This week at the ninth: Offshore Occupation | Morrison & Foerster LLP – Left Coast Appeals

This week, the Ninth Circuit is resolving a split between trial courts over the application of California labor laws to drilling rigs on the outer continental shelf.


The Court finds that California labor laws requiring meal and rest breaks do not apply on the outer continental shelf under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act because federal law already addresses these issues.

Panel: Judges Murguia, Christen and Lynn (ND Tex.), Judge Christen writing the opinion.

Highlight: “The fact that federal law does not offer meal and rest period protections as strong as those in California does not mean that there is a gap in federal law or that federal law does not does not deal with meal and rest periods. The result we arrive at here is consistent with [the Supreme Court’s decision in] Parker Drillingwho made it clear that state law plays only a limited role on the SCO.

Background: Iafeta Mauia worked twelve hour days as a scaffolding supervisor on oil rigs on the outer continental shelf off the coast of California. His employer, Petrochem, provided for a meal period after six hours and two rest periods per twelve-hour shift. Mauia sued, alleging the practices violated California labor law, which requires at least 30-minute meal breaks every five hours and 10 minutes of rest for every four hours worked. Petrochem sought the dismissal because, under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, state law only applies to the SCO to the extent that federal law left a void. California labor law was therefore unenforceable, Petrochem argued, because the federal Fair Labor Standards Act already addressed meal and rest periods. The district court disagreed, finding that federal law only addresses when breaks must be compensated as work time, not whether employers must provide them. Recognizing that other trial courts had reached a different result, the district court allowed the interlocutory appeal.

Result: the ninth inverted circuit. The Court first explained that OCSLA adopts state law on the outer continental shelf to the extent that it is “applicable and not inconsistent with . . . federal law.” Under the Supreme Court’s decision in Parker Sert Drilling Management. against Newton, 139 S.Ct. 1881 (2019), “the question is whether federal law has already settled the relevant question; if so, state law dealing with the same matter would necessarily be inconsistent with existing federal law and cannot be enacted as substituted federal law. Next, the Court went through the FLSA’s implementing regulations, finding that “federal law encourages, but does not require, employers to provide rest breaks” and “requires employers to compensate employees for all rest breaks which are granted”. Because these rules “expressly contemplate meal and rest periods, specify how and when these periods must be compensated as working time, and provide recourse to employees whose employers fail to comply”, the Court held that “there is no loophole in federal law for state law to fill,” and therefore the California labor code provisions relied on by Mauia did not apply. “The fact that federal law doesn’t offer mealtime and rest period protections as strong as those in California doesn’t mean there’s a gap in federal law.” And it doesn’t matter that there are no “direct federal counterparts” to the California rules, because the relevant question is “whether the federal law deals with the relevant question, not whether the federal law deals with it the same manner”.

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Michael A. Bynum