January 17, 2012
On January 11, 2012, the Supreme Court announced its decision in Pacific Operators Offshore LLP v. Valladolid. The question in this case was whether an employee who spent nearly all his time working on an offshore platform--but was killed in an accident at an onshore facility--suffered his injuries “as the result of” operations conducted on the outer continental shelf, thereby giving his widow a claim for benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, by way of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA). An administrative law judge and review board denied benefits because the accident occurred onshore, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, concluding that a benefits claimant need only establish a “substantial nexus” between the injury and extractive operations on the outer continental shelf.
In an opinion delivered by Justice Thomas and joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, the Court affirmed the Ninth Circuit and remanded the case for further proceedings. The OCSLA, the Court held, extends coverage to an employee who can establish a substantial nexus between his injury and his employer’s extractive operations on the outer continental shelf. Justice Scalia filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which Justice Alito joined.
To discuss the case, we have Richard Epstein, professor at New York University School of Law and professor emeritus at the University of Chicago Law School.