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Walton v. Baker Hughes Oilfield Operations, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

November 9, 2017




         The plaintiff, Clinton Walton (“Walton”), suffered a serious eye injury on July 1, 2014, while performing routine equipment maintenance at the direction of his employer, the defendant Baker Hughes Oil Field Operations, Inc. (“Baker Hughes”). For the reasons that follow, the Court DENIES three pending motions in this deliberate intention case, including the defendant's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. Nos. 53; 55; 59).

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         As this is a dispositive motion filed by the defendant, Baker Hughes, the Court reviews the evidence in the light most favorable to Walton, the non-moving party. See Providence Square Assocs., L.L.C. v. G.D.F., Inc., 211 F.3d 846, 850 (4th Cir. 2000).

         On October 1, 2011, Baker Hughes, which provides oil and gas extraction services, hired Walton to work as an equipment operator (Dkt. No. 1 at 1-2). Walton's responsibilities included operating equipment that Baker Hughes used to pump water and sand into oil and gas wells. On occasion, the pressure pumping equipment would become “jacked” and cease to function properly. When this occurred, Walton and other operators were tasked with rebuilding the offending pump, which included the removal of several “discharge valve caps, ” otherwise referred to as “suction caps” (Dkt. Nos. 53-3 at 4-6; 53-4 at 4; 53-14 at 2). The caps are recessed in approximately 8-inch openings on top of the pumps (Dkt. No. 53-14 at 3).

         1. The Task of Removal

         Removal of the suction caps was a relatively routine task, one Walton had performed at least 100 times between 2011 and 2014 (Dkt. No. 53-3 at 6). Nonetheless, Walton testified that he had never received any formal training about how to perform the task, but rather learned on the job how to remove the discharge caps. Id. at 8.[1] Other employees testified that they had been shown how to remove suction caps at the start of their employment, and stillothers testified that training was “learn as you go” (Dkt. No. 56-8 at 2).

         The method by which Baker Hughes trained its employees to remove suction caps - which some employees referred to as the correct, accepted, or approved method - involved the use of a slide hammer (Dkt. Nos. 53-5 at 4; 53-6 at 5-6; 53-7 at 6; 53-8 at 7, 14; 53-9 at 5). Slide hammers are tools that thread into the caps themselves, and as the name implies, employees use them to apply an upward force by sliding a weight up a “big metal dowel rod” into a fixed plate (Dkt. No. 53-3 at 7; 56-10 at 2).

         At times, the threading of the slide hammer or suction cap would become damaged to such an extent that the tool would not function properly (Dkt. No. 56-3 at 2-3). Whenever a slide hammer was ineffective, employees would temporarily use an alternate, unapproved method of removal until a properly functioning slide hammer became available (Dkt. No. 53-4 at 9). This alternate method generally involved threading a large eye bolt into the suction cap, placing the end of a bar through the eye bolt, and using the bar to apply leverage to the suction cap (the so-called “eye-bolt method”) (Dkt. No. 53-5 at 8). Aside from these common elements, however, the particular aspects of the unapproved eye-bolt method varied from employee to employee.

         There were, for example, several different bars that could be used, a “packing nut bar” being approximately two feet long, and a “line bar, ” which was between three and four feet long (Dkt. Nos. 53-6 at 12; 53-4 at 7; 53-8 at 15). Although Walton's coworkers differed about the frequency with which they used the short and long bars, they agreed they had seen supervisors using both of them (Dkt. Nos. 53-4 at 8; 53-5 at 10; 53-6 at 9; 53-13 at 4; 56-5 at 2).

         It is undisputed that, while utilizing the eye-bolt method, operators occasionally would tap the eye bolt with a sledge hammer “trying to break that seal and cock the suction cap sideways so it [would] pop up out” (Dkt. No. 53-6 at 7, 11). Employees, however, differed as to whether one should ever strike the bar itself, rather than the eye bolt (Dkt. Nos. 53-5 at 8; 53-13 at 7; 56-4 at 2; 56-8 at 2).

         Although Baker Hughes never instructed equipment operators to utilize the eye-bolt method (Dkt. Nos. 53-5 at 12; 53-7 at 8) - and one employee described it as “a shortcut we're not supposed to use” (Dkt. No. 53-8 at 5)[2] - use of the method was commonplace (Dkt. No. 56-10 at 2; 53-15 at 5). Walton and another employee testified that managers or supervisors were aware of this practice and even had used the method themselves (Dkt. Nos. 53-8 at 6; 56-9 at 2).

         2. Walton's Injury

         On July 1, 2014, the date of his injury, Walton was assigned to work on the Baker Hughes Hess Archer site in Cadiz, Ohio. There he participated in a “pre-job safety and operations meeting” at which field supervisor James Dotson ensured that all employees had their personal protective equipment (“PPE”) (Dkt. Nos. 53-12 at 3; 53-21). That day's job safety analysis (“JSA”) worksheet also indicates that the crew discussed safe practice when using a hammer (Dkt. No. 53-22 at 3). Neither the meeting nor the JSA specifically addressed rebuilding fluid end pumps or removing discharge caps.

         Nevertheless, during the shift, Walton's supervisor directed him to rebuild a fluid end pump (Dkt. No. 1 at 2). While working on the pump, Walton attempted to remove one particular discharge cap using the slide hammer that was on-site (Dkt. No. 53-3 at 9). When the slide hammer method failed, however, Walton resorted to a version of the eye-bolt method. Placing an eye bolt into the suction cap, he slid a short bar through the eye bolt and attempted to strike the bar with a sledge hammer. Instead, the sledge hammer struck another bar laying nearby, which in turn struck Walton in the right eye (Dkt. No. 53-3 at 10-14).[3] Although he was quickly transported to the hospital following his injury, Walton ultimately lost the use of his right eye.

         Baker Hughes immediately shut down the Hess Archer site for several days to investigate Walton's injury (Dkt. No. 53-4 at 6). It ultimately concluded that Walton had used the wrong tool, in part because he had incorrectly assumed that the “commonly used” eye-bolt method was an accepted practice (Dkt. Nos. 53-14 at 4; 56-1 at 3). As a result, Baker Hughes determined that Walton had not followed the standard operating procedure (“SOP”) for suction cap removal, and that the procedure was not clear to employees.[4] Moreover, Walton's supervisor had not conducted a JSA for the task in question (Dkt. No. 53-14 at 4).

         B. Procedural Background

         On June 28, 2016, Walton sued Baker Hughes under West Virginia's deliberate intent statute, W.Va. Code § 23-4-(d)(2)(ii). He alleged that Baker Hughes had failed to train him on or provide him with the proper equipment, thereby resulting in his use of an unapproved, alternate method of discharge cap removal, which resulted in his injury (Dkt. No. 1). Pending before the Court is Baker Hughes's motion for summary judgment on Walton's sole claim for recovery pursuant to W.Va. Code § 23-4-2(d)(2)(ii) (2014). Also pending are two related motions to strike filed by Walton.


         A. Motions to Strike

         Approximately one week after Baker Hughes filed its motion for summary judgment, it filed a supporting affidavit of safety specialist Michael Kuhn (“Kuhn”), which it apparently had failed to procure before Kuhn left on vacation (Dkt. No. 53-1 at 4 n.2). Walton moved to strike this affidavit based on purported inconsistencies between it and Kuhn's deposition testimony (Dkt. No. 55). When Baker Hughes responded to Walton's motion outside the 14-day period provided by the rules (Dkt. No. 58), Walton moved to strike the untimely response brief (Dkt. No. 59).

         1. Motion to Strike Response Brief

         Although Walton recognizes “that only one day passed after the filing deadline, ” he argues that Baker Hughes cannot provide a sufficient reason to justify its late filing. Id. at 4-7. In response, Baker Hughes concedes that it “was one day late because it was simultaneously working on” summary judgment briefing. It nonetheless argues that Walton will not be prejudiced by the late filing, and asks the Court to allow the submission of its response brief (Dkt. No. 63 at 2-3). In his reply, Walton insists that Baker Hughes's busy schedule is an insufficient basis to justify any extension (Dkt. No. 64 at 2).

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 6(b) gives the Court discretion to extend a deadline after its passage upon a showing of “excusable neglect.” The Court thus construes Baker Hughes's argument as a motion to permit its late filing based on excusable neglect.

Under the law of the United States Court of Appeals of the Fourth Circuit, “ ‘[e]xcusable neglect' is not easily demonstrated, nor was it intended to be . . . ‘the burden of demonstrating excusability lies with the party seeking the extension and a mere concession of palpable oversight or administrative failure generally has been held to fall short of the necessary showing . . .'” Thompson v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 76 F.3d 530, 534 (4th Cir.1995) (quoting In re O.P.M. Leasing Serv., Inc., 769 F.2d 911, 917 (2d Cir. 1985)). . . .
. . .
. . . The elements for consideration are: (1) “the danger of prejudice to [the non-moving party], ” (2) “the length of the delay and its potential impact on judicial proceedings, ” (3) “the reason for the delay, including whether it was in the reasonable control of the movant, and” (4) “whether the movant acted in good faith.” Pioneer Inv. Servs. v. Brunswick Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 507 U.S. 380, 395, 113 S.Ct. 1489, 123 L.Ed.2d 74 (1993). Quite obviously, the most important of these ...

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