The Fifth Circuit recently issued a new decision addressing the limits of jurisdiction under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. The claimant, a maritime carpenter, was allegedly injured at the employer’s waterside fabrication yard in Houma, La. At the time of the incident, the claimant was assisting in the construction of a housing module that was to be incorporated into a tension leg offshore oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. The claimant filed a claim under the LHWCA, alleging he was covered by the Act as a shipbuilder, or in the alternative that he was covered by its extension under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.
Following a formal hearing, the Administrative Law Judge determined that the claimant was not covered by the Act and denied benefits. The Claimant appealed to the Benefits Review Board, which affirmed the ALJ’s decision. The Claimant appealed again to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Fifth Circuit evaluated the purpose of the housing module as an eventual component part of the platform. The Court turned to the Supreme Court’s Lozman and Dutra decisions to determine what constitutes a “vessel”. Because the platform was not practically intended for maritime transportation, it did not qualify as a vessel. Further, because the housing module was not a vessel, the claimant was not engaged in maritime employment as a shipbuilder at the time of the incident and therefore did not meet the “status” requirement of the LHWCA. The Court then turned to the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Pacific Operators Offshore v. Valladolid to determine whether he was covered under OCSLA. In Valladolid, the Supreme Court held that for a claimant to be covered under OCSLA, he must establish a “substantial nexus” between the injury and extractive operations on the OCS. The Fifth Circuit concluded that the claimant’s onshore job of building a dining quarters for an offshore platform was too attenuated from OCS operations and therefore he was not covered by the OCSLA. The Court affirmed the denial of benefits.
Baker v. Gulf Island Marine Fabricators, LLC