The Fifth Circuit recently decided a longshore jurisdiction case based solely on the functional component to situs for an injury occurring on an “adjoining area.”
In the instant case, the employer’s facility receives bauxite that is unloaded from ships and moved directly into the alumina production process via conveyor system. The conveyor deposits the bauxite into bins located in a large storage area. The bauxite remains in the storage area until it is needed. When the material is needed a small gate located in the floor beneath the bins opens to drain the material in an underground reclaim system. The bauxite is then sifted through and placed onto a conveyor belt which drops the bauxite onto a cross-tunnel conveyor. The cross-tunnel conveyor moves the bauxite into an area where it is further pulverized as part of the manufacturing process.
When the material is transported via cross-tunnel conveyor it occasionally spills onto the floor and must be shoveled back onto the conveyor. Claimant was employed as a dockworker from 1997 to 2006 and had a primary duty to ensure that ships were properly docked, loaded or unloaded. Claimant also cleaned the cross-tunnel of debris several hours each month. While shoveling cross-tunnel debris, Claimant injured his lower back and filed a claim for longshore benefits. At a formal hearing, an ALJ found that the cross-tunnel was a covered situs for longshore benefits. Employer appealed to the BRB, which agreed with the ALJ and reasoned that the cross-tunnel had a substantial nexus with the bauxite-unloading process because it was underneath the storage area, which adjoined and had a functional relationship with navigable waters. Employer appealed to the Fifth Circuit.
The Fifth Circuit reasoned that in the recent en banc decision of New Orleans Depot Servs., Inc. v. Director, OWCP, 718 F.3d 384 (5th Cir. 2013), to qualify as an other-adjoining-area two distinct situs components must be satisfied: 1) the area must adjoin navigable waters (geographic component) and 2) the area must be customarily used by an employer in the loading or unloading process (functional component). Hinging its decision on the functional component, the Fifth Circuit held that once the raw bauxite was received for manufacturing, the maritime operations ceased. The Fifth Circuit determined that the raw bauxite was received after it was unloaded from vessels, transported to storage, and then held in storage. Once the material reached the storage area, maritime operations ceased. The court analogized this case to the Supreme Court’s decision in P.C. Pfeiffer Co. v. Ford, 444 U.S. 69 (1979), which outlined a clear rule in a scenario where goods, ready for ground transport, are unloaded from a vessel and then shipped over land. The vessel unloading process includes the transfer of cargo from ship to shore only until the cargo is received for land transport. Thus, for maritime operations, goods unloaded and then received for ground transport were the legal equivalent as raw goods received for manufacturing purposes. The maritime operations cease when the goods are received for their intended purpose.
Here, since the claimant was injured in the cross-tunnel, well beyond the transition from maritime operations to the manufacturing process, he did not satisfy the functional component to situs. The Fifth Circuit granted the employer’s petition for review and remanded the case to the BRB to enter an order dismissing the claimant’s longshore claim.