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United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division
March 19, 2021, Decided; March 19, 2021, Filed; March 22, 2021, Entered
CIVIL ACTION NO. H-20-2995
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ON SUMMARY JUDGMENT, DENYING RECONSIDERATION, AND CERTIFYING FOR INTERLOCUTORY APPEAL
After the court denied cross-motions for summary judgment in this Worker Retraining and Notification Act dispute, the plaintiffs moved for reconsideration and mo [*900] ved in the alternative to certify questions for an interlocutory appeal. (Docket Entry No. 35). The defendant filed a response. (Docket Entry No. 36). This court's prior memorandum and order, (Docket Entry No. 33), is withdrawn and the following memorandum and order is substituted in its place. This memorandum opinion and order addresses new arguments raised in the plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration and alternative motion to certify questions for interlocutory appeal. (Docket Entry No. 35).
It's been a bad year for the oil business. In early March 2020, a price war between Saudi Arabia [**2] and Russia drove oil prices down, decreasing the demand for oil-field fracking services. US Well Services, Inc. felt these effects and began cutting costs and laying off employees. Less than two weeks later, the COVID-19 pandemic was declared a national emergency. Air travel steeply declined. Manufacturing plants reduced production. Many people worked from home or lost their jobs, emptying downtown business districts. Oil prices declined, reflecting the drop in demand for [*901] petroleum products to fly planes, run factories, and power cars for people commuting to and from work each day. Fracking became even more economically unfeasible. On March 18, 2020, US Well Services laid off many of its employees.
Before these layoffs, US Well Services employees Scott Easom, John Nau, and Adrian Howard were working on oil-drilling sites in Texas. When they finished their work and returned from the field on March 18, 2020, they received verbal and written notice that their employment was terminated. They sued US Well Services, alleging that it violated the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act by failing to give them 60-days' notice before terminating them as part of the mass layoff. [**3] Less than three months later, US Well Services moved for summary judgment, arguing that it was not required to give employees prior notice of the layoffs because the WARN Act provides an exception for mass layoffs caused by a natural disaster. US Well Services argues that the COVID-19 pandemic excuses it from the 60-day notice requirement.
Few cases have interpreted the WARN Act's natural-disaster exception. There is little authority on the definition of natural disaster; whether the natural disaster must be the but-for or proximate cause of the layoff; whether some kind of notice is required under this exception; and, if so, what kind of notice suffices. This legal uncertainty is compounded by the factual uncertainty on this thin record over what events, together or separately, caused the company's mass layoffs during the first quarter of 2020. The price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia and the COVID-19 pandemic both impacted the demand for oil, spot oil prices, and the demand for fracking. But the causal links between COVID-19, the decline in oil prices, and the US Well Services layoffs are unclear. Because a fuller record is needed to answer these questions reliably and accurately, [**4] the court denies both parties' motions for summary judgment and denies the plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration. The court grants the plaintiffs' motion to certify questions for interlocutory appeal. The reasons for this ruling are explained below.
Full case includes Shepard's, Headnotes, Legal Analytics from Lex Machina, and more.
527 F. Supp. 3d 898 *; 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52941 **; 2021 WL 1092344
SCOTT EASOM, et al., Plaintiff, VS. US WELL SERVICES, INC., Defendant.
Subsequent History: Reversed by, Remanded by Easom v. US Well Servs., 2022 U.S. App. LEXIS 16556 (5th Cir., June 15, 2022)
Prior History: Easom v. US Well Servs., 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28778, 2021 WL 520712 (S.D. Tex., Feb. 10, 2021)
natural disaster, oil, layoff, natural-disaster, notice, causation, pandemic, but-for, prices, regulations, drop, employees, fracking, interlocutory appeal, questions, drought, proximate causation, courts, summary judgment motion, earthquake, disaster, coal, termination, Dictionary, qualifies, certify, flood, summary judgment, per barrel, circumstances
Civil Procedure, Summary Judgment, Entitlement as Matter of Law, Appropriateness, Judgments, Entitlement as Matter of Law, Burdens of Proof, Movant Persuasion & Proof, Burdens of Proof, Genuine Disputes, Nonmovant Persuasion & Proof, Materiality of Facts, Scintilla Rule, Labor & Employment Law, Worker Adjustment & Retraining Notification Act, Remedies, Backpay, Scope & Definitions, Mass Layoffs, Business & Corporate Compliance, Covered Employers, Layoffs & Plant Closings, Defenses, Faltering Company Exception, Civil Actions, Evidence, Allocation, Administrative Law, Agency Rulemaking, Rule Application & Interpretation, Validity, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation, Torts, Elements, Causation, Causation in Fact, Scope & Definitions, Appeals, Appellate Jurisdiction, Certified Questions, Interlocutory Orders, Judicial Officers, Judges, Discretionary Powers, Standards of Review, Questions of Fact & Law, Reversible Errors