PACIFIC OPERATORS OFFSHORE v. VALLADOLID
Pacific Operations Offshore runs two offshore oil drilling platforms, the Hogan and the Houchin, both located more than three miles off the coast of California. Juan Valladolid worked for Pacific Operations as a roustabout, stationed primarily on the Hogan. He was killed, however, on the grounds of Pacific Operations's onshore oil-processing facility when he was crushed by a forklift. Following his death, his widow, Luisa, sought workers' compensation benefits under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act ("OCSLA") and the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act ("LHWCA"). An administrative law judge denied Mrs. Valladolid's OCSLA claim on the grounds that her husband's injury had occurred outside the geographic site of the outer continental shelf. The judge denied the LHWCA claim on two grounds: (1) Valladolid was not engaged in maritime employment, and (2) he was not injured on a maritime situs. The Benefits Review Board upheld the judge's denial of the OCSLA benefits under the "situs-of-injury" test, and affirmed the denial of LHWCA benefits on the maritime situs ground.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed in part, ruling that the OCSLA does not have a situs-of-injury requirement. The court of appeals held that Section 1333(b) extends Longshore Act coverage to workers injured on land where there is "a substantial nexus between the injury and extractive operations on the shelf." Two other circuits that have addressed the question have reached conflicting results.
The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act extends workers' compensation coverage under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act "with respect to disability or death of an employee resulting from any injury occurring as the result of operations conducted on the outer Continental Shelf for the purpose of exploring for, developing, removing, or transporting by pipeline the natural resources of the outer Continental Shelf." Does the OCSLA extend Longshore Act coverage only to workers injured on the outer Continental Shelf itself?
Legal provision: Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act
No. In a 9-0 decision, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion affirming the lower court and remanding for further proceedings. The Supreme Court held that the “substantial nexus” test best represents the text of the OCSLA. The Court noted that persons injured on the Outer Continental Shelf would almost always satisfy this test. The outcome for persons injured in other locals, like Mr. Valladolid, would depend on the individual circumstances of the case. On remand the Valladolid’s must show a significant causal link between Mr. Valladolid’s death and Pacific’s Outer Continental Shelf activities.
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a special concurrence, stating that “substantial nexus” is just legalese with no established meaning. He felt this test would be impossible to apply. He would apply a proximate cause test, which has been defined by tort law. Justice Samuel Alito joined in the concurrence.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
PACIFIC OPERATORS OFFSHORE, LLP, et al., PETITIONERS v. LUISA L. VALLADOLID et al.
on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit
[January 11, 2012]
Justice Scalia, with whom Justice Alito joins, concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.
I join the Court’s judgment that the Ninth Circuit properly remanded this case to the Benefits Review Board, and I agree with almost all of the Court’s opinion. My disagreement is limited to the last two substantive paragraphs of Part IV, which endorse the Ninth Circuit’s “substantial-nexus” test for determining the scope of coverage under 43 U. S. C. §1333(b). The Court indulges in considerable understatement when it acknowledges that this test “may not be the easiest to administer,” ante, at 14. “Substantial nexus” is novel legalese with no established meaning in the present context. I agree with the Court’s rejection of some of the clearer rules proposed by the parties—which, though easier to apply, are unmoored from the text of §1333(b). But if we must adopt an indeterminate standard (and the statute’s “as the result of” language leaves us no choice) I prefer the devil we know to the devil of the Ninth Circuit’s imagining. I would hold that an employee may recover under §1333(b) if his injury was proximately caused by operations on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).
The term “proximate cause” is “shorthand for a concept: Injuries have countless causes, and not all should give rise to legal liability.” CSX Transp., Inc. v. McBride, 564 U. S. ___, ___ (2011) (slip op., at 5). Life is too short to pursue every event to its most remote, “but-for,” consequences, and the doctrine of proximate cause provides a rough guide for courts in cutting off otherwise endless chains of cause-and-effect. See Holmes v. Securities Investor Protection Corporation, 503 U. S. 258, 287 (1992) (Scalia, J., concurring in judgment). Thus, as the Court notes in rejecting the Third Circuit’s “but for” test for §1333(b) coverage, we have interpreted statutes with language similar to §1333(b) as prescribing a proximate-cause standard. See ante, at 13–14.
Although the doctrine of proximate cause is rooted in tort law and most commonly applied in negligence actions, it can also provide a useful guide in no-fault compensation schemes like this one. In Brown v. Gardner, 513 U. S. 115, 119 (1994) , we considered a no-fault veterans’ compensation statute covering injuries that occurred “as the result of” medical treatment (precisely the language at issue here); we suggested that the requisite “causal connection” between the injury and medical treatment may be “limited to proximate causation so as to narrow the class of compensable cases . . . by eliminating remote consequences.” Similarly, some state workers’ compensation laws use the concept of proximate cause to determine entitlement. See, e.g., Ex parte Patton, __ So. 3d __, __ (Ala. 2011); Marandino v. Prometheus Pharmacy, 294 Conn. 564, 591, 986 A. 2d 1023, 1041 (2010); Grant v. Grant Textiles, 372 S. C. 196, 201, 641 S. E. 2d 869, 871 (2007). Indeed, the statutory law of California, where Mr. Valladolid died while at work, limits workers’ compensation liability to cases “[w]here the injury is proximately caused by the employment, either with or without negligence.” Cal. Lab. Code Ann. §3600(a)(3) (West 2011).* I see no reason why the scope of 43 U. S. C. §1333(b) could not similarly be cabined by the familiar limits of proximate causation.
To be sure, proximate cause is an imperfect legal doctrine; I have no illusions that its tenets are easy to describe or straightforward to apply. Judicial opinions do not provide a uniform formulation of the test, and borderline cases are rarely clear. But “it is often easier to disparage the product of centuries of common law than to devise a plausible substitute.” McBride, 564 U. S., at ___ (Roberts, C. J., dissenting) (slip op., at 2–3). Unlike the substantial-nexus test, proximate cause provides a “vocabulary” for answering questions like the one raised by the facts of this case. It may be productive, for example, to consider whether the injury was “within the scope of the risk” created by OCS operations, or whether some “superseding or intervening cause” exists. Id., at ___ (slip op., at 15). In addition to that vocabulary, precedents on proximate cause “furnish illustrations of situations which judicious men upon careful consideration have adjudged to be on one side of the line or the other.” Exxon Co., U. S. A. v. Sofec, Inc., 517 U. S. 830, 839 (1996) (internal quotation marks omitted).
“Substantial nexus,” by contrast, is an indeterminate phrase that lacks all pedigree. Our case law has used it as a term of art in only one context, first appearing in Justice Blackmun’s opinion for the Court in Complete Auto Transit, Inc. v. Brady, 430 U. S. 274, 279 (1977) : We sustain state taxes against Commerce Clause challenges if they are, inter alia, “applied to an activity with a substantial nexus with the taxing State.” Oklahoma Tax Comm’n v. Jefferson Lines, Inc., 514 U. S. 175, 183 (1995) (emphasis added; internal quotation marks omitted). “[S]uch a nexus is established when the taxpayer ‘avails itself of the substantial privilege of carrying on business’ in that jurisdiction.” Polar Tankers, Inc. v. City of Valdez, 557 U. S. 1, 11 (2009) . That clarification—and any further clarification in the Commerce Clause context—will not be remotely helpful to lower courts attempting to apply the substantial-nexus test in the very different legal context of workers’ compensation under §1333(b). In this latter context, I assume the Court means by “substantial nexus” a substantial causal nexus—since §1333(b)’s “as the result of” language “plainly suggests causation,” ante, at 13. Like the word “nexus” itself, the definition of “substantial nexus” in our state-tax cases does not require any causal relationship whatsoever. The proximate-cause test, by comparison, represents a much more natural interpretation of a statute that turns on causation.
Does the Court mean to establish, by the novel “substantial [causal] nexus” test, a new tertium quid of causality—somewhere between but-for causality and proximate cause? One might think so, since there is no other sensible reason to (1) reject but-for cause, (2) say nothing about the natural alternative (proximate cause), and (3) embrace the “substantial [causal] nexus” novelty. On the other hand, the Court’s opinion suggests at least some connection (that is to say, in the Court’s favored lawspeak, some “nexus”) between the proximate-cause standard and the substantial-nexus test, since it cites one of our proximate-cause cases just before concluding that “[a]ccordingly, . . . the Ninth Circuit’s ‘substantial-nexus’ test is more faithful to the text of §1333(b)” than the Third Circuit’s but-for test. Ante, at 13–14. In the opinion below, moreover, the Ninth Circuit purported to endorse the Fifth Circuit’s pre-1989 case law, which required “ ‘ that the claimant show a nexus . . . similar to the proximate cause test in tort law.’ ” 604 F. 3d 1126, 1140 (CA9 2010) (quoting Mills v. Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, 846 F. 2d 1013, 1015 (CA5 1988), rev’d en banc, 877 F. 2d 356 (1989)). Who knows whether this is a tertium quid or not? The Court has given us a new test whose contours are entirely undescribed, and which has nothing to be said for it except that it will add complexity to the law and litigation to the courts.
Finally, I must note an additional uncertainty (or else a peculiarity) that the Court’s opinion creates: The statutory text at issue requires compensation for “disability or death of an employee resulting from any injury occurring as the result of operations conducted on the outer Continental Shelf . . . .” §1333(b) (emphasis added). Before today, I would have thought it clear that courts must apply proximate-cause analysis to the “resulting from” provision; but that would seem quite peculiar if (as the Court holds today) we apply substantial-nexus analysis to the neighboring “occurring as the result of” provision. Surely both phrases express the same concept. What a tangled web we weave.
I would affirm the Ninth Circuit’s judgment to remand the case to the Benefits Review Board, but with instructions to apply a proximate-cause test.
1 * Strange to say, the California Supreme Court has held that this unmistakable term-of-art reference to a rule found in the common law of torts does not establish a rule “identical to that found in the common law of torts,” but merely “elaborat[es] the general requirement that the injury arise out of the employment.” LaTourette v. Workers’ Compensation App. Bd., 17 Cal. 4th 644, 651, n. 1, 951 P. 2d 1184, 1187, n. 1 (1998) (internal quotation marks omitted). Perhaps (who knows?) later California Supreme Court cases will “clarify” this general requirement by saying that it requires a “substantial nexoos” between the employment and the injury.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Justice Thomas has our opinion in case 10-507, Pacific Operators Offshore versus Valladolid.
Justice Clarence Thomas: This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Petitioner operates two oil platforms on the Outer Continental Shelf off the coast of California, one by Valladolid, one of petitioner's employees spent most of his time working on one of these offshore platforms, but he was killed in an accident while working at petitioner's onshore facility.
Valladolid's widow, the respondent here, sought workers' compensation benefits pursuant to the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.
The Lands Act extends the workers' compensation coverage provided by another statute, the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act to injuries occurring as a result of operations conducted on the Shelf for the purpose of extracting natural resources.
An administrative law judge dismissed the respondent's claim reasoning that the Lands Act did not cover Valladolid's fatal injury because his accident occurred on land rather than on the Shelf.
The Labor Department's Benefit Review Board affirmed.
The Ninth Circuit reversed, concluding that the Lands Act did not incorporate a strict geographic restriction, but rather required a substantial nexus between a worker's injury and his employer's extractive operations on the Shelf.
In an opinion filed with the clerk today, we affirm.
We reject the petitioner's argument that the Lands Act extends Longshore Act coverage only to employees whose injuries occur on the Shelf.
Nothing in the text of the Lands Act supports such a restriction.
The statute has only two requirements, the employer's extractive operations must be conducted on the Shelf and the employee's injury must occur as a result of those operations.
Had Congress intended to limit the scope of Lands Act coverage solely to injuries that occur on the Shelf then Congress could have easily done so as demonstrated by the explicit geographic restrictions that appear in other subsections of the Act.
We are also unpersuaded by petitioner's alternative argument which requires a nonintuitive reading of the Lands Act in light of other unrelated provisions in the Longshore Act.
We find it unlikely that Congress intended to restrict the scope of -- of the Lands Act Workers' Compensation scheme through the convoluted combination of two separate legislative Acts.
Instead, we conclude that the substantial nexus test faithfully interprets the text of the Lands Act.
We understand that test to require an injured employee to establish a significant causal link between his injury and his employer's extractive operations on the Shelf in order to be eligible for workers' compensation benefits under the Lands Act.
Whether an injured employee qualifies for Lands Act coverage will depend on the specific circumstances of his case.
It was thus proper for the Ninth Circuit to remand this case for the Benefits Review Board to apply the substantial nexus test to the circumstances presented in this case.
Justice Scalia has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment in which Justice Alito joins.