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Curtis v. Schlumberger Offshore Service Inc.

argued: April 12, 1988.


Petition for Review of a Decision of the Benefits Review Board of the United States Department of Labor, BRB Case No. 83-2113.

Hutchinson, Scirica and Garth Circuit Judges.

Author: Hutchinson


HUTCHINSON, Circuit Judge.

This petition for review involves a claim for workers' compensation for personal injury pursuant to the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, Pub. L. No. 83-212, 67 Stat. 42 (1953) (current version at 43 U.S.C.A. §§ 1331-1356 (West 1986 & Supp. 1988)) (OCSLA).*fn1 The injury occurred in connection with outer continental shelf drilling operations but "off" the shelf itself. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that petitioner's injury was covered under the OCSLA, which incorporates the workers' compensation remedies of the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C.A. §§ 901-950 (West 1986) (LHWCA), for certain employees of persons engaged in drilling operations above the outer continental shelf. On appeal, the Benefits Review Board (the Board) reversed, holding that the injury occurred outside the intended scope of the OCSlA. We have jurisdiction to review the final decision of the Board pursuant to 33 U.S.C.A. § 921(c). Because we find that the OCSLA encompasses petitioner's claim, we will reverse and remand to the Board.

Petitioner Samuel H. Curtis worked as a well-logging operator*fn2 for Schlumberger Offshore Service, Inc. (Schlumberger). In April of 1978 Curtis was working off the coast of New Jersey on the New Era, a semi-submersible drill rig owned by Conoco Oil Company and operated by the Diamond M Company. On April 20, 1978, Curtis returned to his employer's headquarters in Rhode Island after a week on the New Era. Upon arriving, he was immediately ordered back to the New Era. During the early morning hours of April 21, Curtis drove to Atlantic City to meet the helicopter which was to fly him to the New Era. While on the New Jersey Garden State Parkway, the company car was struck head-on by another vehicle. Curtis suffered severe injuries and his passenger was killed.

Curtis filed a claim for permanent partial disability compensation with the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs on June 21, 1978. Travelers Insurance Company (Travelers) voluntarily paid Curtis benefits for temporary total disability, at first under the LHWCA and after August, 1978 at reduced rates under New Jersey workers' compensation law. When Curtis returned to work on October 1, 1979 as a gun shop helper for Schlumberger, a position paying considerably less per year than that of well-logging operator, Travelers disputed Curtis's claim for permanent partial disability benefits.

At the formal hearing before the ALJ in October of 1981, Schlumberger and Travelers disputed both OCSLA coverage and the extent of Curtis's permanent disability. They argued that the statute only covered accidents occurring on an artificial island or fixed platform over the continental shelf, not this New Jersey motor vehicle collision. They also argued that the New Era rig was not a fixed platform and therefore was not within the scope of the OCSLA. They instead contended that Curtis was a "crew member" and his injuries were more properly covered by the Jones Act than by New Jersey workers' compensation law.

The ALJ found that the claim was covered by the OCSLA and awarded plaintiff relief for permanent disability under § 8 of the LHWCA, 33 U.S.C.A. § 908.*fn3 Curtis v. Schlumberger Offshore Services, Inc., No. 81-LHCA-1259 (Aug. 8, 1983). The Board reversed. Curtis v. Schlumberger Offshore Services, Inc., BRB No. 83-2113 (Aug. 26, 1987) (per curiam). It stated that the accident in New Jersey was "well outside the geographic boundaries of the Outer Continental Shelf" and therefore fell outside the intended scope of the OCSLA. Curtis, BRB No. 83-2113, slip op. at 3. Although Curtis was within the scope of his employment at the time he was injured, he was not "subject to the unique working conditions and hazards associated with the exploration and development of the Shelf." Id. Therefore, the Board concluded that his injuries were not covered. The Board specifically found it unnecessary to address whether the OCSLA only covers accidents on feed platforms and whether the ALJ properly computed Curtis's loss of earning capacity. Id. at 3 n.2.

On review,*fn4 we must decide whether Curtis's injury falls within the scope of 43 U.S.C.A. § 1333(b).*fn5 Our review is limited to a determination of whether the Board acted in conformance with applicable law and within its proper scope of review. Oravitz v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, 843 F.2d 738, slip op. at 5 (3d Cir. March 31, 1988); Janusziewicz v. Sun Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co., 677 F.2d 286, 290 (3d Cir. 1982). We owe no deference to the Board's interpretation of the OCSLA; however, we will respect that interpretation if it is reasonable. See Potomac Electric Power Co. v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, 449 U.S. 268, 278 n.18, 66 L. Ed. 2d 446, 101 S. Ct. 509 (1980) (Board's interpretation of LHWCA entitled to no special deference since it does not "administer" that statute); Kaiser Steel Corp. v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, 812 F.2d 518, 521 (9th Cir. 1987).

In maritime jurisprudence, courts have spent decades trying to discern what kind of employee is covered by what statute for which injuries occurring in which locations. This case is apparently one of first impression and allows us to carry on that tradition. Accordingly, we will proceed to determine whether Congress intended that the OCSLA cover off-rig injuries. In so doing, we first look to the plain language of the statute. Offshore Logistics, Inc. v. Tallentire, 477 U.S. 207, 106 S. Ct. 2485, 2495, 91 L. Ed. 2d 174 (1986); Department of the Navy, Military Sealift Command v. FLRA, 836 F.2d 1409, 1416 (3d Cir. 1988).

Congress enacted the OCSLA in 1953 to establish federal control and jurisdiction over the outer continental shelf and its apparently vast mineral resources, including oil and natural gas. The Secretary of the Interior was given the power to issue regulations to foster competition for federal leases of mining rights. 43 U.S.C.A. § 1334(a). Section 1332 established federal control over the subsoil and seabed lying more than three miles seaward of a state's shores and up to the outer limits of the shelf.*fn6 43 U.S.C.A. §§ 1332, 1312. In § 1333, entitled "Laws and regulations governing lands," Congress provided in subsection (c) that the LHWCA was to apply "[w]ith respect to disability or death of an employee resulting from any injury occurring as the result of operations described in subsection (b) of this section." 43 U.S.C. § 1333(c) (1958 version).*fn7 Subsection (b) provided that district courts would have jurisdiction over:

cases and controversies arising out of or in connection with any operations conducted on the outer Continental Shelf for the purpose of exploring for, developing, removing or transporting by pipeline the natural 'resources, or involving rights to the natural ...

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