Houston Aquarium, Inc. v. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, No. 19-60245 (5th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
The Fifth Circuit reversed the Commission's decision affirming the application of OSHA's commercial diving safety regulations to the dives its staff members perform to feed animals housed at the Aquarium and to clean the facility's tanks. A majority of the Commission panel affirmed the ALJ's determination that feeding and cleaning dives did not fall within the "scientific diving" exemption to the commercial standard.
The court held that the ALJ did not err in crediting the compliance officer's testimony about the Commercial Diving Operations (CDO) standard as lay opinion testimony; even if the compliance officer testified to some matters that fell outside the realm of lay opinion testimony, the admission of the testimony was harmless; and the Aquarium's witnesses were properly treated as lay witnesses. Under a plain reading of the entire definition of "scientific diving," as well as the regulation guidelines and regulatory history, the court held that the activities performed during the feeding and cleaning dives fall within the plain text of the exemption. In this case, the Aquarium has shown that feeding and cleaning dives are a necessary component of its scientific research.