WASHINGTON, D.C. - (Mealey's) The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 11 held that
the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) "extends coverage to an employee
who can establish a substantial nexus between his injury and his employer's
extractive operations" on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), affirming a Ninth
Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals decision in a fatal workplace accident action (Pacific
Operators Offshore, LLP, et al. v. Luisa L. Valladolid, et al., No. 10-507,
U.S. Sup.) (lexis.com subscribers may access Supreme Court briefs for this case).
Juan Valladolid worked for defendant Pacific Operators
Offshore LLP as a roustabout, stationed primarily on one of Pacific's two
offshore drilling platforms. He was killed on the grounds of Pacific's
onshore oil-processing facility when he was crushed by a forklift.
His widow, Luisa Valladolid, sought workers' compensation
benefits under OCSLA and the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act
(LHWCA). After informal proceedings before the local district director of
the Department of Labor's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, the matter
was referred to an administrative law judge (ALJ).
The ALJ denied Luisa Valladolid's OCSLA claim on the
grounds that Juan Valladolid's injury had occurred outside the geographic situs
of the outer continental shelf. The ALJ denied the LHWCA claim because
Juan Valladolid was not engaged in maritime employment and he was not injured
on a maritime situs.
The Benefits Review Board upheld the ALJ's ruling on
OCSLA benefits and affirmed the denial of the LHWCA benefits on the maritime
situs ground. It did not reach the maritime employment issue.
Luisa Vallodolid appealed to the Ninth Circuit, which on
May 13, 2010, ruled that "the OCSLA workers' compensation provision . . .
applies to any injury resulting from operations on the outer continental shelf,
regardless of the location of the injury." However, the appellate panel
affirmed the denial of workers' compensation benefits under the LHWCA.
Pacific Operators and Insurance Company of the State of
Pennsylvania petitioned the high court on Oct. 13, 2010. The petition was
granted Feb. 22.
The Supreme Court affirmed, agreeing with the Ninth
Circuit "substantial-nexus" test. It concluded that it was proper for the
Ninth Circuit to remand the case to the Benefits Review Board to apply the
"We understand the Ninth Circuit's test to require the
injured employee to establish a significant causal link between the injury that
he suffered and his employer's on-OCS operations conducted for the purpose of
extracting natural resources from the OCS," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for
the court. "Although the Ninth Circuit's test may not be the easiest to
administer, it best reflects the text of [43 U.S. Code] §1333(b), which establishes neither a situs-of-injury
nor a 'but for' test. We are confident that ALJs and courts will be able
to determine whether an injured employee has established a significant causal
link between the injury he suffered and his employer's on-OCS extractive
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M.
Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena
Kagan joined in the opinion.
Justice Antonin Scalia filed an opinion concurring in the
judgment but noted that he would hold that "an employee may recover under
§1333(b) if his injury was proximately caused by operations on the Outer
Continental Shelf (OCS)." Justice Samuel Anthony Alito Jr. joined in
Justice Scalia's opinion.
David C. Frederick of Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans
& Figel in Washington represents Luisa Valladolid. Peter Abrahams of
Horvitz & Levy in Encino, Calif., represents Pacific Operators and the
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