Baldwin Haspel Burke & Mayer LLC

Maritime Update: 5th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment Denying Seaman Status to Reassigned Worker


On September 23, the Fifth Circuit affirmed a summary judgment in the lower court on seaman status.

In the case of Felder v. Nabors Offshore Corporation, the summary judgment evidence revealed Felder suffered a brain aneurysm while on Nabors’ platform rig (M400) on April 22, 2014. Felder had worked for Nabors aboard various drilling structures for 12 years before this incident. More than thirty (30%) percent of his work was aboard various Nabors’ vessel rigs during the course of his 12 years of employment with Nabors. His more recent work history with Nabors included a November 2012 transfer from a vessel rig (J109) to a fixed platform rig (M201) and then an October 2013 transfer to another platform rig (M400). Accordingly, from November 2012 to April 2014, when he experienced his aneurysm, Felder worked exclusively on platform rigs.

Felder sued Nabors under the Jones Act and contended, when his entire employment with Nabors was considered, that he qualified as a member of the crew of Nabors’ fleet of vessels. Nabors contended Felder’s work assignment was changed in November 2012 when he was assigned only to platform rigs. Nabors asked the Fifth Circuit to only consider his work from November 2012 until April 2014 for purposes of determining whether he was more or less permanently assigned to the Nabors’ fleet of vessels for purposes of determining seaman status. This position was taken by Nabors based on the U.S Supreme Court decision in Chandris, Inc. v. Latsis. As the Supreme Court stated in Chandris, when, “a maritime employee receives a new work assignment in which his essential duties are changed”, courts should assess, “the substantiality of his vessel-related work made on the basis of his activities in his new position.”

While Felder argued he was not permanently reassigned to his duties aboard platforms during the one and one-half years before his aneurysm, no evidence was produced of any plan to reassign him and move him to a vessel. Therefore, the appellate court affirmed the lower court decision in favor of Nabors.

For a copy of the full decision, go to: http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/unpub/16/16-30461.0.pdf.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Bill Schwartz at (504) 569-2900 or wschwartz@bhbmlaw.com.


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