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Kronberg v. Oasis Petroleum North America LLC

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 5, 2016

Margo Kronberg, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Joseph Kronberg, and Margo Kronberg on Behalf of all the Heirs of Joseph Kronberg, Plaintiff- Appellant,
v.
Oasis Petroleum North America LLC; RPM Consulting, Inc.; American Portable Mini Storage, Inc., Defendants-Appellees.

          Submitted: February 11, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the District of North Dakota - Bismarck

          Before SMITH and COLLOTON, Circuit Judges, and GRITZNER, [1] District Judge.

          COLLOTON, Circuit Judge.

         Joseph Kronberg was electrocuted and died while working at an oil well as an employee of Nabors Drilling USA, LP. Mr. Kronberg's widow, Margo Kronberg, filed wrongful death and survival actions against Oasis Petroleum North America LLC, RPM Consulting, Inc., and others involved with the well, alleging that their negligence caused her husband's death. The district court[2] granted summary judgment for Oasis and RPM Consulting. Mrs. Kronberg appeals, and we affirm.

         I.

         Oasis engages in oil and gas exploration activities and acquires property rights to drill for the fuels. The company does not conduct drilling operations at its well sites. Rather, Oasis contracts with other entities that manage the day-to-day operations at its wells.

         In June 2007, Oasis entered into a Master Service Contract with RPM Consulting. RPM Consulting agreed to provide Oasis with engineering support and subcontractors to oversee the drilling process and coordinate services needed to keep those sites operating efficiently.

         Under the Master Service Contract, RPM Consulting assigned "company hands" to oil rigs operating at Oasis wells. A company hand is tasked with ensuring that the drilling process is progressing safely, efficiently, and according to the well plan. Company hands do not operate equipment or complete hands-on work. On behalf of Oasis, they supervise drilling and contract with third-party vendors for services needed at wells. RPM Consulting typically appoints two company hands to serve at each site, and one company hand is on duty at all times. While on duty, the company hand lives at the site, serving as the Oasis representative at the well. Each morning, the company hand on duty e-mails a progress report to several Oasis and RPM Consulting employees.

         In early 2011, Oasis obtained the rights to drill for oil at the Ross 5603 well in Williams County, North Dakota. Oasis engaged Nabors Drilling to serve as the drilling contractor at the well. Oasis agreed to supply Nabors Drilling with a suitable location to drill the well. Nabors Drilling agreed to drill the well and to provide the rig and labor necessary to accomplish the task.

         Nabors Drilling dispatched Nabors Rig 177 to the well. RPM Consulting assigned three subcontractors, including company hand Michael Bader, to the rig. Bader, through the separate entity of Mike Bader Consulting, LLC, had entered into a Subcontractor Agreement with RPM Consulting in February 2010.

         Joseph Kronberg worked for Nabors Drilling on Nabors Rig 177. On the evening of May 9, 2011, Mr. Kronberg entered the Ross well's "change shack, " a structure where Nabors Drilling employees changed into and out of their work clothes. An electrical cord running from a generator to the well site's transformer ran in front of the change shack. Someone had positioned a metal grate in front of the shack's entrance. Foot traffic near the shack had caused the electrical cord and metal grate to converge in a puddle of water, and the grate had punctured the cord. As Mr. Kronberg exited the shack, he stepped onto the grate and was electrocuted.

         Although it is not clear who placed the grate in front of the shack, the grate previously had been located in another structure used by Nabors Drilling employees. It had been raining at the well for several days before the accident, and workers at the well suggested that the grate was set in front of the shack a few days earlier so that Nabors Drilling employees could remove mud from their boots. Bader, who was on duty as company hand, filed an accident report with Oasis concerning the Kronberg incident.

         Mr. Kronberg's widow brought wrongful death and survival actions against Oasis Petroleum and RPM Consulting, among others. Mrs. Kronberg alleged that the defendants' negligence caused her husband's death. The district court granted summary judgment for Oasis and RPM Consulting, ruling that neither company owed Mr. Kronberg a duty of care under North Dakota law. Mrs. Kronberg dismissed her claims against the remaining defendants and now appeals the grant of summary judgment in favor of Oasis and RPM Consulting.

         We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, viewing the record in the light most favorable to Mrs. Kronberg and drawing all reasonable inferences in her favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate when "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and . . . is entitled to judgment as a matter of law" based on ...


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