Salazar et al v. Wood Group Production Services Inc et al
MEMORANDUM RULING re 30 MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by Renaissance Offshore L L C. Considering the evidence, the law, and the arguments of the parties, and for the reasons fully explained herein, this Court denies Renaissance's motion. Signed by Magistrate Judge Patrick J Hanna on 3/24/2017. (crt,Alexander, E)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
JOE SALAZAR, E AL.
CIVIL ACTION NO. 6:15-cv-00939
MAGISTRATE JUDGE HANNA
WOOD GROUP PRODUCTION
SERVICES, INC., ET AL.
BY CONSENT OF THE PARTIES
Currently pending is defendant Renaissance Offshore, LLC’s motion for
summary judgment. (Rec. Doc. 30). The motion is opposed, and oral argument was
held on March 23, 2017. Considering the evidence, the law, and the arguments of the
parties, and for the reasons fully explained below, this Court denies Renaissance’s
On February 22, 2014, plaintiff Joe Salazar was employed by Tannin Energy
Services, Inc. as a compressor mechanic. He was assigned to work on a fixed
production platform located at West Delta Block 152-A in the Gulf of Mexico, off the
coast of Louisiana on the Outer Continental Shelf. It is undisputed that the platform
was primarily owned by Renaissance Offshore, LLC and operations were being
conducted on the platform by defendants Wood Group Production Services, Inc.
and/or defendant Wood Group PSN, Inc.
The contract between Renaissance and Tannin required Tannin to provide a
mechanic for the platform. The Master Service Agreement between Renaissance and
Tannin states that Tannin is an independent contractor and that all of Tannin
employees “shall remain under [Tannin’s] direct and sole supervision and control at
It is undisputed that Salazar first went out to the platform on February 21, 2014
and he left the platform at the end of his regular shift on February 27, 2014.
Although he checked the gauges on some equipment on the platform on his first day
on the platform, he testified at his deposition that he did not know that he was also
supposed to take care of equipment in a generator room on the platform. (Rec. Doc.
32-1 at 10). Thus, he very likely went to that room for the first time on the morning
of February 22, 2014. He testified that his duties included monitoring the operation
of two compressors located upstairs and two generators located in a downstairs
generator room. He claims that he fell in the generator room on the morning of
February 22 due to oil that leaked from the number one generator. (Rec. Doc. 32-1
According to Salazar, after he entered the generator room on the morning of
February 22 to check gauges and take readings, he walked around the number two
generator, and then slipped on oil on the floor, injuring his neck and back. He claims
that he did not see the oil on the floor because the lights in the generator room were
not working. (Rec. Doc. 32-1 at 11). However, he knew before he went in the room
that the lights were not working, and he was equipped with a flashlight. (Rec. Doc.
32-1 at 11). The plaintiff testified that the oil on the floor of the generator room came
from “[t]he rear seal, the inspection plate, and the oil pump” of the number one
generator. (Rec. Doc. 30-2 at 12).
There were no witnesses to the accident. Salazar did not fill out an accident
report. His daily report indicates both that there was an oil spill in the generator room
that day and also that he cleaned the floor in the generator room that day, but it does
not indicate that he fell or sustained any type of injury. (Rec. Doc. 30-5 at 16).
Salazar claims that he told his Wood Group supervisor Dirk Deshotel that he had
fallen and was injured. (Rec. Doc. 30-2 at 4). Deshotel denies this. (Rec. Doc. 30-4
at 2, 38). Salazar filled out a written accident report about a month after the alleged
There is no evidence that there were any Renaissance employees on the
platform at the time of the alleged accident. Therefore, Deshotel, a Wood Group
employee, was in charge. Deshotel testified that Renaissance owns the generator that
was allegedly leaking. (Rec. Doc. 32-2 at 6). Renaissance argued in support of its
motion that Tannin and its employee Salazar were in control of the generator room
and responsible for its maintenance and that of the equipment in the generator room
at the time of the accident, and Salazar’s deposition testimony generally supports that
conclusion. (Rec. Doc. 30-2 at 10-11; Rec. Doc. 32-3 at 4).
There is no evidence that the plaintiff knew about the alleged generator leak
before he fell. The plaintiff testified that he has no idea how long the generator was
leaking before his fall. (Rec. Doc. 30-2 at 12.). He has no evidence that anybody at
Wood Group or Renaissance knew there was oil on the floor of the generator room.
(Rec. Doc. 30-2 at 11-12). Salazar stated that he believed the oil had been on the
floor for a while because there were absorbent pads on the floor that he assumed the
previous mechanic had put down to absorb the leaking oil. (Rec. Doc. 32-1 at 7). He
was the only Tannin employee on the platform (Rec. Doc. 30-2 at 15). Deshotel was
not aware of any problem in the generator room. (Rec. Doc. 30-4 at 7). Had he
known about a problem in the generator room, he would have reported it to
Renaissance. (Rec. Doc. 32-2 at 6).
In opposition to the motion, the plaintiffs offered the affidavit and expert report
of Ken Kaigler, who opined that Renaissance was responsible for the accident
because it failed to keep the walking area of the platform free of oil and grease, the
platform lacked the proper non-skid grating, the lighting in the generator room was
improper, and Renaissance failed to require that the generator be repaired so as to
prevent it from leaking oil. (Rec. Doc. 72).
THE SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment
is appropriate when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and the
moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. A fact is material if proof of
its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under the
applicable governing law.1 A genuine issue of material fact exists if a reasonable jury
could render a verdict for the nonmoving party.2
The party seeking summary judgment has the initial responsibility of informing
the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those parts of the record that
demonstrate the absence of genuine issues of material fact.3 If the moving party
carries its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to demonstrate the
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Sossamon v. Lone Star
State of Tex., 560 F.3d 316, 326 (5th Cir. 2009); Hamilton v. Segue Software, Inc., 232 F.3d 473, 477
(5th Cir. 2000).
Brumfield v. Hollins, 551 F.3d 322, 326 (5th Cir. 2008) (citing Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 252); Hamilton v. Segue Software, Inc., 232 F.3d at 477.
Washburn v. Harvey, 504 F.3d 505, 508 (5th Cir. 2007) (citing Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)).
existence of a genuine issue of a material fact.4 All facts and inferences are construed
in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.5
If the dispositive issue is one on which the nonmoving party will bear the
burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its burden by pointing out that
there is insufficient proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's
claim.6 The motion should be granted if the nonmoving party cannot produce
evidence to support an essential element of its claim.7
LOUISIANA LAW GOVERNS THE CLAIMS AGAINST RENAISSANCE
Subject-matter jurisdiction in this case is premised on the jurisdictional
provision of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (“OCSLA”).8 The law of
Louisiana, the adjacent state, governs the plaintiff’s claim against Renaissance
Washburn v. Harvey, 504 F.3d at 508.
Brumfield v. Hollins, 551 F.3d at 326 (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith
Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)).
Norwegian Bulk Transport A/S v. International Marine Terminals Partnership, 520
F.3d 409, 412 (5th Cir. 2008) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. at 325).
Condrey v. Suntrust Bank of Ga., 431 F.3d 191, 197 (5th Cir. 2005).
43 U.S.C. §1349.
because the controversy arises on a situs covered by the OCSLA, maritime law does
not apply of its own force, and Louisiana law is not inconsistent with federal law.9
The plaintiff alleged in his petition for damages that his accident and resulting
injuries were the result of the defendants’ carelessness, recklessness, and negligence.
More particularly, the plaintiff alleged that the defendants were negligent for, inter
alia, failing to maintain the platform in a proper and safe condition, failing to
alleviate potentially hazardous and unsafe conditions, failing to discover or replace
defective conditions, failing to provide safe and proper flooring and floor covering,
failing to properly maintain its equipment, and failing to provide adequate lighting.
Under Louisiana Civil Code Articles 2317 and 2317.1, persons are responsible
for objects in their custody. Article 2317.1 expressly provides that “[t]he owner or
custodian of a thing is answerable for damage occasioned by its ruin, vice, or defect,
only upon a showing that he knew or, in the exercise of reasonable care, should have
known of the ruin, vice, or defect which caused the damage, that the damage could
have been prevented by the exercise of reasonable care, and that he failed to exercise
such reasonable care.” Therefore, the plaintiff’s premises liability claim against
Renaissance requires him to prove the following elements: (1) the object was in
43 U.S.C. 1333(a); Union Texas Petroleum v. PLT Engineering, Inc., 895 F.2d 1043,
1047 (5 Cir. 1990).
Renaissance’s custody; (2) the object had a condition that created an unreasonable
risk of harm to persons on the premises; (3) the unreasonably dangerous condition
was a cause-in-fact of the resulting injury; and (4) the defendant knew or should have
known of the defect, (5) the damage could have been prevented by the exercise of
reasonable care, and (6) the defendant failed to exercise reasonable care.10
IS RENAISSANCE ENTITLED TO SUMMARY JUDGMENT IN ITS FAVOR?
This Court interprets the plaintiff’s complaint and the arguments presented by
the plaintiff in opposition to Renaissance’s motion for summary judgment as
articulating only a premises liability claim under Louisiana Civil Code Articles 2317
and 2317.1. Therefore, although Renaissance argued that it is not liable to the
plaintiff under other potential bases for liability, those arguments will not be
addressed. Only the premises liability claim will be addressed.
The plaintiff contends that the allegedly leaky generator was owned by
Renaissance, making Renaissance responsible for any accident or injury resulting
from the oil leak.
With regard to the first element, custody, the Court finds that there
is a genuinely disputed issue of material fact. Ownership of an object establishes a
rebuttable presumption of custody or “garde” over the object.11 One way to rebut the
Cormier v. Dolgencorp, Inc., 136 F. App'x 627, 628 (5th Cir. 2005).
Coulter v. Texaco, Inc., 117 F.3d 909, 914 (5th Cir. 1997).
presumption is by establishing a contractual undertaking by another to maintain and
control the property.12 A defendant who is not the owner of the allegedly defective
thing may be found to have custody over property when he exercises direction and
control of the thing and derives some benefit from it.”13 Whether the law imposes a
duty of custody or garde on a particular person or entity is a factual inquiry.14
In this case, the plaintiff argued that Renaissance’s ownership of the allegedly
leaky generator mandates a finding that Renaissance had custody of the generator at
the time of the alleged accident. While there is evidence that Renaissance was the
owner of the generator, and Deshotel testified that he would report problems with any
of the generators to Renaissance, Renaissance argued that it ceded custody of the
generator to Tannin by contracting with Tannin to provide compressor mechanics
such as Salazar to maintain the generator and repair it if necessary. Salazar admitted
that Tannin was solely in control of the area where the accident allegedly occurred
and that during his hitch on the platform he was the only person who worked in that
Thus, there is a genuinely disputed factual issue concerning whether
Renaissance or Tannin had custody of the generator at the time of the accident.
Davis v. Riverside Court Condominium Association Phase II, Inc., 14–0023, p. 6 (La.
App. 4 Cir.11/12/14), 154 So.3d 643, 648.
Coulter v. Texaco, Inc., 117 F.3d 909, 914 (5th Cir. 1997).
Doughty v. Insured Lloyds Ins. Co., 576 So.2d 461, 464 (La. 1991).
Therefore, on the record as it exists at this time, there is a genuinely disputed factual
issue concerning one of the elements that a plaintiff must prove to prevail under Civil
Code Article 2317.1. That dispute precludes summary judgment in Renaissance’s
The plaintiff presented the affidavit of expert witness Kenneth Kaigler in
opposition to Renaissance’s motion. (Rec. Doc. 72). But the affidavit does not
resolve the issue of which entity had custody of the allegedly leaky generator at the
time of the accident. Therefore, the affidavit does not resolve the factual dispute
precluding summary judgment in Renaissance’s favor.
There are also allegations that the floor was defective in that it did not have the
appropriate surface to minimize a slip risk from oil in the generator. This could
include non-skid, grating or some other type of surface. Pictures of pads on the deck
of the generator room do not establish the type/design of the deck and whether it does
or does not present an unreasonable risk of harm. Therefore, there is a genuine issue
of material fact whether the design of the deck itself created an unreasonable risk of
harm, and whether Renaissance, as the owner of the platform, knew or should have
known of that condition.
Finally, there is evidence that the lighting in the generator room was
inadequate. There is no evidence whether this was entirely due to maintenance or
whether there was inadequate lighting as part of the design. Therefore, the evidence
presents a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the lighting system was so
inadequate as to present an unreasonable risk of harm, and whether Renaissance knew
or should have known of this lighting system.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that there is a genuinely disputed
issue of material fact concerning whether Tannin or Renaissance had custody of the
platform’s number one generator and generator room at the time of Salazar’s alleged
accident, whether the flooring on the deck in the generator room presented an
uneasonable risk of harm and whether the lighting system itself created an
unreasonable risk of harm. All three involve at least one of the elements the plaintiff
must prove in order to prevail on his premises liability claim. The existence of this
factual issues precludes summary judgment in Renaissance’s favor. Accordingly,
IT IS ORDERED that Renaissance Offshore, LLC’s motion for summary
judgment (Rec. Doc. 30) is DENIED.
Signed at Lafayette, Louisiana on this 24th day of March 2017.
PATRICK J. HANNA
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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