The Long Arm of OCSLA Extended by the Fifth Circuit in Mays v. Chevron
In 1953, Congress enacted the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), 43 U.S.C. § 1331, et seq., to exercise federal control over the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) and to define a body of law applicable to OCS facilities. State law applied as surrogate federal law on the OCS only where it was not inconsistent. This concept has been affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court as recently as 2019 in Parker Drlg. Mgmt. Svcs., Ltd. v. Newton.
The OCSLA also provides original federal jurisdiction over cases and controversies arising out of or in connection with OCS operations involving exploration, development, or production of minerals. 43 U.S.C. § 1349. The term “operations” was not defined in the statute. The expanse of federal jurisdiction to claims linked to OCS operations or commerce has been significant. For instance, in Pacific Operators v. Valladolid (2012), the U.S. Supreme Court provided Longshore and Harbor Worker Compensation Act (LHWCA) benefits via the OCSLA to a worker injured on land under a substantial nexus test.
Mays v. Chevron Holding
In Mays v. Chevron (August 2020), the Fifth Circuit recently extended the reach of the OCSLA jurisdictional long arm to an injury occurring in state waters on a fixed platform.
Mr. Mays was killed as the result of a pipeline explosion while working on a fixed platform located within state waters. The pipeline was transporting gas flowing from OCS facilities toward the shore. The explosion shut down OCS facilities producing the gas being transported to shore. The central question before the Fifth Circuit was whether death benefits owed as a result of Mr. Mays’ death were subject to the OCSLA, which provided LHWCA coverage , or subject to state law providing worker’s compensation benefits. In essence, when does federal law under the OCSLA extend to platform incidents occurring within state waters?
The narrow holding of Mays is that the LHWCA, and not state law workers’ compensation, applied to this wrongful death claim because the pipeline carrying gas from the OCS to a platform located in state waters provided a link between the injury and “extractive operations” on the OCS so as to invoke the OCSLA jurisdiction. The broader reach of the holding is that federal law and jurisdiction can extend to incidents occurring in state waters or on shore when a claim results from a “substantial nexus to OCS extractive operations.” Situs is not the simple jurisdictional test.
The Fifth Circuit in Mays embraced the expansive reach and long arm of the OCSLA. The substantial nexus test offered by the U.S. Supreme Court in Pacific Operators Offshore, LLP v. Valladolid disregarded a “situs of injury” test in tort claims. The Fifth Circuit in Mays, with the guidance of Valladolid, focused on the nature of the operations and not the specific work taking place as it related to the claim in determining the OCSLA applicability under a substantial nexus analysis. In affirming a jury verdict, the Fifth Circuit in Mays distinguished its earlier decision in Herb’s Welding v. Gray. Gray also involved an explosion on a platform located within state waters that was indirectly connected to OCS operations where that platform’s flow line was connected to a second platform that was connected to a third platform that was connected to OCS operations. Although Herb’s Welding presented a situation where the work and injury were within the penumbra of OCS operations, the Mays court did not consider there to be enough of a link in Herb’s Welding in order to invoke the OCSLA, and thus distinguished it. In reaching its decision in Mays, the Fifth Circuit considered the relevant platform operations and the nexus of the claim to specific OCS activities. Was there a link between the incident and the OCS operations without regard to situs? The Fifth Circuit expanded the long arm of the OCSLA by simply requiring a “link between the injury and the extractive operations on the Shelf.”
For the practitioner, Mays may also expand the reach of OCSLA with respect to removal of claims based on the federal question jurisdiction under 28 USC 1331 for incidents occurring within state waters or lands but still linked to OCS operations. The substantial nexus test, focusing on the nature of the operations and not the situs of the claim, is firmly embedded within Fifth Circuit precedence and expands the reach of the OCSLA.