Nature Element of Seaman Status Missing for Welder on Jack-Up Rig

by Matthew H. Ammerman on February 11th, 2020

To be a seaman, (1) a worker’s duties must contribute to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission; and, (2) the worker’s connection to the vessel or identifiable group of vessels must be substantial “in both its duration and nature.”[1]

It is rare to see a summary disposition on the “nature” element of the substantial-connection prong. But that is what the Southern District of Texas did in Sanchez v. Enterprise Offshore Drilling, LLC, involving a contract welder injured offshore on a jacked-up drilling rig.[2]

Sanchez sued Enterprise and his employer, Smart Fabricators of Texas, LLC, in state court. Defendants removed to federal court arguing that Sanchez was not a seaman and the district court had subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to OCSLA because Sanchez’s injury occurred while the rig was jacked up on the Outer Continental Shelf.[3] Sanchez, on the other hand, argued he was a seaman, and, therefore, his case was not removable.[4]

Judge Rosenthal necessarily held that Enterprise’s jack-up rigs that Sanchez worked on were “vessels in navigation” despite being jacked-up at the time Sanchez worked on them.[5] The judge further held that—though Sanchez’s employer worked for different clients—Sanchez had the requisite durational connection to the two Enterprise jack-ups because he spent over 30% of his work days on those jack-ups.[6] But, Sanchez lacked a substantial connection to Enterprise’s vessels in terms of nature.[7]

The court credited Enterprise’s evidence that Sanchez only worked on those two rigs when they were jacked up, and, consequently, he was not exposed to sea-perils sufficient to satisfy the nature element.[8] The Court distinguished the Fifth Circuit’s Naquin case because the lift boat crane repair supervisor in Naquin was primarily shore-based but also performed parts of his job on moving vessels.[9] The evidence submitted did not show that Sanchez had a substantial connection to Enterprise’s rigs that regularly exposed him to the perils of the sea.[10] Therefore, Sanchez was not a seaman, and his suit was properly removed. On July 17, 2019, Sanchez filed a notice of appeal to the Fifth Circuit of Judge Rosenthal’s final judgment holding that Sanchez was not a seaman as a matter of law and dismissing his suit.[11] The parties briefs have been filed in the appeal, and a decision may be issued in early 2020. [end].
   [1] Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347, 376, 115 S. Ct. 2172, 2194 (1995)(emphasis added).
   [2] 376 F. Supp. 3d 726 (S.D. Tex. March 25, 2019).
   [3] Id. at 728.
   [4] Id., citing 46 U.S.C. § 30104; 28 U.S.C. § 1445(a).
   [5] Id. at 731, citing Barker v. Hercules Offshore, Inc., 713 F.3d 208, 215 (5th Cir. 2013)(jack-up rigs are considered vessels under maritime law)(additional citations omitted).
   [6] Id. at 732 (“During those 67 days, Sanchez worked two days in a shop on land; 48 days on the Enterprise WFD 350, a jacked-up drilling rig next to a pier; and 13 days on the Enterprise 263, a jacked-up drilling rig offshore. (Id.). Because Sanchez spent more than 30% of his time working on the Enterprise WFD 350 and the Enterprise 263, he satisfies the minimum-duration requirement.”)(citations omitted).
   [7] Id. at 732-733.
   [8] Id., citing Harbor Tug & Barge Co. v. Papai, 520 U.S. 548, 555, 117 S. Ct. 1535, 137 L. Ed. 2d 800 (1997).
   [9] Id. at 732, citing Naquin v. Elevating Boats, L.L.C., 744 F.3d 927, 934-935 (5th Cir. 2014); see also 2018 Recent Developments at 382-384.
   [10] Id at 733, citing Becker v. Tidewater, Inc., 335 F.3d 376, 391 (the plaintiff, an intern, was not a seaman because his work "[did] not constitute the kind of regular or continuous commitment of his labor to the service to that vessel that regularly exposed him to the perils of the sea"); In re Buchanan Marine, L.P., 874 F.3d 356, 367-68 (2d Cir. 2017).
   [11] 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 101436 (June 18, 2019), notice of appeal filed, Cause No. 4:19-cv-00110, Doc. 30 (S.D. Tex. July 17, 2019).

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