Thursday, January 31, 2013

Pacific Operators Offshore, LLP v. Valladolid case brief

Pac. Operators Offshore, LLP v. Valladolid 132 S. Ct. 680

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Respondent widow sought benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA), 33 U.S.C.S. § 901 et seq., after her husband was killed in an accident while working onshore. An administrative law judge (ALJ) dismissed her claim, and the U.S. Department of Labor's Benefits Review Board affirmed. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari.

FACTS: The widow's husband worked for a company that operated two drilling platforms on the outer Continental Shelf (OCS), and he performed most of his duties on those platforms. However, he was killed in a forklift accident while working at the company's facility onshore. After an ALJ and the U.S. Department of Labor's Benefits Review Board rejected the widow's request for compensation, the Ninth Circuit held that the widow could receive compensation under the LHWCA and 43 U.S.C.S. § 1333(b) if she could establish that there was a "substantial nexus" between her husband's death and the company's extractive operations on the OCS. The Supreme Court found that the Ninth Circuit's "substantial nexus" test was faithful to the text of § 1333(b), and it adopted that test over the "but for" test which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit adopted in Curtis v. Schlumberger Offshore Service, Inc., and the "situs-of-injury" test which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit adopted in Mills v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs.

A remand to the Board to apply the "substantial nexus" test, in the first instance, was an appropriate disposition.

The "substantial-nexus" test which the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit adopted in Valladolid v. Pac. Operations Offshore, LLP is faithful to the text of 43 U.S.C.S. § 1333(b). The test requires an injured employee to establish a significant causal link between the injury that he suffered and his employer's on-outer Continental Shelf operations conducted for the purpose of extracting natural resources from the outer Continental Shelf. Although the Ninth Circuit's test may not be the easiest to administer, it best reflects the text of § 1333(b), which establishes neither a situs-of-injury nor a "but for" test. Whether an employee injured while performing an off-outer Continental Shelf task qualifies is a question that will depend on the individual circumstances of each case.

CONCLUSION: The Supreme Court affirmed the Ninth Circuit's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with the Court's opinion. 9-0 Decision; 2 concurrences.

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