Covered Location and Activity under the Longshore and Harbor Workers

Mr. Abdulaziz Ahmed v. Western Ports Transportation, Inc. https://www.dol.gov/brb/decisions/lngshore/published/16-0067.htm

The Parties

Mr. Ahmed was a commercial truck driver for Western Ports.

Western Ports Transportation is an intermodal drayage provider for the Seattle and Tacoma area of Washington State. Intermodal drayage is when specialized trucking companies transport containerized cargo between ocean ports or rail ramps and shipping docks.

Western Ports’ operations at the Port of Seattle consist of three groups: 1) international, which is responsible for moving merchandise from the port and warehouses to retail outlets; 2) domestic, which works to move containers between warehouses; and 3) rail, which acts to move containers between the port terminals and rail yards.

The Facts

Mr. Ahmed was usually assigned to Western Ports’ rail group. He drove trailers between Terminal 5 at the Port of Seattle and the Union Pacific Intermodal Facility, and he could make up to nine such trips per day.

He sustained his injury on January 26, 2011, at the Union Pacific Intermodal Facility. This occurred during the course of his work as a commercial truck driver with Western Ports Transportation.  That same month, Mr. Ahmed had surgery performed on his left elbow.  Later, Mr. Ahmed  was cleared to return to work with no restrictions a few months later. He even signed a renewed contract with Western Ports Transportation the month after that.

Employment Conditions

The injuries

Mr. Ahmed suffered a fracture of his left elbow.

The employer’s actions

Mr. Ahmed underwent surgery on his left elbow on January 27, 2011.  He was later cleared to return to work with no restrictions on April 19, 2011, and he signed a renewed contract with Western Ports on May 3, 2011.

Results of the Initial Hearing

Mr. Ahmed filed a claim for temporary total disability benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.   The administrative law judge found that Mr. Ahmed was an independent contractor, rather than Western Ports’ employee. The administrative law judge also found that Mr. Ahmed did not regularly engage in maritime employment, and that he was not injured on a covered location.  As a result, the administrative law judge found that Mr. Ahmed is not covered by the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. And, therefore, the administrative law judge denied Mr. Ahmed’s claim for benefits.

The Appeal

Mr. Ahmed appealed the initial findings. He contended that his work satisfied the status element because it involved the intermediate step of moving cargo between ships at the Port of Seattle’s terminals to the nearby intermodal rail yards. This was where the containers would then be taken to further inland destinations.  Mr. Ahmed therefore maintains that the administrative law judge’s finding is contrary to law. This is under the “point of rest” theory, that maritime transport ended, and landward transport began, at the port terminals. This was rather than at the Union Pacific Intermodal Facility.

However, the “point of rest” theory has already been rejected in  Northeast Marine Terminal Co. v. Caputo, 432 U.S. 249, 6 BRBS 150 (1977).  In the Caputo case, the court said:

The closest Congress came to defining the key terms is the “typical example” of shoreward coverage provided in the Committee Reports.  The example clearly indicates an intent to cover those workers involved in the essential elements of unloading a vessel – taking cargo out of the hold, moving it away from the ship’s side, and carrying it immediately to a storage or holding area. The example also makes it clear that persons who are on the situs but are not engaged in the overall process of loading and unloading vessels are not covered. Thus, employees such as truck drivers, whose responsibility on the waterfront is essentially to pick up or deliver cargo unloaded from or destined for maritime transportation are not covered.

He further contended that his work satisfied the situs (location) requirement, asserting that the rail yard where his injury occurred was an “adjoining area” as defined by the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.

The Ruling on Appeal

The administrative appeal judges rejected Mr. Ahmed’s contention that the administrative law judge erred in finding Mr. Ahmed’s injury did not occur on a covered location.  They felt that the administrative law judge fully analyzed the evidence concerning the nature of the Union Pacific Intermodal Facility and as a result found that Mr. Ahmed did not meet the location element based upon weighing several relevant factors.  The administrative law judge found that the Union Pacific Intermodal Facility functions, in a fundamental sense, as “a railroad facility located, for economic reasons, near the port.”

In light of their findings, the administrative appeals judges determined that they did not need to address Mr. Ahmed’s contentions regarding the administrative law judge’s finding that he was an independent contractor, rather than an employee of Western Ports, at the time of injury.

The Takeaway

Two of the crucial elements of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act are that a claimant such as Mr. Ahmed must be doing work which has the status of maritime-type work. The other such element is that a claimant must be performing his or her work in a location which is covered by the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.

Mr. Ahmed did not fulfill either necessary condition. As a truck driver, he was responsible for picking up or dropping off cargo, and the fact that the cargo was then loaded onto a seaworthy vessel (or had just been unloaded from one) was immaterial, as his participation was the same as it would have been if he had picked up or dropped off cargo in the middle of a desert. Furthermore, just because the picking up and dropping off area was near the water did not sway the administrative appeal judges. They determined that the location was a railroad facility, but it just so happened to be near a port.

As a result of this hearing, it seems that Mr. Ahmed would have had his injuries covered if he had simply gotten out of his vehicle and participated in either the loading or unloading of his cargo.