A dredge, seeking to secure position for anchoring, lowered its dredge ladder and cutter head into the seabed, striking a pipeline. The pipeline owner sued the owner of the dredge claiming, among other things, the dredge owner acted negligently in failing to discharge its notification responsibilities under the Louisiana Underground Utilities and Facilities Protection Law, La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 40:1749.11 et seq. (referred to as “the One–Call Statute”), before engaging in the anchoring procedure.
The pipeline owner moved for partial summary judgment seeking a ruling that the dredge owner and operator had engaged in “excavation” and was therefore required to provide advance notice under the One-Call Statute. The district court denied the motion, and the pipeline owner appealed to the U.S. Fifth Circuit. Because it is “excavation” that triggers the notification requirement in the statute, the critical question is whether the dredge owner’s anchoring procedure constitutes “excavation.”
The pipeline owner argued that the dredge owner’s anchoring activity was an “operation for the purpose of movement … of earth,” and thus constitutes “excavation” under § 1749.12(6)’s general definition of the term. Specifically, the pipeline argued that the dredge owner’s activity had “the purpose of” moving earth because, “to accomplish” the objective of stopping the movement of the dredge, “the cutter head would have to dig into the seabed and displace the earth.”
The Court held that under the rule of lenity, Louisiana courts resolve ambiguities in the “penal” statute, such as the one at issue in this matter, in favor of the defendants. As such, the Court was required to adopt a narrow reading of “purpose”. The Court also distinguished between “knowledge” of the operation “moving the earth” and “purpose” of the operation “moving the earth.”
The Court found that anchoring did not have the “purpose” of moving the earth, and the district court’s ruling denying the pipeline company’s motion was affirmed.
Plains Pipeline, L.P. v. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co.