The classification of the constituents of a chaos, nothing less is here essayed.

-Herman Melville, Moby Dick

As previously reported on Striding the Quarterdeck, the post-Macondo overhaul of the Minerals Management Service (MMS) and the scope and substance of its regulatory reach resulted in the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE, the MMS’s successor agency) asserting unprecedented civil penalty jurisdiction over offshore contractors, after decades of espousing the policy and practice of enforcing such penalties solely against lease holders and operators. Now, after years of industry uncertainty, seemingly contradictory and confused policy statements (official and informal), and despite the lack of any actual rulemaking in this area to date, the veritable “chaos” around this issue has been “essayed” and determined by the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA, the final administrative appellate body within the Department of the Interior within which BSEE is situated) in a landmark administrative opinion determining once and for all – pending further potential judicial review in the federal courts – that BSEE has unfettered jurisdiction to assess civil penalties against any contractors performing work on the Outer Continental Shelf. See Island Operating Co., 186 I.B.L.A. 199 (Oct. 5, 2015). (more…)

The United States Coast Guard (“USCG”), continuing its “One Shelf, One Standard” approach to regulating the Outer Continental Shelf (“OCS”) (as previously discussed in this blog here and, indirectly, here) recently issued a Final Rule enacting new regulations governing electrical equipment in hazardous locations on all “newly constructed  mobile offshore drilling units (MODUs), floating [OCS] facilities, and vessels other than offshore supply vessels (OSVs) that engage in OCS activities.”  80 Fed. Reg. 16980 (Mar. 31, 2015) (hereinafter “EEHL Rule”). (more…)

Continuing their post-Macondo/Deepwater Horizon symbiotic approach to regulating the offshore oil industry, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) issued a joint Safety Alert in late February regarding a loss of station incident on a dynamically positioned (DP) offshore supply vessel (OSV) engaged in downhole operations on a production platform in the Gulf of Mexico. See February 24, 2015 Safety Alert. This Safety Alert, coming just a few months on the heels of the USCG’s recent Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) regarding DP systems on vessels operating on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) (see USCG NPRM of November 28, 2014 Regarding DP Systems, 79 Fed. Reg. 70944, hereinafter “USCG DP Rules”), is the most recent reminder that USCG and BSEE both hold sway on the OCS, sometimes in ways that may not be readily apparent or intuitive. (more…)

In a much and long anticipated ruling, the Fifth Circuit in Coffin v. Blessey Marine Services, Inc., No. 13-20144 (5th Cir. Nov. 13, 2014), has held as a matter of law that vessel-based tankermen (specially trained/experienced deckhands who handle the loading/unloading of liquid petro-chemical cargos on tank barges) are seaman, thus exempting them from the overtime pay provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) (29 U.S.C. §§201-219), which exempts from the overtime provisions “any employee employed as a seaman.” 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(6). (more…)

In a much anticipated ruling, the Fifth Circuit en banc has reversed the original panel ruling in Estis v. McBride Well Service, L.L.C., 731 F.3d 505 (5th Cir. 2013), which sent shockwaves through the maritime bar and industry alike when it proclaimed that Jones Act seaman could collect punitive damages for general maritime law claims of unseaworthiness, upsetting years of precedent to the contrary (as previously reported on Striding the Quarterdeck).  The en banc reversal has essentially reined in the (as described in Judge Clement’s concurrence) “collective judicial ‘oh, hell, why not’ principle that holds that because punitive damages are available in many other types of actions they should also be available in unseaworthiness cases.” (more…)

As previously reported here, the offshore industry has been anxiously awaiting new United States Coast Guard (USCG) regulations for large offshore supply vessels (OSVs) in the wake of the 2010 Coast Guard Authorization Act (CGAA), which removed the prior statutory bar prohibiting US-flagged OSVs over 6,000 gross tons. Four years after the CGAA, the USCG has followed through on its promise this past winter that the long-awaited regulations would be forthcoming, and has issued an interim rule setting forth comprehensive regulations for this new class of US-flagged OSVs. 79 Fed. Reg. 48894. The new, and long overdue, interim rule for large OSVs comes at a critical time on the back of an ongoing OSV construction boom, with OSVs increasing in both size and technical capacity to meet the needs of deeper and deeper offshore exploration projects. (more…)

The Fifth Circuit recently reversed, per curiam, a district court decision finding that a contract worker cleaning oiled beaches near Grand Isle, Louisiana, in the wake of the 2010 Macondo oil spill qualified as a longshoreman for purposes of receiving compensation payments under the Longshore Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA). Global Mgmt. Enters., LLC v. Commerce & Indus. Ins. Co., 13-31249 (5th Cir. June 23, 2014). The Global decision is the second important decision in as many years from the Fifth Circuit (see also New Orleans Depot Servs. Inc. v. Director, Office of Worker’s Compensation Programs, 718 F.3d 384 (5th Cir. 2013)to address the often problematic nuances of the “situs” requirement for LHWCA compensation claims. (more…)

The ever-changing Fifth Circuit jurisprudence on forum non conveniens (FNC) may have taken another turn with the Fifth Circuit’s opinion in Cotemar S.A. De C.V. v. Hornbeck Offshore Servs., L.L.C., 13-20230, 2014 WL 2111190 (5th Cir. May 21, 2014), which vacated the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas’ dismissal of the appellants’ maritime tort action based on the doctrine of FNC. Although finding that the district court’s balancing of the private interest and public interest factors did not constitute an abuse of the district court’s discretion, the Fifth Circuit nevertheless remanded the case on two grounds. (more…)

The Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) ensures an employee the ability to take leave and return to work within twelve “workweeks” of a qualifying event. Employers that do not honor the protections of the FMLA risk a lawsuit from the employee or the Department of Labor seeking damages. The damages can include back pay, front pay, lost benefits, liquidated damages, reasonable costs for care of a family member, equitable relief, reinstatement and promotion (if otherwise entitled), attorneys’ fees, and other court costs. Despite its mountain of regulations, and over twenty years on the books, some questions remain unanswered. (more…)

In two recent decisions with critical implications for maritime practitioners and litigants in particular, the United States Supreme Court has re-written the script for determining the existence of personal jurisdiction over defendants/corporations sued outside of their home jurisdiction. The first opinion (Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S. Ct. 746, 760 (2014)) addresses the relatively rarely invoked concept of general or “all-purpose” jurisdiction, while the second opinion (Walden v. Fiore, 134 S. Ct. 1115 (2014), addresses specific or “case-linked” jurisdiction. Daimler marks a deliberate shift in the approach to general jurisdiction, whereas Walden provides a less dramatic – but equally important, in terms of succinct clarification – restatement of the law. Maritime practitioners and their clients should be equally conversant with both, as they may provide bases for dismissal and/or transfer of lawsuits filed against vessel-operating corporate defendants whose voyages may proceed well beyond the limits of their home fora. (more…)