Victory for Oil Platform Contractor at District Court and Appeals Court

Posted on Friday, October 6th, 2017 | Posted in Acknowledgements & Press Releases, Resources & Publications, Site Blog

Persuasive Appellate Advocacy Contributes to Success for Client


On November 16, 2012, an explosion occurred on an offshore oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana.  Three workers died, and several others were injured.  Chaffe McCall’s client Don Moss was an independent contractor working for an engineering consulting firm on the platform.  In November 2015, a grand jury indicted Don Moss for three felony violations of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (“OCSLA”) and one misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act.


Chaffe McCall’s role

Chaffe McCall’s legal team filed a Motion to Dismiss the felony OCSLA charges on the grounds that Don Moss’s conduct as a contractor was not criminalized by OCSLA because he was not an oilfield lease holder or designated operator under the statute and regulations.  After reviewing legal briefs and hearing oral argument by Chaffe attorneys, Walter Becker, Charles Marshall, and Doug Grundmeyer, the District Court agreed and dismissed the three felony charges against him.

The Government appealed this decision to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.  The Chaffe team submitted legal briefs and successfully presented prevailing oral argument to a three-judge panel.  On September 27, 2017, the Fifth Circuit ruled for Chaffe McCall’s client and affirmed the District Court’s dismissal of the felony charges.


Main Takeaways

It is widely recognized in the legal community that this published and precedential decision by the Fifth Circuit is extremely important.  It will significantly affect the Government’s recent efforts since the Deep Water Horizon explosion to criminally prosecute workers on offshore platforms for negligence.  Specifically, the Court held that OCSLA criminal liability cannot be applied to contractors on those oil platforms and rejected the government’s novel theory of joint and several liability and other efforts to extend criminal penalties to the contractor defendants.  In reaching its decision, the Fifth Circuit analyzed in detail the text, legislative history, and policy implications of the OCSLA statute and its regulations, as well as the government’s own record of administrative enforcement practices.