The Ninth Circuit in Warren Iopa v. Saltchuk-Young Brothers, et al, (9th Cir. No. 17-70415, March 4, 2019) affirmed the lower courts’ denial of the claimant’s petition for attorney fees under LHWCA as being made untimely. In this case, Mr. Iopa was successful in obtaining benefits before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) for temporary disability. In the Order granting the disability payments, the ALJ recognized the claimant’s counsel right to have the employer pay his fees and costs and provided him with 21 days within which to file a fee petition. It was not until approximately 280 days later that Iopa’s counsel filed his fee petition; however, the petition improperly addressed work performed before the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) and not before the Office of Administrative Law Judges (OALJ). At the request of the OALJ, claimant’s counsel filed a corrected petition approximately four months later. The ALJ then issued an Order striking the first petition due to his lack of authority to award fees for work performed before the OWCP and striking the second petition based upon the finding of untimeliness.

On appeal, claimant’s counsel argued that fee petitions were subject to a relatively lenient standard adopted by the BRB in 1986 in Paynter v. Director OWCP, 9 Black Lung Rep. 1-190 (BRB 1986) where it was stated “the loss of an attorney’s fee is a harsh result and should not be imposed on counsel as a penalty except in the most extreme circumstances”. In 2015, however,  the Rules of Practice and Procedure for Administrative Hearings Before the OALJ were revised providing the following provision: “When an act may or must be done within a specific time, the judge may, for good cause, extend time . . . [o]n motion made after the time has expired if the party failed to act because of excusable neglect.”  29 CFR § 18.32(b)(2).

In evaluating whether the more lenient standard would be applicable, the panel of the Ninth Circuit indicated that, while the Paynter holding may have previously served as a primary guide in determining whether to strike a fee petition, the 2015 revision of the Rules of Practice and Procedure for Hearings Before the OALJ requiring a showing of “excusable neglect” for untimely claims could not be ignored.

In applying the newer standard, the panel indicated that, in determining whether circumstances constituted “excusable neglect”, the Supreme Court had set forth the following four-factor test in Pioneer Investment Service Co. v. Brunswick Associates, Ltd Partnership, 113 S.Ct. 1489 (1993): 1) the danger of prejudice to the debtor, 2) the length of the delay and its potential impact on judicial proceedings, 3) the reason for delay, including whether it was within the reasonable control of the movant, and 4) whether the movant acted in good faith. 113 S.Ct. at 1497.

In applying the four-factor Pioneer analysis, the court found that the ALJ appropriately found that the first factor – prejudice – weighed against a finding of excusable neglect. The ALJ determined that the respondents demonstrated that they would be prejudiced by the delayed finding, because their “memory of the details of the case” and ability “to recall each back and forth between the parties for the purpose of contesting the validity of the amount of time claimed for a given item” was affected by the substantial delay. The ALJ also found that the second factor – length of delay – weighed strongly against the finding of excusable neglect because the delay, as noted above, was substantial. The panel of the Ninth Circuit additionally approved of the ALJ’s finding that the third factor – the reasons for the delay – weighed against finding of excusable neglect, as none of the reasons stated by claimant’s counsel for the delay were convincing or pervasive or were beyond his control as supported by case law. Although claimant’s counsel noted several challenges in managing his case load, particularly following the departure of the associate who managed the case, it was noted the Supreme Court had previously held that “[W]e give little weight to the fact that counsel was experiencing upheaval in his law practice.”  Pioneer, 113 S.Ct. at 1499.  In completing its analysis and affirming the result below, the Ninth Circuit determined that the question of good faith had no weight in the case.

In Air & Liquid Systems Corp., et al. v Devries, et al., No. 17-1104 (March 19, 2019) the U.S. Supreme Court held that a product manufacturer, in a maritime tort context, has a duty to warn when its product requires incorporation of a part that the manufacturer knows or has reason to know that the integrated part is likely to be dangerous for its intended uses and the manufacturer has no reason to believe that the product users will realize that danger. In this instance, the plaintiffs were two Navy veterans who were exposed to asbestos on ships and developed cancer. They sued companies that produced equipment for three Navy ships. The equipment required asbestos insulation or asbestos parts to function as intended, but the manufacturers did not incorporate the asbestos into their products. Instead, the manufacturers delivered their equipment to the Navy without asbestos, leaving the Navy to add the asbestos to the equipment later.

In the district court, the defendants raised the “bare metal defense” which provides that, if a manufacturer did not itself make, sell, or distribute the part or incorporate the part into the product, the manufacturer is not liable for harm caused by the integrated product – even if the product required incorporation of the part and the manufacturer knew that the integrated product was likely to be dangerous for its intended uses.

The plaintiffs appealed to the Third Circuit, at which time that court reversed and remanded, imposing a foreseeability rule that provides that a manufacturer may be liable when it was foreseeable that its product would be used with another product or part, even if the manufacturer’s product did not require use or incorporation of that other product or part.

The manufacturers appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which found a third and more centralized approach to be appropriate in this maritime context. This approach, as noted above, imposes on the manufacturer a duty to warn when its product requires incorporation of a part and the manufacturer knows or has reason to know that the integrated product is likely to be dangerous for its intended uses. The court indicated that requiring the product manufacturer to warn when its product requires incorporation of a part that makes the integrated product dangerous for its intended uses is especially appropriate in the context of maritime law, which has always recognized a ‘special solicitude for the welfare’ of sailors.

The maritime rule adopted by the Supreme Court will encompass all the following circumstances, so long as the manufacturer knows or has reason to know that the integrated product is likely to be dangerous for its intended uses and the manufacturer has no reason to believe the product users will realize that danger: (a) a manufacturer directs that the part be incorporated; (b) a manufacturer itself makes the product with a part that the manufacturer knows will require replacement with a similar part; or (c) a product would be useless without the part.

LIENING IN: Best Practices for Suppliers Navigating CIMLA – Part 2

This post is the second installment in a series examining the elements suppliers of maritime goods or services must prove to establish and enforce the supplier’s potential maritime lien under the Commercial Instruments and Maritime Liens Act (“CIMLA”), 46 U.S. Code § 31342 et. seq. Previously, we discussed examples of goods or services that constitute “necessaries.” This installment examines the requirement that the necessaries be provided “to a vessel.” Suppliers should pay particular attention to this element because it often turns on something that is wholly or partially within the supplier’s control: sales and invoicing practices.

Explicit designation of each vessel supplied is particularly important in bulk contracts or when services are provided to a fleet of vessels. Merely showing that the necessaries ended up on a particular vessel is insufficient to establish that the necessaries were provided to the vessel by the supplier, rather than by the vessel owner. A supplier who fails to document the specific vessel for which services or supplies are intended risks a finding that the services or goods were provided to the vessel owner or charterer personally rather than to a particular vessel. In that situation, no lien attaches. See Silver Star Enterprises, Inc. v. Saramacca MV, 82 F.3d 666, 670 (5th Cir. 1996) (A supplier furnishing containers to a fleet of vessels was not entitled to a maritime lien because the containers “were leased in bulk and not earmarked for use on board the M/V SARAMACCA”); Itel Containers Int’l Corp. v. Atlanttrafik Express Serv. Ltd., 982 F.2d 765, 769 (2d Cir. 1992) (The container supplier “did not ‘furnish’ the containers ‘to any vessel’” as required by CIMLA).

Explicitly earmark necessaries for a named vessel

The most effective way to ensure that necessaries are provided to a vessel within the meaning of CIMLA is to explicitly earmark the necessaries for a named vessel. This can be accomplished (1) in instruments generated prior to the actual contract, such as quotes, RFPs, or bid proposals; or (2) in sales order confirmations. Courts also view invoices and receipts naming the vessel to which goods or services were provided as evidence that the supplier delivered the necessaries to the named vessel. If necessaries are furnished to multiple vessels, the supplier may issue a separate invoice for each vessel. Alternatively, an invoice may be itemized by vessel to ensure that the specific vessel to which particular necessaries were provided is clearly identifiable.

In the next installment, we will discuss on whose order necessaries must be provided to a vessel to give rise to a maritime lien under CIMLA. Future installments will analyze the remaining substantive requirements for a necessaries lien under CIMLA as well as defenses to and priority of the maritime lien for necessaries.

Read Part 1: What Qualifies as Necessaries Under the Commercial Instruments and Maritime Liens Act?

NuStar Energy Services v. M/V COSCO AUCKLANDIn NuStar Energy Services, Inc. v. M/V COSCO AUCKLAND, No. 17-20246 (5th Cir. Jan. 14, 2019), the U.S. Fifth Circuit concluded NuStar, the physical supplier of bunkers/marine fuel to the M/V COSCO AUCKLAND, lacked standing to appeal the district court’s ruling that O.W. Bunker Far East (S) Pte Ltd., the contract supplier of bunkers, had validly assigned its maritime lien against that vessel to ING Bank N.V. In line with its earlier decision of Valero Mktg. & Supply Co. v. M/V ALMI SUN, 893 F.3d 290, 295 (5th Cir. 2018) and other decisions of the Second, Ninth and Eleventh Circuits, the Fifth Circuit concluded that NuStar did not hold a maritime lien against the vessel even though the vessel interests were aware that NuStar would physically supply the bunkers, and the vessel’s employees oversaw and accepted the delivery of the fuel.

Because NuStar did not have a valid maritime lien, the district court’s conclusion that OW Far East had assigned its maritime liens to ING Bank would not affect NuStar in any concrete way and thereby rendered NuStar’s interest in challenging the validity of the assignment moot. Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit concluded it lacked jurisdiction to review the district court’s ruling that OW Far East validly assigned its maritime lien to ING Bank.

The Fifth Circuit noted in closing: “Of course, our inability to review the district court’s judgment as to ING means that this case is not resulting in circuit precedent on the question whether the liens are assignable to ING. So to the extent this issue arises in other OW Bunker cases in this circuit, it remains an open question.”  While there still is no precedent emanating from the U.S. Fifth Circuit concerning the validity of the assignments of maritime liens to ING Bank, the decisions of other courts have confirmed the validity of such assignments.  See Barcliff, LLC v. M/V DEEP BLUE, 876 F.3d 1063, 1074-75 (11th Cir. 2017); ING Bank N.V. v. M/V TEMARA, ___ F. Supp. 3d ___ (S.D.N.Y. 2018), on remand; NuStar Energy Servs., Inc. v. M/V COSCO AUCKLAND, 2016 WL 9307626 at *6 (S.D. Tex. 2016), appeal dismissed on this point.

NOTE: King & Jurgens, LLC and its predecessor, King, Krebs & Jurgens, PLLC, have represented ING Bank N.V. in scores of maritime arrests and attachments of vessels in the ports of the United States to collect for non-payment of bunkers contractually supplied by the OW Bunker Group. King & Jurgens, LLC, however, was not involved in the NuStar litigation discussed in this blog post.

In Sira Cruz v. National Steel and Shipbuilding Company; Peterson Industrial Scaffolding, Inc., Civil Action No. 17-55441 (December 19, 2018) (9th Cir.), a case that may only be noteworthy for practitioners in the Ninth Circuit, the Court applied a borrowed employee defense to a longshoreman’s claim against a third party. The defendant, in this personal injury case, was the borrowing employer of the plaintiff who was paid compensation under the LHWCA by her nominal employer. She then turned around to sue the defendant who then raised the borrowed employee defense. In a case of first impression for the Ninth Circuit, the summary judgment granted the defendant in the district court was affirmed specifically stating that the defense was applicable where the employee was covered by the LHWCA, allowing the Ninth Circuit to make the rare statement that “we join the Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Eleventh Circuits …”  Id. at p. 3-4.

LIENING IN: Best Practices for Suppliers Navigating CIMLA – Part 1

Under the Commercial Instruments and Maritime Liens Act (“CIMLA”), 46 U.S. Code § 31342 et. seq., “a person providing necessaries to a vessel on the order of the owner or a person authorized by the owner – (1) has a maritime lien on the vessel; (2) may bring a civil action in rem to enforce the lien; and (3) is not required to allege or prove in the action that credit was given to the vessel.” This post is the first installment in a series examining the elements suppliers of maritime goods or services must prove to establish and enforce the supplier’s potential maritime lien.

The term “necessary” applies not only to goods and services that are required for the vessel to operate, but also “includes most goods or services that are useful to the vessel, keep her out of danger, and enable her to perform her particular function…. What is a ‘necessary’ is to be determined relative to the requirements of the ship.” Equilease Corp. v. M/V SAMPSON, 793 F.2d 598, 603 (5th Cir.) (en banc), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 984 (1986). Goods or services that are essential for the vessel to perform its mission should be considered necessaries. Items that courts have found to constitute necessaries under CIMLA include: fixed gas detection systems required for subsea pipe repair activities conducted from a vessel; bunkers/fuel; insurance; payments which stevedoring companies are required to make to longshore employees under collective bargaining agreements; services to secure, prepare, and file documents in connection with marine mortgages; and, transporting drilling equipment to a drilling vessel via supply boat.

Thus, if a supplier can establish that its goods or services were related to the purpose for which the vessel was operating, then they should qualify as necessaries. One cautionary note: once the vessel ceases operating for the purpose for which the supplies are provided, the supplies may no longer constitute necessaries. Similarly, superfluous or redundant pieces of equipment are not necessaries, even if the type of equipment is necessary for the vessel’s function. See Equilease, 793 F.2d at 604 (“Anchors and cables are generally considered to be necessaries, but if the vessel is fully supplied with them, the furnishing of another anchor or cable is not ‘necessary’.”).

In the upcoming installments, we will analyze the remaining substantive requirements for a necessaries lien under CIMLA as well as defenses to and priority of the maritime lien for necessaries.

Read Part 2: Explicit Designation of Vessels Key for Suppliers Navigating CIMLA

Bunker Holdings, Inc. v. Yang Ming Liberia Corp.Many physical suppliers of bunkers/marine fuel, who were unpaid by their contractual counterparties, have relied on a decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Marine Fuel Supply & Towing, Inc. v. M/V KEY LUCKY, 869 F.2d 473 (9th Cir. 1988), as jurisprudential support for the concept that the physical supplier has a maritime lien against the vessel supplied with the fuel, even though the physical supplier did not take the order for the fuel from the vessel’s owner, charterer or agent. A close reading of the KEN LUCKY decision indicated that the Ninth Circuit reached its conclusion based upon the vessel interests’ admission in the pleadings that Bulkferts, the subcharterer of the vessel, had ordered the fuel from Marine Fuel. Id. at 476-77. (The actual chain of contracts was Bulkferts ordered the fuel from Brook Oil, who then ordered the fuel from Marine Fuel.) Because the vessel interests had admitted that their subcharterer had ordered the fuel directly from the physical supplier, the physical supplier was entitled to a maritime lien. Since that time, KEN LUCKY has been routinely cited by physical suppliers as standing for the overly broad proposition that they have a maritime lien against the vessel, regardless of whether the vessel owner, charterer or agent order the necessaries from the physical supplier.

Recently, the Ninth Circuit revisited this issue in Bunker Holdings, Inc. v. Yang Ming Liberia Corp., No. 16-35539 (9th Cir. Oct. 11, 2018). The Ninth Circuit followed the prior decisions of the Eleventh, Second and Fifth Circuits in concluding that a physical supplier of fuel that received the fuel order from a bunker broker or bunker intermediary, and not the vessel owner or charterer, does not have a maritime lien against the vessel under the Commercial Instruments and Maritime Lien Act. Id. at 5.

Perhaps more significantly, the Ninth Circuit has expressly limited the KEN LUCKY decision to its unique procedural posture:

The defendant admitted that Marine Fuel sold the bunkers to Bulkferts, pursuant to an order originating from Bulkferts. Based on that admission, we treated the case as though Bulkferts had ordered the bunkers directly from Marine Fuel and hence assumed that Marine Fuel had supplied the bunkers “on the order of” Bulkferts. Since Bulkferts was one of the entities with presumed authority to bind the vessel, each of the statutory requirements for a maritime lien was satisfied. In ruling for Marine Fuel, we explicitly refused to consider whether Brook Oil was authorized to bind the ship as Bulkfert’s agent.

Id. at 6 (original italics, citations omitted).

Because that critical factual admission present in KEN LUCKY was not made by the vessel interests in Bunker Holdings, the physical supplier could derive no support from that decision. In other words, the Ninth Circuit has finally relegated the KEN LUCKY decision to its own procedural peculiarity. In the future, vessel interests can rebut the suggestion that KEN LUCKY provides a bunker sub-contractor with a maritime lien by citing Bunker Holdings and paraphrasing Judge Higginbotham’s observation in the ALMI SUN decision: “In determining the law of the [Ninth] Circuit, we prefer its own statement of the law.” ALMI SUN, 893 F.3d at 296.

International Maritime OrganizationShipping regulators have concluded on a plan for reducing carbon dioxide emissions for ships. International Maritime Organization (IMO) regulators have agreed that the shipping industry should cut carbon emissions by a minimum of 50% by 2050 as part of the industry’s contribution to the Paris Agreement. There will also be a 40% improvement in ship efficiency by 2030 and a 50% to 70% improvement by 2050. In adopting this plan, the shipping industry will be able to phase out greenhouse gases and set a cap on emissions.

Current estimates show that shipping contributes approximately 3% of global carbon emissions. While the international shipping community has agreed to begin the transition to a low-emissions future, it still needs to address how and when the regulations will actually start being implemented. The IMO will now have to start exploring options such as a carbon tax on fuel to promote more fuel-efficient ships and the use of alternative fuels. The industry will require technological changes to help produce zero carbon fuels and propulsion systems. Vessels will be moving from fossil fuels to a combination of electricity, batteries, renewable fuels derived from hydrogen, and potentially bioenergy.

“If you were building a ship or planning to build a ship in the 2020s it will likely need to be able to switch to non-fossil fuels later in its life, a factor insurers and shipping financiers will need to consider in their business plans through the next decade,” the UCL Energy Institute said.

Stay tuned for further updates.

LHWCA Requirement of Notification Strictly EnforcedOn September 11, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in the matter of McGill C. Parfait v. Director, OWCP, Performance Energy Services LLC and Signal Mutual Indemnity Association Ltd., No. 16-60662, granted the respondents’ motion to dismiss Mr. McGill’s Petition for Review based upon the petitioner’s non-compliance with 33 USC § 933(g). In doing so, the Court noted that neither knowledge of a mediation taking place nor publication of a judgment satisfied the requirement to provide notice of a settlement and a judgment against joint tortfeasors that arose out of his work-related injury.

The petitioner, McGill C. Parfait, was an employee of Performance Energy Services LLC (“employer”) who sustained injuries to his chest and back in an accident that occurred on June 30, 2013, while working for his employer on a site covered by the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, 33 USC § 901 et. seq. (“LHWCA”). After a formal hearing on his claim under the LHWCA, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) awarded him $1,493.60 in temporary total and temporary partial disability benefits for his chest injury. The ALJ denied his claim for benefits related to his back injury. Mr. Parfait appealed the ALJ’s award to the Benefits Review Board (“BRB”), which affirmed. He then lodged his Petition for Review with the Fifth Circuit challenging the BRB’s ruling denying total permanent disability benefits for his back injury.

Mr. Parfait also filed a third-party action against Apache Corporation (“Apache”) and Wood Group PSN, Inc. (“Wood”) for the injuries for which he had sought compensation benefits under the LHWCA. While Mr. Parfait’s appeal to the BRB was under submission, the employer learned from counsel for Apache that petitioner had settled his claim against them. The employer also learned, after inquiring of Wood’s counsel, that after a jury trial a judgment had been entered in favor of Mr. Parfait against Wood. After the Petition for Review was lodged in the Fifth Circuit, the employer and its carrier moved to dismiss it, alleging that Mr. Parfait failed to obtain their approval of the third-party settlement or to notify them of it and the third-party judgment as required by § 33(g) of the LHWCA. In the absence of this notification all rights to benefits due an employee under the LHWCA are terminated and forever lost.

In an effort to address the motion to dismiss, the Fifth Circuit submitted questions to counsel for both parties. Based upon the response to these questions, the Fifth Circuit learned that:

  1. Parfait compromised his suit against Apache in the Southern District of Texas with petitioner receiving a net of $325,000.
  2. Following a jury trial, in April of 2017, Mr. Parfait received a favorable verdict against Wood and a judgment was entered under which Mr. Parfait enjoyed a net recovery of $41,542.17.
  3. Counsel for employer/carrier was specifically invited to attend a mediation session that was held on March 10, 2016, and was contacted during the mediation session by claimant’s counsel. (The content of that communication, however, was never divulged.)
  4. Parfait’s counsel asserted that the Judgment in the jury trial against Wood was published by the district court on June 2, 2017, and asserted that the employer/carrier would have been plainly aware of its existence.

Where an employee has sued third-party tortfeasors as a result of his employment-bred injury, he is required under § 33(g), at the risk of losing his benefits for failing to do so, to obtain the written approval of his employer for any settlement he enters into if it is in an amount less than what would be the total liability of the employer under the LHWCA. Additionally, where the employee either settles his case for any amount or obtains a judgment, the employee must provide notice to the employer of this fact. The seminal case applying § 933(g) of the LHWCA is Estate of Cowart v. Nicklos Drilling Co., 505 U.S. 469 (1992) in which the Supreme Court applied a strict interpretation of the language contained in § 933(g).  The court stated,

An employee is required to provide notification to his employer, but is not required to obtain written approval, in two instances: 1) where the employee obtains a judgment, rather than a settlement, against a third-party; and 2) where the employee settles for an amount greater than or equal to the employer’s total liability. Under our construction, the written approval requirement of 33(g)(1) is inapplicable in those instances, but the notification requirement of 33(g)(2) remains in force.  Id. at 475

In the instant case, the Fifth Circuit noted that whether the net result of the settlement with Apache satisfied the employer’s total liability or not, Mr. Parfait was still required to provide 933(g)(2) notice, which he did not give. Furthermore, Mr. Parfair failed to give his employer notice of the actual judgment against Wood. The fact that the employer/carrier were on notice of the mediation, were invited to attend it and that some alleged unknown discussion occurred between claimant’s counsel and employer’s counsel at the time of the mediation, was of no moment, as the actual results of the settlement were not made known by the claimant to his employer. The Fifth Circuit cited a number of unpublished decisions of the BRB, which had held to a strict interpretation to § 933(g)(2) describing the affirmative duty of the employee to notify the employer. The employer’s mere knowledge of settlements or the absence of prejudice to the employer was found not to suffice to prevent the absolute bar to compensation from being invoked in these instances.

In re Crescent Energy ServicesThis past January, the Fifth Circuit in In re: Larry Doiron, Inc., 879 F. 3d 568 (5th Cir. 2018), overruled the six-factor test it had distilled in Davis & Sons v. Gulf Oil Corp. to determine whether a contract is maritime or non-martime, and adopted a simplified two-part analysis, based on the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Norfolk Southern Railway Co. v. Kirby, 543 U.S. 14, 125 S. Ct. 385 (2004). Noting that the much-maligned Davis & Sons inquiry had led to a line of Fifth Circuit cases that were inconsistent, confusing, and difficult to apply, the Court replaced the Davis & Sons analysis with a new two-pronged test which simply asks the following:

First, is the contract one to provide services to facilitate the drilling or production of oil and gas on navigable waters?

Second, if the answer to the above question is “yes,” does the contract provide or do the parties expect that a vessel will play a substantial role in the completion of the contract? If so, the contract is maritime in nature.

In addition to providing greater clarity to the oil and gas industry on the question of whether any particular contract is maritime, it has also been anticipated that the new Doiron test would increase the number of contracts that would qualify as maritime. This analysis appears to be correct thus far, at least in the context of certain contracts for plug and abandonment (P&A) work.

In its first decision since Doiron, the Fifth Circuit, in In re: Crescent Energy Servs., LLC, 896 F.3d 350 (5th Cir. 2018), applied the new test to find that a contract to P&A three inland wells was maritime. In In re: Crescent, a contractor was hired to perform P&A work on the wells which were located on several small fixed platforms in coastal waters off Lafourche Parish. The work order bid submitted by the P&A contractor listed three vessels among the equipment to be used for the job. Importantly, one of these vessels was a spud barge specifically designed to P&A wells. Because of the small size of the fixed platforms, the barge served as a work platform outfitted with the equipment necessary to perform the P&A work, including a crane permanently attached to the barge. In re: Crescent Energy Servs., LLC, 2016 WL 6581285, at *3 (E.D. La. Nov. 7, 2016). Most of the P&A equipment was operated from the barge, including the wireline unit. The crew also lived and slept on the vessel during the project. Id. Applying the Davis & Sons test in effect at the time, the district court for the Eastern District of Louisiana held that the P&A was maritime. Id. at *5.  

The contractor’s insurers appealed the ruling to the Fifth Circuit. In asserting that the first part of the test – whether the P&A contract was to provide services to facilitate the drilling or production of oil and gas on navigable waters – was not satisfied, the insurers advanced two arguments. First, the insurers claimed that the contract did not facilitate the drilling or production of oil and gas because decommissioning oil wells was more analogous to the non-maritime activity of construction of offshore platforms. In re: Crescent Energy Servs., LLC, 896 F. 3d at 356. The Fifth Circuit rejected this argument, reasoning that the life-cycle of oil and gas drilling includes site restoration when production ends and the well is abandoned. Id. Thus, like the processes of exploration and production, the P&A stage is also part of the overall drilling cycle, and therefore, “involved the drilling and production of oil and gas.” Id. Second, the insurers argued that the P&A work did not occur on “navigable waters” because the underlying injury occurred on the platform, rather than on one of the vessels supplied by the contractor. The Fifth Circuit rejected this position because, while the location of the worker’s injury may be relevant to determining situs for purposes of maritime tort law, the issue was completely “immaterial in determining whether the worker’s employer entered into a maritime contract” under the new Doiron test. Id at 356-357. (quoting Doiron, 879 F.3d at 573–74). Given that all parties conceded that the wells were located within the territorial inland waters of Louisiana and that that the vessels involved in this contract were able to navigate to them, the Court held that the P&A contract was to facilitate the drilling or production of oil and gas on navigable waters. Id. at 357.

Turning to the second question – whether the contract provides or do the parties expect that a vessel will play a substantial role in the completion of the contract – the Court concluded that the parties expected that the vessels, primarily the spud barge, would play a substantial role in the P&A work. Specifically, the Court noted that the work order identified the vessels as equipment that would be used to perform in the P&A job. Id. at 360. In addition, the spud barge, the key vessel used in the operations, contained the only crane used in the work which moved materials to and from the barge and the platforms. Id. Moreover, the testimony at trial established that much of the equipment used in the operations was kept on the barge, which served as a work platform and crew quarters because of the small size of the platforms. Id. The Court took particular note of the fact that the equipment remaining on the vessel included the wireline unit. Because the wireline unit’s “purpose [was] central to plugging and abandoning the well,” the Court reasoned that the unit “was central to the entire P&A contract.” In light of the foregoing, the Court concluded that the spud barge and the other vessels “were expected to perform an important role, indeed, a substantial one” in the P&A work, and therefore, the contract was maritime. Id. at 361.

In sum, while In re: Crescent cannot be said to stand for the proposition that all contracts between oil companies and contractors for P&A work of inland and offshore wells will qualify as maritime, the decision certainly provides helpful guidance on the issue. Based on the Court’s rationale, P&A work that takes place at wells located at small platforms, which necessarily requires a vessel to store equipment, serve as a workplace, and house the work crew, will qualify as maritime. The case that the contract is maritime may be particularly strong where critical P&A equipment, such as a wireline unit, is operated from the vessel because of a lack of space for the equipment on the platform. Another critical factor in the Crescent holding was that the work order bid identified vessels among the equipment that was to be used in the P&A work. Therefore, parties contracting for P&A work and seeking to have the contract classified as maritime would be prudent to include in the relevant work order a description of the vessel(s) to be used in the project to clearly reflect their intent and understanding that a vessel is to play a substantial role in the P&A work. Conversely, in P&A jobs where a vessel is primarily used to transport personnel to the worksite and most of the equipment is moved to the offshore platform and operated from the platform, then the vessel will likely not have the requisite degree of significance for the contract to qualify as maritime. More decisions applying the new Doiron standard will provide greater clarity on these issues in the future.