Unraveling the Tangled Web: A Discussion of the Development and Effects of the Supreme Court’s Substantial-Nexus Test as it Applies to the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act

Ryan T. Martin | Comment

In 2012, through Pacific Operators Offshore, LLP v. Valladolid, the United States Supreme Court resolved a longstanding federal circuit split regarding the scope of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) provision contained in 43 U.S.C. § 1333(b). In relevant part, § 1333(b) provides Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) benefits to employees who are injured “as the result of operations conducted on the Outer Continental Shelf” (OCS). Since OCSLA’s inception in 1953, the circuit courts have struggled to interpret the meaning of “injury occurring as the result of operations” in the § 1333(b) statutory language. In response to this concern, the Supreme Court in Valladolid adopted a substantial-nexus approach to determine the scope of § 1333(b) that would allow coverage under this section only if there was a “significant causal link” between the injury an employee suffered and his employer’s extractive operations on the OCS. While this decision resolved a three-way circuit split and provided some guidance on the proper interpretation of statutes with a causation element, it also left unresolved the definition of a substantial nexus. This Comment argues that the best interpretation of a substantial nexus in light of the Valladolid decision and subsequent case precedent is an intermediate causation standard between “but-for” and proximate cause.