By M. Dwayne Johnson

On May 30, 2018, EPA finally promulgated modifications to its 2015 definition of solid waste rule (2018 DSW Rule).[1] EPA promulgated the 2018 DSW Rule in response to the D.C. Circuit’s decision on EPA’s 2015 definition of solid waste rule.[2]

EPA’s revisions to the definition of solid waste rule essentially implement the vacaturs ordered by the D.C. Circuit, as discussed in my prior blog on this issue.[3] That is, EPA deleted the verified recycler exclusion (VRE) and reinstated the transfer based exclusion (TBE); retained the emergency preparedness and response requirements and expanded containment requirements and applied these to the TBE; and removed the mandatory 2015 version of Legitimacy Factor 4[4] and replaced it with the 2008 version of Legitimacy Factor 4, which must be considered but is not mandatory. EPA also removed the prohibition that had made certain spent petroleum catalysts (K171 and K172) ineligible for the TBE.

In addition, EPA provided some clarity on the applicability of rules in states such as Louisiana that have been authorized to administer and enforce the state hazardous waste program in lieu of the federal program and that adopted rules similar to the VRE and the 2015 definition of legitimate recycling but have not yet been authorized for them. According to EPA, the authorization status established prior to the adoption of the state counterpart rules remains in effect and the vacaturs and subsequent reinstatement of various provisions of the prior rules “will result in state provisions that are broader in scope than the federal program as it pertains to the specific vacated provisions.”[5]

Bottom line:  Louisiana’s VRE and mandatory 2015 version of Legitimacy Factor 4 may apply and be enforced by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality – but not EPA – within Louisiana.

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[1] 83 Fed. Reg. 24664 (May 30, 2018).

[2] American Petroleum Institute v. EPA, 862 F.3d 50 (D.C. Circuit 2017), as clarified on rehearing, 883 F.3d 918.

[3] See,  https://www.louisianalawblog.com/environmental-litigation-and-regulation/impact-louisiana-d-c-circuits-decision-definition-solid-waste-rule/

[4] The product of the recycling process must be comparable to a legitimate product or intermediate.

[5] 83 Fed. Reg. 24664, 24666. Because the state program provisions are broader in scope than the federal program, they are not part of the federally authorized program and are not federally enforceable. 40 CFR 271.1(i)(2) and RCRA Online Document 14848.

By Jessica C. Engler, CIPP/US

To say that privacy regulations have been in the news lately is a bit of an understatement. The European Union’s new General Data Protection Regulation has had privacy professionals and businesses scrambling to meet the May 25, 2018 deadline for compliance. While the GDPR may be dominating the national news circuits, the EU is not the only one making changes to their privacy laws. The Louisiana Legislature has passed, and Governor Edwards signed on May 20, 2018, amendments to Louisiana’s Database Security Breach Notification Law (Louisiana Revised Statutes 51:3071, et seq.), at Act 382.[i] Act 382 becomes effective on August 1, 2018.

A.  Expansion of “Personal Information”

The first major change is the expansion of the definition of “personal information” under the statute. Louisiana previously defined personal information for the purposes of the breach notification law as an individual’s first name or initial and last name in combination with any of the following additional data elements when the name or data element is not encrypted or redacted: (1) social security number; (2) driver’s license number; or (3) account number, credit or debit card number, in combination with the applicable password, security code, or access code that would allow access to an individual’s financial account. Act 382 adds the following additional pieces of data to this list: state identification card number; passport number; and “biometric data.” “Biometric data” is defined as “data generated by automatic measurements of an individual’s biological characteristics” and includes markers such as fingerprints, voice prints, eye retina or iris, or other unique biological characteristics that are used to authenticate an individual’s identity when accessing a system or account. In this change, Louisiana joins a growing trend of expanding personal data beyond ID numbers and financial accounts into more unique and personal identifiers. At the time of this writing, at least twelve other states have enacted laws that include biometric markers as personal information.[ii]

B.  New Data Protection Requirements

Act 382 imposes new requirements on Louisiana businesses to protect personal information. These changes affect companies that conduct business in the state of Louisiana or own or license computerized data that include personal information of Louisiana residents and for agencies that own or license computerized data that includes Louisiana residents’ personal information (collectively “Subject Entities”). Under Act 382, Subject Entities will be required to implement and maintain “reasonable security procedures and practices appropriate to the nature of the information” to protect the personal information from breaches, destruction, use, modification, or disclosure.

Subject Entities will also be under new requirements for data destruction. Subject Entities will be required to take reasonable steps to destroy or arrange for the destruction of records within its custody or control containing personal information that is no longer to be retained by the Subject Entity by shredding, erasing, or otherwise modifying the personal information to make the information unreadable or undecipherable.

C.  Data Breach Notifications

In the event of a breach, the revisions to Section 51:3073 have now implemented a time limit within which Subject Entities must notify the Louisiana residents’ whose data was affected. Originally, the statute provided that notice must be done “in the most expedient time possible and without unreasonable delay.” The revised statute retains that language, but now includes that notification must be made no later than 60 days from the discovery of the breach. The revisions maintain the original exception to this rule in the case of delay necessitated by the needs of law enforcement or measures necessary to determine the scope of the breach, prevent further disclosures, and restore the reasonable integrity of the data system. However, if a Subject Entity does delay notification for one of these reasons, it must provide written notice to the Louisiana Attorney General of this delay and the reasons for same within the 60 day period. Upon receipt, the Attorney General will grant a reasonable extension of time for notification.

The revisions preserve the ability for a Subject Entity to investigate whether the breach is reasonably likely to cause harm to Louisiana residents, and, if the breach is unlikely to cause harm, the Subject Entity is not required to notify affected Louisiana residents of the breach. This situation commonly arises when the breached data was encrypted, provided the encryption key was not also breached. If the Subject Entity decides not to report under this section, then the entity must document that decision in writing and retain the written decision and supporting documentation for five years from the date of discovery of the breach. The Attorney General can request a copy of this documentation and the written determination, and the Subject Entity must provide the documentation within thirty days of the Attorney General’s request.

Last, violations of these provisions are now deemed an unfair trade practice under R.S. 51:1405(A). During testimony on this bill, the Attorney General’s Office commented that their Office has already been treating violations as an unfair trade practice, so this language only codifies their current practice.

D.  General Comments

Many of the changes made to Louisiana’s data security laws echo similar revisions in other states. Several states have opened their data security laws to expand beyond notification procedures to now requiring “reasonable” security practices and destruction of outdated data. Unlike Alabama’s new data security law, Louisiana’s revised law does not define what security practices qualify as “reasonable”, which may cause some concern amongst Subject Entities looking for guidance when updating their security practices.

It is possible that the new revisions may lead to increased litigation for data breaches. The Attorney General currently is and remains the primary enforcer of the data breach laws; however, private rights of action are permitted. Codifying violations of these statutes as an unfair trade practice may lead to an increase in suits filed under these statutes. However, a potential plaintiff will likely still be required to provide that he or she was injured by the breach, which has been a difficult task for plaintiffs that have not suffered an identity theft.

The new law becomes effective on August 1, 2018. Until that time, Subject Entities that have not recently reviewed their data security policies and practices may want to consider an update.

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[i] Act 382 of the 2018 Regular Session can be found at the following address: https://www.legis.la.gov/legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=1101149.

[ii] These states include, but are not limited to Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

By Maureen N. Harbourt

Facilities subject to a Part 70 air operating permit are afforded an “affirmative defense” to liability for civil penalties for releases to air that exceed technology-based permit limitations, provided they strictly adhere to both the requirements of the “upset” rule in LAC 33:III.507.J and General Condition N of the Part 70 General Permit Conditions referenced in the permit.  Because the rule puts the burden of proof on the permittee, successfully asserting the upset defense depends on documenting that each aspect of the defense is satisfied.  Subsection 507.J.1 of the rule defines an “upset” as “any situation arising from sudden and reasonably unforeseeable events beyond the control of the owner or operator, including acts of God, which situation requires immediate corrective action to restore normal operation and that causes the source to exceed a technology-based emissions limitation under the permit due to unavoidable increases in emissions attributable to the situation.”  (Emphasis added.) It goes on to provide that “[a]n upset shall not include noncompliance to the extent caused by improperly designed equipment, lack of preventative maintenance, careless or improper operation, or operator error.”

The four essential requirements for documenting that an upset has occurred are stated in Section 507.J.2 as:

  1. an upset occurred and that the owner or operator can identify the cause(s) of the upset;
  2. the permitted facility was at the time being properly operated;
  3. during the period of the upset the operator took all reasonable steps to minimize levels of emissions that exceeded the emissions standards and other requirements in the permit; and
  4. the owner or operator notified the permitting authority in accordance with LAC 33:I.Chapter 39.

Many facilities risk losing the protection of this affirmative upset defense by following only the reporting requirements of LAC 33:I.Ch. 39 (the LDEQ general release reporting rules), while ignoring the reporting requirements of General Condition N of the permit.  The reporting requirements of Chapter 39 require reporting only if the release exceeds a reportable quantity (“RQ”) or causes an emergency condition; however, the upset defense can also apply to releases below an RQ.  Further, Chapter 39 requires a written follow-up report only within 7 calendar days, whereas General Condition N of the permit is more stringent and requires the assertion of the upset defense within 2 working days.  Guidance published by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (“LDEQ”) concerning General Condition N states:

In the event a permittee seeks to reserve a claim of an affirmative defense as provided in LAC 33:III.507.J.2, the required notification shall be submitted in writing within 2 working days of the time when emission limitations were exceeded due to the occurrence of an upset. The written notification may be faxed to meet the deadline. Verbal notification alone is not acceptable.

(Emphasis added.) We believe that an e-mail within 2 days would also meet the General Condition N requirement for written notification. Thus, for releases above an RQ, facilities desiring to preserve the upset defense should either file the written report required by Ch. 39 early (within 2 working days), or should develop a standard upset notification report addressing all Section 507.J requirements to fax or e-mail to LDEQ within 2 working days.  For releases below an RQ that do not require reporting under Ch. 39, an upset notification meeting the Section 507.J should be either faxed or e-mailed to LDEQ.

Another common error that facilities make is related to potential confusion about Ch. 39 requirements.  The provisions of LAC 33:I.3925.B.14 specify that the required written unauthorized discharge report must include “a determination by the discharger of whether or not the discharge was preventable, or if not, an explanation of why the discharge was not preventable.” Some permittees believe that an assertion that the discharge “was not preventable” is the equivalent of asserting the upset defense, but such may not be sufficient to specifically identify the event as an upset.  If the Ch. 39 written report is also going to serve as the General Condition N written assertion of the upset defense, it is recommended that the Ch. 39 report clearly state that the permittee believes the discharge was not preventable and that the event meets the definition of an upset under LAC 33:III.507.J.  The dual Ch. 39/General Condition N report should also include a description of why the event meets the upset defense.

Often initial information is indicative that an event causing excess emissions is an upset, but confirmation of that fact may come only after a root cause analysis or similar investigation.  The Ch. 39 rules allow a facility to state in the initial written report that information is not yet available to answer all of the questions required for the Section 3925 written report and to submit “updates of the status of the ongoing investigation of the unauthorized discharge …every 60 days until the investigation has been completed and the results of the investigation have been submitted.” LAC 33:I.3925.A.3.  However, General Condition N does not afford this leeway.  If an incident is suspected to be an upset, the facility should provide the 2 working day notice required by General Condition N, with an assertion that the event was an upset and a preliminary determination as to the cause.  The facility should also include a statement describing any efforts to minimize the emissions and asserting that the facility was being properly operated at the time of the event. Such General Condition N report can be updated to either confirm or withdraw the assertion of the upset defense when the investigation is completed.

The written report for any upset, in order to satisfy General Condition N, should also specify the technology-based permit limit that is subject to the upset defense.  Section 507.J does not allow an affirmative defense for permit limits based on ambient standards or any basis other than technology.  Technology-based limits are those established as Maximum Achievable Control Technology (“MACT”) under a National Emissions Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants (“NESHAP”); Best Available Control Technology (“BACT”) under a Prevention of Significant Deterioration Permit; New Source Performance Standards (“NSPS”); Reasonably Available Control Technology (“RACT”) under a State Implementation Plan (such as the waste gas disposal rule in LAC 33:III.2115) and the like.  Pound per hour and ton per year emission limits in the permit designed to meet these technology-based standards should be considered as technology-based limits.  Section 507.J does state that the “upset defense” is not applicable to acid rain emission limitations (from 40 C.F.R. Parts 72-75).

Finally, Section 507.J.4 states that the upset defense is “in addition to any emergency or upset provisions contained in any applicable requirement.”  However, certain applicable requirements may preclude the upset defense, such as a NESHAP rule that specifically states that the requirement applies even during a malfunction (which term is described in the General Provisions of 40 C.F.R. Part 63, Subpart A, almost identically to the definition of “upset” in 507.J).  Thus, a facility should be aware that the upset defense may not be available in such circumstances.  In other cases, a NESHAP rule will provide that it is not applicable to malfunction events, but there may be additional requirements under such NESHAP rule for demonstrating that the event was caused by a malfunction (such as following a startup, shutdown, malfunction plan and/or properly reporting the malfunction under the NESHAP rule).  These NESHAP provisions are not superseded by the Louisiana upset defense rule in Section 507.J.

by Stephen C. Hanemann

Increasingly common in coastal Louisiana – and even more so during a depressed, offshore, oilfield-services market – is the strained relationship between a marine lender and a vessel owner secondary to the lender asserting creditor’s rights against the vessel through a pre-existing security instrument. In one such dispute, lender, South Lafourche Bank & Trust Co. filed an action to enforce a Promissory Note secured by a Preferred Ship Mortgage against Guilbeau Boat Rentals, owner of the marine vessel NOONIE G.[1]

Conforming to the vessel finance protocol, Gilbeau’s authorized representative executed a Preferred Ship Mortgage encumbering the NOONIE G, pledging the vessel as collateral for the loan made by the Bank. A note, also executed by Gilbeau, was issued with and further secured by the Preferred Ship Mortgage. After several months of alleged non-payment on the note, the Bank instituted legal action to collect the debt owed. The Bank filed a Motion for Summary Judgment seeking a declaration that its mortgage was valid under the Ship Mortgage Act. Guilbeau filed a Motion to Dismiss the Bank’s action, alleging that the mortgage was invalid under Louisiana law and therefore not valid under the Act. Guilbeau claimed that the Act did not provide a valid basis for the Court to exercise subject matter jurisdiction over Guilbeau because the Bank’s financing documents were structured in the form of a Louisiana collateral chattel mortgage, and that such instrument was no longer valid for mortgaging immovable property under Louisiana law.

In its analysis, the Court examined the origin of the Ship Mortgage Act and determined that it was passed by Congress so that vessel-mortgage liens could be enforced in federal courts under admiralty jurisdiction. The Court examined the historically-ineffective nature of state court enforcement of ship mortgages. The Court found that state courts were not permitted to affect maritime liens and ship mortgages executed before the Act, and found that those instruments executed before the Act provided unsatisfactory protection of a ship mortgagee’s security interest.

Thus, the Act was designed to stimulate private investment in U.S. shipping and to protect the United States as the principal source of credit for shipping activities. Further, the Act aimed to induce private-investment capital in shipping projects and to create certainty in financing U.S. vessels. In passing the Act, Congress recognized the need for exclusive admiralty court jurisdiction in vessel foreclosure proceedings. And while state law may serve to supplement maritime law, it must yield when it interferes with a determination made under the Act.

In the matter of the NOONIE G, the Court considered the vessel owner’s argument that a mortgage held to be invalid under state law disqualifies the instrument as valid under the Act. The Court found that the Act itself included no requirement that a mortgage on a U.S. vessel be valid under the laws of the particular state to be an enforceable Preferred Ship Mortgage. The Act actually contains six (6) principal requirements, which are conditions precedent for a valid Preferred Ship Mortgage.[2] The Guilbeau Court found that the Bank’s mortgage met each of the six (6) requirements of the Act and was, therefore, a valid ship mortgage. The Court decided that it need not determine whether the mortgage would have been a valid collateral chattel mortgage under Louisiana law. But the Court did recognize the maxim that state law may otherwise be instructive to resolve mortgage disputes when the Act does not provide sufficient guidance.[3]

In conclusion, notwithstanding the validity of a Preferred Ship Mortgage under the laws of a particular state, if a vessel mortgage meets the six (6) basic requirements under the Act, it shall be a valid Preferred Ship Mortgage. Accordingly, a federal court determining the question of enforcement of a valid Preferred Ship Mortgage shall enjoy federal question admiralty jurisdiction over the subject dispute.[4] The Court, consequently, denied Guilbeau’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, and granted the Bank’s motion seeking a declaration of its mortgage validity.

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[1] S. Lafourche Bank & Trust Co. v. M/V NOONIE G, No. 16-2880, 2017 WL 2634204 (E.D. La. June 19, 2017).

[2] 46 U.S.C. § 31301 (2017).

[3] The Court determined that it need not address the validity of the collateral mortgages on movable property under state law secondary to Louisiana’s adoption of the Uniform Commercial Code Art. 9. But this commentator feels strongly that the concept of the collateral mortgage, as it pertains to vessels, is alive and well in Louisiana, provided that such document meets the requirements of a UCC Art. 9 security instrument.

[4] 46 U.S.C. § 31325(c) (2017).

by Tod J. Everage

On February 12, 2017, a fishing charter boat, the M/V SUPER STRIKE, carrying several paying customers collided with an offshore service boat, the M/V MISS IDA, during a fishing trip. Claims were asserted by the passengers against both vessels and operators in their respective limitation suits. Recently, dispositive motions were filed against the claims asserted by two passengers – whose only alleged damages were for emotional distress resulting from the collision – claiming they were within the “zone of danger.” See In re TK Boat Rentals, (Civ. No. 14-1545) (E.D. La. March 21, 2018).

According to the U.S. 5th Circuit, the “zone of danger” rule permits a plaintiff to recover for emotional injuries that “result from the witnessing of peril or harm to another if the plaintiff is also threatened with physical harm as a consequence of the defendant’s negligence.” Plaisance v. Texaco, Inc., 966 F.2d 166, 168 (5th Cir. 1992). This rule extends to Jones Act seaman for fear of physical injury to themselves as well. Naquin v. Elevating Boats, LLC, 744 F.3d 927, 938 (5th Cir. 2014). Like many similar issues, the Jones Act extension was borne out of a FELA case from the U.S. Supreme Court. See Consol. Rail Corp. v. Gottshall, 51 US 532, 548 (1994). In order to recover though, the plaintiff must show that he suffered actual injuries.

The U.S. 5th Circuit has not yet recognized recovery under the “zone of danger” rule for passengers under the general maritime law. See Barker v. Hercules Offshore, Inc., 713 F.3d 208, 224 (5th Cir. 2013). In TK Boat Rentals, the district court commented that the “zone of danger” rule was merely a threshold requirement for a plaintiff to recover for emotional injuries. Because the plaintiffs could not prove they suffered any objective injuries, the Court dismissed their claims without having to make the determination of whether the “zone of danger” rule even applied to them.

One plaintiff, Nick Siria, admitted that he did not suffer any personal injuries as a result of the collision and that he had not and did not plan to seek any medical or psychological treatment as a result of the collision. He claimed he had a few “tense” moments and reactions when he returned to the water and later dealt with a car pulling out in front of him, but he did not elaborate any further. The Court found these statements to be too vague and conclusory to demonstrate an emotional injury and dismissed his claims. The second plaintiff, Tracy Edwards, argued he should recover damages because he too was in the “zone of danger” of the collision. Edwards similarly offered a vague affidavit wherein he alleged he suffered emotional and physical injuries, but provided no description of either injury. Looking to his deposition, the Court could only find testimony that Edwards jumped into the river at the time of the collision and that he found the water to be cold. He sought no medical or psychological treatment. Edwards testified that he now has a fear of the water and could not participate in a snorkeling trip because of the collision; he had no problems fishing from a boat though. The Court was not persuaded that Edwards could support his claims with such limited evidence and dismissed his emotional injury claims as well.

The idea of a physical or real manifestation of injuries is a common one among the courts. While a physical injury (in the traditional sense of the word) is not necessarily needed, there must be some evidence that the plaintiff suffered an injury sufficient to be compensated for it. For example, emotional distress may “physically” manifest itself as a psychological disorder or condition – so long as it is capable of objective determination. See, e.g., Haught v. Maceluch, 681 F.2d 291, 299 n.9 (5th Cir. 1982). It seems that a threshold point would be to show that the plaintiff sought some sort of treatment for his complained of “injuries.” Self-serving affidavits and vague testimony will not cut it. Given the fact-intensive question, courts will evaluate these claims on a case-by-case basis.

The U.S. 1st Circuit more recently commented on this issue in Sawyer Brothers, Inc. v. Island Transporter, No. 16-2470 (1st Cir. April 3, 2018). Though the U.S. 5th Circuit hasn’t yet extended the “zone of danger” rule to passengers under the general maritime law, the U.S. 1st Circuit officially took that step. “Given its application to seaman, we see no principled basis for imposing the more restrictive physical impact test upon passengers alleging NIED under the general maritime law.” In so doing, the 1st Circuit joined the 11th Circuit (Chaparro v. Carnival Corp., 693 F.3d 1333, 1338 (11th Cir. 2012) (per curiam) and the 9th Circuit (Stacy v. Rederiet Otto Danielsen, A.S., 609 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2010), affirmatively allowing such claims. This is not to say that the U.S. 5th Circuit would not join these Circuits, they simply have not yet been forced to pick a side.

The Sawyer Brothers Court dropped a notable footnote in its opinion – the Court would not extend the prohibition of bystander claims set forth in Gottshall to general maritime claims. The Court reasoned that the likelihood of witnessing a death or serious injury of a family member is far greater on the water than on a railroad. In other words, a maritime plaintiff in the 1st Circuit may be allowed to recover if he/she suffered an objective emotional injury as a result of witnessing a death or serious bodily harm to a close family member. Such claims are forbidden under FELA. The 1st Circuit went on to analyze the scope of the “zone of danger” and the provided examples of sufficient physical manifestations of emotional injuries. The plaintiffs in Sawyer Brothers suffered gastrointestinal distress, limb and chest pain, stress-induced shingles, and high fever – all of which were deemed satisfactory to maintain a claim.

While the U.S. 5th and 9th Circuits disagree often on major issues, it remains to be seen if the 5th would disagree with the aforementioned Circuits who have extended “zone of danger” rule to passengers under the general maritime law.

by R. Blake Crohan

The EDLA recently determined that the Insurance Service Office’s (ISO) “Louisiana Changes” endorsement does not expand the scope of Louisiana’s direct action statute. In Menard v. Gibson Applied Technology and Engineering, 2017 WL 6610466 (E.D. La. Dec. 27, 2017), the plaintiff was a senior field technician working offshore in the Gulf of Mexico and was allegedly injured during a personnel basket transfer from a support vessel to a floating, semi-submersible oil-exploration platform. Plaintiff sued several companies along with one of their insurers, ACE American Insurance Company (ACE). ACE filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the plaintiff could not maintain a direct action against ACE. ACE argued that because its policy was not written or delivered in Louisiana, and neither the accident nor alleged injury occurred in Louisiana, Louisiana’s direct action statute did not apply and the plaintiff could not file a lawsuit directly against ACE.

The parties did not dispute that the policy was not written or delivered in Louisiana – the policy was not issued in Louisiana and the policy was delivered to the insured in Texas. Further, the accident occurred on the Outer Continental Shelf in the Gulf of Mexico. It is well settled in the EDLA that an accident or injury occurring in the Gulf of Mexico or on the Outer Continental Shelf does not occur “within Louisiana” for purposes of Louisiana’s direct action statute. See Signal Oil & Gas Co. v. Barge W-701, 654 F.2d 1164, 1175 (5th Cir. 1981); Joyner v. Ensco Offshore Co., No. 99-3754, 2001 WL 333114, at *2-3 (E.D. La. Apr. 5, 2001).

Nevertheless, the plaintiff argued that the ISO’s “Louisiana Changes” policy endorsement made him a third-party beneficiary and granted him a right to bring a direct action against ACE. The endorsement was entitled “Louisiana Changes – Legal Action Against Us” and was numbered “CG 01 18 12 04.” The court recognized that these ISO endorsements must be attached to all commercial general liability policies covering risk in Louisiana. The endorsement provided: “A person or organization may bring a ‘suit’ against us including, but not limited to a ‘suit’ to recover on an agreed settlement or on a final judgment against an insured. . . .” Plaintiff argued that the endorsement expanded the right of action described in the Louisiana direct action statute; and alternatively, if it is ambiguous, it should be construed against the drafter – ACE. The court held that the endorsement did not make plaintiff a third-party beneficiary because the parties to the contract had no such intent. Rather, the endorsement merely embodied Louisiana’s direct action statute. Therefore, the endorsement did not expand the plaintiff’s right to bring a direct action against ACE, when he could not satisfy the direct action factors themselves. Accordingly, the Court granted ACE’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the plaintiff’s direct action claims against ACE.

The Eastern District’s decision in Menard reaffirms that all prerequisites to Louisiana’s direct action statute must be satisfied or a plaintiff’s direct action suit will be dismissed. Further, Menard makes clear that insurers including the ISO’s Louisiana Changes – Legal Action Against Us policy endorsement number CG 01 18 12 04 are not contractually expanding their risk to unwanted and unexpected litigation in Louisiana, where the elements of the direct action statute are not met.

by Michael J. O’Brien

In 2016, District Judge Sarah Vance ruled that the heirs of a self-employed commercial fisherman who died while fishing in state territorial waters could recover non-pecuniary damages.  In Re: Marquette Transp., 182 F.Supp. 3d 607 (E.D. La 2016) (citing Yamaha Motor Corp USA v. Calhoun 516 U.S. 1999 (1996)). [Editor’s Note: See blog post on In re Marquette here]. Judge Vance first reiterated that a non-seafarer is someone who is neither a seaman covered by the Jones Act nor a longshore or harbor worker covered by the LHWCA. Based on this reasoning, the In re Marquette decedent was found to be a non-seafarer. Further, his survivors could pursue state law remedies and recover non-pecuniary damages under state law. Two years later, Judge Vance recently revisited Yamaha to address a separate but similar issue:  whether the spouse of an injured non-seafarer can recover damages pursuant to state law claims for loss of society and consortium.

In Van Horn, et al. v. Chubb Ins. Co., et al., No. 1711969, (E.D. La 4/03/18). The injured Plaintiff, Muriel Van Horn, was a race official for sailing regattas on Lake Pontchartrain. On the day in question, Mrs. Van Horn boarded a boat for transport to her official’s position. While traveling on Lake Pontchartrain, the boat operator suddenly accelerated his vessel over the swells of the lake. The boat left the water’s surface, assumed a nearly vertical position in the air, and violently slammed down on the water. As a result, Mrs. Van Horn fractured her right tibial plateau. She required major surgery and ongoing medical care. Mrs. Van Horn and her husband sued the boat operator and others for damages under the General Maritime Law as well as Louisiana Law in supplement to General Maritime Law. Specifically, Mr. Van Horn asserted Louisiana state law claims for loss of consortium and society as a result of his wife’s injuries. Defendants took exception to Plaintiffs’ claims and moved to dismiss all claims for loss of consortium and society.

In support of their claims, the Van Horns argued that claims for loss of consortium and society are available to the spouse of a non-seafarer injured in territorial waters when authorized by state law per Yamaha. Note that Yamaha’s “non-seafarer” and “territorial waters” requirements were met as it was undisputed that Mrs. Van Horn was a non-seafarer injured in Louisiana’s territorial waters. Further, Louisiana law permits the spouse of an injured person to recover damages for loss of consortium and society. As such, the Van Horns alleged that they were well within their rights to maintain these non-pecuniary claims.

Alternatively, the Defendants suggested that Yamaha was limited solely to wrongful death actions.  Defendants cited the Eleventh Circuit’s decision in In Re: Amtrak “Sunset Limited” Train Crash, 121 F.3d 1421 (11th Cir. 1997), where that circuit held that Yamaha does not extend to personal injury actions because state wrongful death actions had a historical basis in admiralty. The Eleventh Circuit’s rationale was that no General Maritime cause of action for wrongful death existed prior to 1970; thus, admiralty courts looked to state law to provide a remedy for the deaths of non-seamen in territorial waters.  By contrast, the General Maritime Law has long recognized a personal injury cause of action, such that admiralty courts did not need to rely on state law for remedies in cases of personal injury.  As such, according to Defendants (and the Eleventh Circuit), Mr. Van Horn should be unable to maintain his loss of consortium and society claims.

While Judge Vance admitted that the Eleventh Circuit’s argument had “some force,” she was not persuaded that the Yamaha Court endorsed separate remedies for personal injuries and wrongful deaths of non-seafarers in territorial waters.  Indeed, given the absence of conflict between state remedies and federal law as well as the “clear trend toward consistent treatment of maritime personal injury and wrongful death actions”, Judge Vance found that Yamaha was applicable to personal injuries within territorial waters. As such, Louisiana laws governing loss of consortium damages may supplement General Maritime Law with regard to personal injuries of non-seafarers in territorial waters. Accordingly, Judge Vance held that Mr. Van Horn claims of loss of consortium and society could proceed.

by Michael J. O’Brien

It is now well settled in the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that a seaman cannot recover punitive damages on an unseaworthiness claim. McBride v. Estis Well Service, 768 F.3d 382 (5th Cir. 2014) (en banc). Specifically, the U.S. Fifth Circuit has held that punitives are non-pecuniary losses and therefore may not be recovered under the Jones Act or General Maritime Law. However, this opinion is not shared by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Indeed, in the matter of Batterton v. Dutra Group, 880 F.3d 1089 (9th Cir. 2018), the Ninth Circuit held that the opposite was true and allowed a seaman to pursue punitive damages on his unseaworthiness claims.

In a prior case, Evich v. Morris, 819 F.2d 256 (9th Cir. 1987), the Ninth Circuit held that punitive damages were available under General Maritime Law for claims of unseaworthiness and for failure to pay maintenance and cure.  Dutra relied on the Fifth Circuit’s line of cases as well as the Supreme Court’s decision in Miles v. Apex Marine Corp. that Evich had been overruled.

The sole question before the Ninth Circuit in Dutra was whether punitive damages were an available remedy for unseaworthiness. While noting that the Fifth Circuit’s leading opinions in McBride are “scholarly and carefully reasoned” the Ninth Circuit found that McBride’s dissenting opinions, which argue that punitive damages are available on unseaworthiness actions, were more persuasive.  In forming its opinion, the Ninth Circuit chose to adopt a broad interpretation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Atlantic Sounding Co. v. Townsend, 557 US 404, 129 S.Ct. 2561 (2009).

In Townsend, the Supreme Court held that punitive damages were available to Jones Act seamen for the willful failure to pay maintenance and cure. The Townsend Court held that “historically, punitive damages have been available and awarded in general maritime actions” and “nothing in Miles v. Apex Marine or the Jones Act eliminates that availability.” The Fifth Circuit in McBride interpreted Townsend to only apply to maintenance and cure. The Ninth Circuit in Dutra took a far more expansive interpretation. Relying on the Townsend Court’s notation that punitive damages had historically been available and awarded in general maritime actions, the Ninth Circuit found no persuasive reason to distinguish maintenance and cure actions from unseaworthiness actions with respect to the damages awardable. Accordingly, a seaman may bring a claim for punitive damages if he falls within the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit.

This decision has yielded a clear split between the Ninth Circuit and Fifth Circuit on the issue of whether punitive damages are available in an unseaworthy action. Splits in circuit courts of appeals are typically addressed by the United States Supreme Court. As such, it will ultimately fall to the highest court in the land to resolve this compelling issue.

By Tod J. Everage

Recently, the US Fifth Circuit addressed three maritime tenets in the same case: McCorpen defense, unseaworthiness, and regulatory governance. While these issues can be rather straightforward in the typical case, the facts in Thomas v. Hercules Offshore Services, LLC (5th Cir. March 2, 2018) provided an interesting review of each. The specific issues addressed in this case were: (1) whether OSHA regulations are preempted by Coast Guard regulations on an “uninspected” MODU; (2) whether a raised doorsill constituted a negligent or unseaworthy condition by creating a tripping hazard; and (3) whether a McCorpen defense can be made when the employee passed a pre-employment physical.

Plaintiff was a galley hand employed by Hercules on the HERCULES 264, a mobile offshore drilling unit (MODU). She tripped on the raised doorsill leading out of the bathroom, measuring two inches high and approximately three inches wide. Plaintiff sued in the Middle District of Louisiana alleging negligence under the Jones Act, unseaworthiness under general maritime law, and a claim for maintenance and cure benefits. Hercules began paying M&C from the date Plaintiff’s injury was reported. Hercules eventually filed two dispositive motions addressing its liability and asserting a McCorpen defense; the district court granted both motions.

The first issue on appeal was whether the MDLA erred in holding that the HERCULES 264 was an inspected vessel, such that OSHA regs were preempted by the Coast Guard CFR’s. Plaintiff insisted that the MODU was an uninspected vessel. In Chao v. Mallard Bay Drilling, 534 US 235 (2002), the US Supreme Court held that inspected vessels were governed by Coast Guard regulations, which preempt OSHA regulations; on uninspected vessels though, OSHA is not preempted. In 46 USC § 3301(1)-(15), Congress clearly set forth a list of 15 types of vessels that are deemed inspected vessels – MODUs are not on that list. Hercules argued that though the HERCULES 264 was not an inspected vessel under the statute, the Coast Guard had issued a Certificate of Compliance and a Report of Inspection for the HERCULES 264, making it an “inspected” vessel.

Hercules also argued that the Coast Guard regs preempt OSHA regs on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), where the HERCULES 264 was drilling. Specifically, the Coast Guard had promulgated regulations respecting the design and equipment standards for MODUs, including the construction of accommodation spaces on those units. See 46 CFR § 108.197. The regs also address design requirements of wash spaces, toilet spaces, and shower spaces. See 46 CFR § 108.205. Citing back to Mallard Bay Drilling, the 5th Circuit was persuaded by the Coast Guard’s promulgation of these regulations as an exercise of the Coast Guard’s authority sufficient to preempt OSHA regulations. Thus, the HERCULES 246 would be treated as an inspected vessel and the Coast Guard regulations would apply.

The second issue was whether the HERCULES 264 was unseaworthy for having raised doorsills, creating tripping hazards. After affirming the district court’s ruling that Plaintiff had failed to present any evidence that the raised doorsill created an unsafe condition, the Court concluded that it also did not make the HERCULES 264 unseaworthy. Notably, the design of the doorsill did not violate any applicable Coast Guard regulation. In fact, certain regulations actually called for higher doorsills than the two-inch one Plaintiff had tripped over. This fact alone was sufficient to dismiss Plaintiff’s negligence and unseaworthy claims.

The last issue addressed Hercules’s successful McCorpen defense. McCorpen is the US 5th Circuit’s longstanding shield against fraudulent claims for Maintenance and Cure. It allows a Jones Act employer to terminate its M&C obligation when the employee has willfully concealed a preexisting medical condition. The three prongs of defense are: (1) the seaman intentionally misrepresented or concealed medical facts; (2) the nondisclosed facts were material to the employer’s decision to hire the seaman; and (3) there is a link between the withheld information and the injury that is the subject of the complaint.

In her hiring process, Plaintiff filled out a medical questionnaire and underwent a pre-employment physical – which she passed with no restrictions. On her forms, she signed that she had never sustained any injury or sought medical attention for a physical problem. She also checked the boxes indicating she had never received treatment for any neck, back, or leg pain, among others. In her deposition though, she admitted to two prior car accidents which required medical treatment for neck, back, and leg pain. This satisfied the first prong of McCorpen.

Next, the 5th Circuit rejected Plaintiff’s argument that passing the pre-employment FCE negated the materiality of her concealment. The 5th Circuit has consistently held that the materiality factor is satisfied if the employer asked specific questions about the relevant pre-existing injury on its application forms. Plaintiff’s ability to perform physical tasks at the time of hiring was irrelevant. As to the third factor, the 5th Circuit found a direct link between the concealed pre-existing injuries and the injuries complained about in this case. A Jones Act employer need not prove that that the prior injuries are the sole causes of the current injuries; nor do the present injuries have to be identical. Here, Hercules showed that Plaintiff had received months of medical treatment for neck, back and leg pain after each of her previous car accidents, and reported pain in those same areas after her fall on the HERCULES 264. Therefore, the 5th Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling on this issue as well.

Despite this finding, Plaintiff was entitled to keep the more than $44,000 she received in Maintenance benefits prior to the district court’s ruling. Though it may be difficult pre-suit, Jones Act employers should immediate begin investigating their employee’s injury claims with an eye towards supporting a McCorpen defense, if available; especially, if the potential cure exposure is significant.

By Blake Crohan

In Griffin v. Hess Corporation, 2017 WL 5125657 (5th Cir. Nov. 3, 2017) (unpublished) the U.S. 5th Circuit reaffirmed the difficult burden of proving that prescription should be excused under the Louisiana jurisprudential exception of contra non valentem non currit preaescriptio. Contra non valentem “means that prescription does not run against a person who could not bring his suit.”

The Plaintiffs in Griffin filed suit seeking unpaid royalties allegedly owed to their father pursuant to an oil, gas, and mineral lease that their great-grandfather and several other members of the Griffin family granted in 1935. The Plaintiffs alleged that production occurred on the property between 1940 and 1969, during which time several members of the Griffin family received royalty payments, except their father. Between 1983 and 1984 the Plaintiffs began researching the history of the oil wells located on the property. Their research discovered documents identifying the Defendants’ corporate predecessors, an abstract of title that was commissioned in connection with potential oil company operations, and documents and pay stubs from previous royalty payments related to the Plaintiffs’ property. Around that same time, the Plaintiffs hired an attorney to represent them with respect to these claims. The Plaintiffs continued their investigation of the allegedly unpaid royalties over the next two decades, and in 2008 reached out to ExxonMobil directly regarding their unpaid royalty claims. Ultimately, ExxonMobil informed the Plaintiffs that it had no sales under the referenced lease after July 1954, found no outstanding royalty payments held in suspense, and that the property listed was not under lease to ExxonMobil. The Plaintiffs disagreed and filed suit on October 14, 2014 in federal court in the Western District of Louisiana against Hess Corporation and ExxonMobil (“Defendants”).

In the district court, the Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the Plaintiffs’ claims for unpaid royalties were prescribed and barred under Louisiana Civil Code article 3494(5), which provides that the prescriptive period for unpaid royalties is three years. The Defendants asserted that the Plaintiffs acknowledged that they first became aware of their claims for the unpaid royalties between 1983 and 1984—more than thirty years prior to filing suit.

In order to survive Defendant’s motion, the Plaintiffs had to prove that contra non valentem applied to excuse them for not filing suit earlier. The district court explained that “[s]uit need not be filed when there is a mere apprehension that something might be wrong,” but that prescription commences when “the plaintiff has actual or constructive knowledge of the” wrongful act. The Plaintiffs argued that “many circumstances [justified Plaintiffs’] delay in filing this lawsuit.” Specifically, they argued that between 1983 and 1984 they were merely seeking out who was responsible for the payment of royalties and that many members of their family were uneducated.  The district court was not persuaded. The district court held that “[b]y at least 2008, Plaintiffs had received the assistance of an attorney and had collected information, both documentary and oral, sufficient to excite attention and prompt further inquiry as to the unpaid royalties alleged owed to their father.” Thus, the Plaintiffs claims were dismissed as prescribed.

On appeal to the U.S. 5th Circuit, the Plaintiff-Appellants argued that “it was impossible to bring this lawsuit prior to . . . filing the [2014] complaint in federal court, because in light of the uncertainty of circumstances surrounding their father’s claim, they had no basis to file any claim on behalf of their father.” While the 5th Circuit noted that “their level of education may, by itself, support application of [contra non valentem], the court cannot disregard the substance of their actions which do not indicate any inability to bring this claim.” The Court explained that Appellants were adults when they were informed that they may be entitled to unpaid royalties, they investigated their ownership rights extensively, and knew that Hess Corporation had a past ownership interest in the property. Further, the Court found it compelling that Appellants received advice and meaningful information from three different lawyers on various occasions through their investigation. Nevertheless, Appellants waited until 2008 to contact ExxonMobil and then waited until 2014 to file suit. Finally, the Court noted that the appropriate focus on the commencement of prescription “is not when a plaintiff develops a strong legal case but when he has sufficiently reasonable knowledge of his legal options.” The Court affirmed the district court’s granting of summary judgment in favor of the Defendant-Appellees.

The 5th Circuit’s opinion in Griffin highlights two important aspects of Louisiana law. First, plaintiffs must be diligent in their efforts to initiate a lawsuit in order to preserve their claims. While courts are cognizant of the lay persons’ knowledge of legal claims, plaintiffs cannot wait until they have a “strong legal case” or know all of the facts necessary to prove their claim. Second, prescription is a strong defense mechanism for defendants. While the exception of contra non valentem remains a viable option to defeat prescription, courts applying Louisiana law will strictly construe the doctrine to ensure that its use is not abused.