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Maritime Update: Judge Throws Out Suit for Unpaid Overtime

On February 24, 2016, in the matter of Halle v. Galliano Marine Service, LLC, et al., a U.S. District judge in Louisiana dismissed a suit for unpaid overtime wages brought by an operator of a remotely operated (underwater) vehicle ("ROV").  This ruling underscores the importance of the seaman exemption under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA").

A.    Background

Kyle Halle was employed by C-Innovation, LLC, as an ROV Technician/Supervisor.  Halle worked 4-week shifts, was assigned to a particular ROV support vessel and ate, slept and lived aboard the vessel.

ROVs are unoccupied mechanical devices tethered to a vessel and controlled by the ROV crew aboard the vessel.  ROVs are tools used to provide offshore services, including blowout prevention, backup for offshore drilling operations, inspection of subsea structures, turning subsea valves, realigning underwater connections and placing marking beacons on the seafloor.  ROV Technicians navigate the ROVs at various offshore locations while on the vessel.  ROVs are connected to the ROV support vessel by a 1,500-2,000 foot cable.  Thus, the ROV support vessel must be positioned close to the target for the ROV cable to reach the underwater target.

Plaintiff was not paid overtime for years, so he filed suit under the FLSA to recover unpaid overtime wages, liquidated damages and attorneys' fees.  Halle's employer denied the allegations and moved to dismiss plaintiff's suit.

B.    Discussion

Halle argued that he was an industrial worker on a boat and his duties were of the same character as those of oilfield platform servicers, seismic technicians, electronic technicians and dredge miners since his primary duties were related to working a tool used to service offshore oilfield operations.  Halle was not a member of the support vessel's crew, his duties were dedicated to the ROVs and navigational decisions were up to the vessel captain.  Finally, Halle was subject to a chain of command separate from the vessel command.  Halle's employer maintained that his work was water-based, voyage-based and vessel-based, which exempted him from the FLSA overtime provisions.

Anyone employed as a seaman is exempt from the FLSA overtime requirements.  A seaman's work for the purpose of the FLSA is "rendered primarily as an aid in the operation of a vessel as a means of transportation."  The critical factual questions implicated by the FLSA's seaman exception relate to the job duties that the employee performs and the proportion of their working hours they devote to particular duties.

C.    Conclusion

The judge found that Halle was a seaman for purposes of the FLSA's overtime wage requirements, because the ROV he operated was an essential appurtenance to the support vessel, which contributed to the mission of the vessel.  Halle was not protected by the overtime provisions in the FLSA, and his suit was dismissed.

D.    Why is This Important?

  1. Maritime employers should know that ROV Technicians/Supervisors assigned to a ROV support vessel are not entitled to overtime wages under the FSLA.

  2. ROV Technicians/Supervisors assigned to a ROV support vessel could be seamen for purposes of the Jones Act.

  3. Anyone employing ROV Technicians/Supervisors should be mindful of potential Jones Act liability.

Attorneys

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