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Manson Gulf, L.L.C v. Modern American Recycling Service, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

December 18, 2017

MANSON GULF, L.L.C, Plaintiff
v.
MODERN AMERICAN RECYCLING SERVICE, INCORPORATED Defendant In re: In the Matter of Complaint of Manson Gulf, L.L.C, as Bareboat Charterer of the Barge Marmac 262, for Exoneration from or Limitation of Liability MANSON GULF, L.L.C, as bareboat charterer of the barge Marmac 262, Petitioner - Appellee
v.
JAMES LAFLEUR, Estate of; ANGIE LAFLEUR, Widow of James LaFleur and on behalf of minor children L.L., D.L., and B.L., Claimants - Appellants

         Appeals from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

          Before REAVLEY, ELROD, and SOUTHWICK, Circuit Judges.

          REAVLEY, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Longshoreman James "J.J." LaFleur fell 50 feet to his death after stepping through a hole in a decommissioned oil platform. The platform sat atop a barge chartered by Manson Gulf, L.L.C., who ordered the hole's creation but did not cover the hole or warn J.J. of its existence.

         J.J.'s spouse alleged negligence on the part of Manson and sought damages. The district court, however, granted summary judgment for Manson, finding no liability under any of the three Scindia duties-the duties a vessel owner owes to a longshoreman. Because we conclude a fact issue precluded summary judgment with respect to the duty to warn of hidden dangers, we reverse.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Manson Gulf, L.L.C. is in the business of decommissioning oil-drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. In 2015, Manson acquired one such platform, the BA A-23-A, from Freeport-McMoRan Oil & Gas. Manson extracted the 50-foot-tall, four-leg platform and placed the structure on a chartered barge. To lift the structure, Manson ordered four holes cut in the platform's grating adjacent to each of the support legs. Rigging chains could then be passed through the holes and around the legs to take hold of the platform. Each hole was approximately two feet by two feet. Manson left the holes uncovered and unmarked.

         Modern American Recycling Service (MARS) is in the business of dismantling steel structures and selling the metal for scrap. MARS agreed to purchase and scrap the BA A-23-A platform, and Manson delivered the structure to MARS's dock, located on Bayou Black, Louisiana.

         On the morning of June 16, 2015, a Manson project engineer, Dustin Clement, warned MARS of oil in the platform's pipes but not of the unmarked holes. Afterwards, Clement left MARS's dock and no Manson personnel remained. Jeff Smith, a MARS foreman in charge of riggers and cutters, then boarded the platform (still atop the barge) to locate the presence of oil. After Smith investigated for ten minutes, J.J. LaFleur joined Smith aboard the platform to lend a hand. J.J. was an independent contractor, employed by MARS to take inventories, do inspections, and perform other miscellaneous tasks.

         As Smith and J.J. walked across the platform, they discussed the oil dilemma and looked at the pipes that ran overhead. While turning, J.J. stepped through an unmarked hole. Smith, then eight feet behind, attempted to intervene, but it was too late-J.J. fell 50 feet to the barge's deck and died from his injuries. Pictures of the structure and hole in the grating are attached. See Appendix, figs. 1-3.

         Following J.J.'s death, Manson filed a complaint seeking exoneration or limitation from liability. MARS answered the complaint and asserted various claims and defenses. And Angie LaFleur, J.J.'s surviving spouse, filed claims for damages against Manson and MARS, alleging negligence under both maritime and Louisiana law. Manson and MARS then moved for summary judgment, and the district court granted both parties' motions, finding neither liable under § 905 of the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA). The LaFleur claimants appealed only from the summary judgment with respect to Manson.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         We review a "district court's grant of summary judgment de novo applying the same standards as the district court." DePree v. Saunders, 588 F.3d 282, 286 (5th Cir. 2009). Summary judgment is appropriate if "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the ...


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