Chevron Oil Company v. Huson

PETITIONER: Chevron Oil Company
RESPONDENT: Huson
LOCATION: Bay Marchand Area

DOCKET NO.: 70-11
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1971-1972)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 404 US 97 (1971)
ARGUED: Oct 20, 1971
DECIDED: Dec 06, 1971

ADVOCATES:
Lloyd Cyril Melancon - for petitioner
Samuel C. Gainsburgh - for the respondent

Facts of the case

Gaines Ted Huson suffered a back injury while working on a fixed oil rig, owned by Chevron Oil Company, off the coast of Louisiana. More than two years after the injury, Huson sued Chevron for damages in United States District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana, New Orleans Division. Huson alleged that it took several months for him to realize the severity of his injury. The District Court relied on Rodrigue v Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 395 U.S. 352 (1969), holding that Louisiana's one-year statute of limitations applied instead of the admiralty laches doctrine so Huson's claim was barred. Rodrigue held that state law, not admiralty law, applied in these situations under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Huson argued that because he filed this case before the Rodrigue decision, applying its ruling would have an unfair retrospective effect. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the Louisiana statute of limitations was inconsistent with the admiralty laches doctrine and, therefore, was not applicable.

Question

Is Louisiana statute of limitations inconsistent with the admiralty laches doctrine? Should Rogrique be retroactively applied?

Media for Chevron Oil Company v. Huson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 20, 1971 in Chevron Oil Company v. Huson

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments in number 11, Chevron Oils Company against Huson.

Mr. Melancon, you may proceed as soon as your friend is fully ready as I guess he is.

Lloyd Cyril Melancon:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

The matter comes before you today in a writ of Certiorari directed to the Fifth Circuit in connection with its having reversed a summary judgment granted to petitioner who was the defendant in the District Court below.

The summary judgment came about as a result of a petition being filed by plaintiff wherein he alleged himself to be a special service employee of an independent contractor, Otis Engineering Company, doing work on as he alleged a fixed and immobile drilling rig off the coast of Louisiana.

He alleged in his complaint that the accident occurred December 17, 1965 and the complaint in connection with that alleged accident was filled with the clerk on January 4, 1968.

In the complaint, the plaintiff sought relief in the basic tort action alleging recovery under the Longshoreman and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and otherwise.

Routine discovery transpired and ultimately it was conclusively shown that this was a fixed and immobile structure, an artificial island in which this alleged accident was supposed to have occurred and as result of that, petitioner filed his motion for summary judgment.

It was argued before the Court and the District Judge in furtherance of the recent opinion by this Court in Rodrigue held as a matter of law that Chevron was entitled to its judgment because the application of the laws of Louisiana to this tort action were that the plaintiff was compelled to file a suit within a one year period of time and not having done so, the matter had prescribed on time barred as in the other states we use the time of prescription.

An appeal was sought by respondent to the Fifth Circuit and the Fifth Circuit in deciding the case, notwithstanding the very positive position taken by this Court in Rodrigue that the admiralty and maritime law did not apply to fixed and immobile structures.

The Fifth Circuit went on to follow its earlier decision in this Pure Oil versus Snipes case and held that, yes, admiralty and maritime law did apply and since it did apply then the admiralty and maritime doctrine of laches was applicable and summarily reversed the District Court.

Harry A. Blackmun:

May I ask if that point, did you or did you not argue laches in the Fifth Circuit?

Lloyd Cyril Melancon:

We did not, Your Honor.

The question of laches was never presented to the District Court.

The sole question presented to the District Court below was the application of the strict Civil Law doctrine of prescription, that is the application of the Louisiana law to plaintiff's alleged accident.

There was no --

Warren E. Burger:

That was a two-year --

Lloyd Cyril Melancon:

One year.

Warren E. Burger:

-- One-year limitation?

Lloyd Cyril Melancon:

It was the same as the Longshoreman and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act which is one year.

The State of Louisiana compensation act, regular state act is one year and of course the historical tort limitation of Louisiana has been one year going back to the Civil Code so that we do not have anything here that was new or different.

All that Rodrigue said was that this Court was satisfied that Congress in having passed the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act was paramountly interested and the men themselves being closely connected to the adjacent states in which they were working and this Court recognized that Congress held the admiralty and maritime law doctrine of laches otherwise would not apply to fixed and artificial island such as this.

Harry A. Blackmun:

But the admiralty, it was not the Admiralty Act?

Lloyd Cyril Melancon:

That is right.

This is a pure action brought by plaintiff where we have a diversity situation, where if the accident happened for argument, now we contend of course that this accident happened in the territorial waters in Louisiana, which is an area under dispute at this present time where the Court has appointed a master to make recommendations with respect to that coastline of Louisiana, but --

Byron R. White:

This thing, (Inaudible) the District Court’s jurisdiction is invoked as a Federal question?

Lloyd Cyril Melancon:

Yes, Your Honor.

Byron R. White:

It is the diversity?

Lloyd Cyril Melancon:

Well, there is diversity between the parties.

Byron R. White:

I know it is, but that is a really Federal question (Voice Overlap) under the land of --