Luke v. Louisiana Land and Exploration Company, LLC et al
ORDER AND REASONS granting 85 Motion for Summary Judgment.The case is DISMISSED with prejudice. Signed by Judge Martin L.C. Feldman on 1/11/17. (clc)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
DANNY LUKE AND
S.J. BEAULIEU, JR.
LOUISIANA LAND AND
EXPLORATION COMPANY, LLC, ET AL.
ORDER AND REASONS
judgment. For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED.
This is a maritime personal injury case. In June 2014, the
plaintiff’s skiff struck a submerged piling when he was checking
his crab cages near Four Island Dome. He fell and sustained
injuries to his head, neck, back and other areas; his skiff was
also damaged. The plaintiff alleges that his accident was caused
by the negligence of the defendants. Since July 2010, Hilcorp has
held mineral leases in the Four Island Dome Field. 1
The defendants move for summary judgment, contending they did
not own, control, maintain, or place the piling that struck the
plaintiff’s skiff. In the alternative, the defendants submit that
Hilcorp purchased any and all mineral interests in the Four Island
The Court reiterates and adopts these undisputed facts, which
were already stated by the Court in an Order and Reasons dated
April 20, 2015, from civil action No. 14-1549, Danny Luke v.
Hilcorp Energy Company and Roustabouts, Inc..
Dome Field in 2010, before the plaintiff’s accident, and therefore
move this Court to alternatively dismiss the plaintiff’s claims
against LL&E, Burlington, Conoco, and Exxon.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 instructs that summary
judgment is proper if the record discloses no genuine dispute as
to any material fact such that the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. No genuine dispute of fact exists if
the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of
fact to find for the non-moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus.
Co. v. Zenith Radio., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). A genuine dispute
of fact exists only "if the evidence is such that a reasonable
jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
The Court emphasizes that the mere argued existence of a
factual dispute does not defeat an otherwise properly supported
motion. See id. Therefore, "[i]f the evidence is merely colorable,
appropriate. Id. at 249-50 (citations omitted). Summary judgment
is also proper if the party opposing the motion fails to establish
an essential element of his case. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). In this regard, the non-moving party
must do more than simply deny the allegations raised by the moving
party. See Donaghey v. Ocean Drilling & Exploration Co., 974 F.2d
646, 649 (5th Cir. 1992). Rather, he must come forward with
competent evidence, such as affidavits or depositions, to buttress
his claim. Id. Hearsay evidence and unsworn documents that cannot
be presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence at
trial do not qualify as competent opposing evidence. Martin v.
John W. Stone Oil Distrib., Inc., 819 F.2d 547, 549 (5th Cir.
1987); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2). Finally, in evaluating the summary
judgment motion, the Court must read the facts in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.
The alleged incident in this case occurred in navigable
waters, giving this Court admiralty jurisdiction. See Branch v.
Schumann, 445 F.2d 175, 177-78 (5th Cir. 1971). A private party
assumes liability for damages resulting from a collision of a boat
with an obstruction in navigable waters when it has ownership,
custody, control, or is responsible for the placement of the
obstruction in navigable waters. See Creppel v. Shell Oil Co., 738
F.2d 699, 701 (5th Cir. 1984); Savoie v. Chevron Texaco, No. 041302, 2006 WL 2795460, at *2 (E.D. La. Sept. 27, 2006).
Here, the plaintiff speculates the existence of disputed
facts to create a genuine issue of material fact. The plaintiff
focuses on the fact that Hilcorp had a piling removed in the
alleged vicinity of the plaintiff’s accident after the incident
occurred. The only evidence in the record to support the allegation
plaintiff struck, is testimony that the piling was from an area
allegedly where the accident occurred and placed on a bank within
undoubtedly the same piling struck by the plaintiff; the plaintiff
and others who helped him at the time of the accident took no
efforts to mark the particular piling he struck. Moreover, the
piling removed from the alleged area did not have any markings to
indicate it belonged to Hilcorp. Therefore, the plaintiff merely
presents rank speculation that more likely than not the piling was
under the control of Hilcorp because it was a few hundred feet
away from its facility and the accident allegedly occurred within
its leased premises.
The record submitted to the Court reflects that at no time
since Hilcorp acquired this lease in 2010 has it installed or owned
anything in the alleged vicinity of the plaintiff’s accident. To
reiterate this Court’s previous statements in a strikingly similar
Order and Reasons related to this very same incident, a lessee
“owes no duty toward those using the navigable waterways to clear
away obstructions that it does not own, has not placed there, or
does not maintain there under its control.” Creppel, 738 F.2d at
The Court draws counsel’s attention to 28 U.S.C. § 1927.
The plaintiff relies heavily on Punch v. Chevron USA, Inc.,
No. 12-388, 2012 WL 5289379 (E.D. La. Oct. 24, 2012) (Lemelle,
J.), where the court denied summary judgment.
In Punch, the court
found a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the defendant
owned, controlled, or placed the piling at issue, because a civil
engineer and land surveyor stated that it was likely that the
piling was once a part of a Texaco facility that the defendant
later acquired. Punch is of no help.
Here, there is nothing of
record that Hilcorp owned or controlled the piling. The record
reflects only that Hilcorp leased the waterway in which the piling
existed and worked in the same general area, evidence insufficient
to establish liability under Creppel.
Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED that the defendants’ motion for
summary judgment is hereby GRANTED, and the case is DISMISSED with
New Orleans, Louisiana, January 11, 2017
MARTIN L. C. FELDMAN
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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