc., 879 F.3d 568, 576 (5th Cir. 2018). Both factors must be affirmed before maritime law may be applied to the contract.

On the first factor, Carrizo asserted a creative and ultimately successful argument that P&A work is “part of the total life cycle of oil and gas drilling.” Because plugging and abandoning a drilled well is part of the agreement with the State of Louisiana to get an initial permit to drill, the US Fifth Circuit was persuaded that the contract for P&A work involved “the drilling and production of oil and gas.” The Court then re-iterated its departure from Davis & Sons and its concern about where the incident occurred. In Doiron, the US Fifth Circuit stated: “The facts surrounding the accident are relevant to whether the worker was injured in a maritime tort, but they are immaterial in determining whether the workers’ employer entered into a maritime contract.” Doiron, 879 F.3d at 573-74. The US Fifth Circuit is “no longer concerned about whether the worker was on a platform or vessel.” Rather, the question is whether the contract concerned the drilling and production of oil and gas on navigable waters.

On this point, Crescent’s insurers argued that Doiron’s analysis on the P&A work resulted in inconsistencies with other Fifth Circuit precedents finding that torts occurring on and during the construction of fixed, offshore production platforms on the OCS are generally not governed by maritime law. Also, wireline work – which comprises much of the P&A work – had also traditionally been found to not be a maritime activity. The Court declined the invitation to review those OCSLA cases: “We are not concerned here with those OCSLA issues of whether to borrow state law as surrogate federal law, which leads to analyzing whether maritime law applies of its own force, which requires determining the historical treatment of certain contracts. We do need to analyze, though, whether this is a maritime contract. Doiron now controls that endeavor.” But these statements do not make clear whether the rejection of the OCSLA cases was because Crescent Energy Services is not an OCSLA case itself, or whether that distinction no longer has a difference in oil and gas contract review.

The Fifth Circuit then quoted commentary from Professor David W. Robertson discussing contract disputes on the OCS: “If the contract is a maritime contract, federal maritime law applies of its own force, and state law does not apply. If the contract calling for indemnity is not a maritime contract, the governing law will be adjacent-state law made surrogate federal law by OCSLA § 1333(a)(2)(A).” Why bring this up if the Court is ignoring OCSLA cases on the grounds of distinction? The Court doesn’t directly clarify. Instead, it said the reference was “to show that Davis previously and Doiron now are performing the task of determining how to classify contracts.” It further stated that Davis (a Louisiana waters case) did not offend OCSLA cases, so neither does Doiron.

The Fifth Circuit seemed concerned about this argument though and the perception of the Court’s abandonment of long-standing precedent. Surely, this will be the continued topic of attack from potential indemnitors. In addressing those criticisms, the Court stuck with its more back-to-basics theme: “We are here classifying a contract for a certain purpose, a juridical activity that has been done consistently with the 1969 Rodrigue decision at least since our 1990 Davis decision. We en banc eliminated most of the factors, narrowing our focus, but we did not fundamentally change the task. Doiron is the law we must apply.” On the one hand, the Court’s statements seem to firmly reiterate that Doiron is the law going forward when analyzing the maritime nature of a contract regardless of the location of the work. But, the Court’s avoidance of the OCSLA issues and the narrowed “certain purpose” of their decision begs for more direct guidance from the Fifth Circuit on Doiron’s geographic reach.

The Fifth Circuit could have unequivocally proclaimed that the breadth of Doiron extended to OCSLA cases, in whatever capacity, if that were its intent; but it did not. So then, what is the expected effect of Doiron on those contract cases involving a controversy on the OCS, where OCSLA statutorily provides its own choice-of-law provision? Does Doiron actually supplant Grand Isle Shipyard, Inc. v. Seacor Marine, LLC, 589 F.3d 778 (5th Cir. 2009), since it called the case “un-useful” to its task? If the situs of the controversy is no longer appropriate, then it seems that Doiron may be the answer.

Grand Isle was a contractual application of test articulated in Union Texas Petroleum Corp. v. PLT Engineering, Inc., 895 F.2d 1043 (5th Cir. 1990) which starts by finding that the dispute arises on the OCS; otherwise, now, Doiron surely is the test. The second PLT factor determines whether the OCSLA choice-of-law provision applies by looking to see if federal maritime law applies of its own force. This is where Crescent’s insurers’ historical argument would come into play. To determine whether federal maritime law applies of its own force, the US Fifth Circuit: (1) identified the historical treatment of contracts such as the one at issue, and (2) applied Davis & Sons. It seems obvious that this factor will likely at least be revised to substitute Doiron for Davis & Sons. The less obvious question is whether the historical treatment factor is relevant at all going forward.

In Doiron, the Fifth Circuit criticized those “historical” opinions that “improperly focus[ed] on whether the services were inherently maritime as opposed to whether a substantial amount of the work was to be performed from a vessel.” Thus, it is possible that the second PLT factor simply becomes the Doiron test. But, if so, then that would effectively eliminate the necessity of the PLT test for OCS contract law disputes, because the Courts have long since acknowledged that the relevant application of Louisiana law to the contract does not conflict with federal law. If this analysis is correct then Doiron should be the standing legal test for the determination of applicable law in an oilfield contract regardless of the location of the work (OCS vs. State waters).

A comment the Fifth Circuit made in its analysis of another earlier issue seems to bolster that conclusion: “If the contract here is maritime, the fact that it was to be performed in the territorial waters of Louisiana does not justify causing the outcome of this lawsuit to be different than if the contract was for work on the high seas. Consistency and predictability are hard enough to come by in maritime jurisprudence, but we at least should not intentionally create distortions.” After lauding the directness of its new test in Doiron (notwithstanding their use of the unpredictably applied term “substantial role”), the Fifth Circuit could have assisted practitioners with a bit more directness in Crescent Energy Services.

Despite the historically non-maritime nature of P&A work in the Fifth Circuit, the outcome of Crescent Energy Services is not surprising given the necessity of the vessels used for the work. In that respect, this decision is consistent with the Fifth Circuit’s continued primacy – now, by way of the Doiron test highlighting its importance – of the “substantial role” that a vessel will play in the work being done under the contract. While the Fifth Circuit may have left a gap in its recent holdings for the next OCSLA-based contract dispute, we see no reason why Doiron would not be at least a part of that new analysis.

By Michael J. O’Brien

Punitive damages are designed to punish a tortfeasor. They are available as a remedy in general maritime actions where a tortfeasor’s intentional or wanton and reckless conduct amounted to a conscious disregard for the rights of others. The punitive damage standard requires a much higher degree of fault than simple negligence. The amount of a punitive damage award must be considered on a case-by-case basis; however, prior punitive damage awards can provide insight as to what is appropriate.  In the matter of Warren v. Shelter Mutual Ins. Co., et al., 233 So 3d 568 (La. 2017) the Louisiana Supreme Court provided guidance as to when a jury’s punitive damage award was grossly excessive.

The Warren case centered around the wrongful death of Derrick Hebert in a recreational boating accident.  The facts surrounding Derrick Hebert’s death are tragic.  In May 2005, Hebert was a passenger in a boat that suddenly, and without warning, turned violently when the hydraulic steering system failed.  Hebert and four of the other passengers were ejected from the boat. The boat continued to spin around (the kill switch had not been engaged) and its propeller struck Hebert 19 times. Hebert died at the scene. The decedent’s family and estate sought to recover damages under the General Maritime Law and Louisiana Products Liability. Included in the Warren Plaintiffs’ demand was a punitive damage claim under the General Maritime Law.

Nine years after Warren’s untimely death later, the case was tried.  At the close of the 2014 litigation, the jury returning a finding of no liability on the part of the Defendants.  However, the trial court granted the Warren Plaintiffs a new trial based on what it believed to be prejudicial error during the first trial. The second trial resulted in a jury verdict in favor of the Warren Plaintiffs.  The jury awarded compensatory damages of $125,000 and punitive damages of $23,000,000. The Louisiana Third Circuit later affirmed the punitive damage award. A full discussion of the Third Circuit’s decision can be found here.

Defendants successfully applied for writs to the Louisiana Supreme Court.  The Louisiana Supreme Court addressed several assignments of error proffered by the Defendants; however, this article will only address the punitive damage review. After reviewing the record, the Louisiana Supreme Court held that an award of punitive damages was correct. The tortfeasor knew of the serious risks of its steering system and failed to warn its customers that ejection, severe injury, and death could result. Further, the Louisiana Supreme Court agreed with the Third Circuit that the tortfeasor’s conduct was reprehensible and resulted in great harm to the decedent and his family. However, Plaintiffs failed to prove that Defendant acted maliciously or that its behavior was driven primarily for design or gain. While the compensatory damages of $125,000 were deemed low, the harm caused was great and opened the door to higher awards. Yet, the Louisiana Supreme Court found that the award of punitive damages in the amount of $23,000,000 (a ratio of 184:1) was higher than reasonably required to satisfy the objective of punitive damage awards, namely punishment, general deterrence, and specific deterrence. Indeed, the $23,000,000 in punitive damages awarded by the jury did not, in the eyes of the Louisiana Supreme Court, further the goals of punitive damages. While the Defendant was considered a “wealthy corporation,” wealth should not be a driving factor between a punitive damage award and the absence of a showing that the Defendant’s conduct was motivated by greed or malice.  Accordingly, the Louisiana Supreme Court found that the award of $23,000,000 violated the Defendant’s due process rights.

Thereafter, the Louisiana Supreme Court took it upon itself to set the punitive damage award. In its view, based on the actual harm, it found that a punitive damage award of $4,250,000 (a reduction of $18,750,000) more appropriately furthered the goal of punitive damages while protecting the Defendant’s right to due process. Otherwise, the decision of the Third Circuit was affirmed.