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Long v. International Paper Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Alexandria Division

July 20, 2017

CRYSTAL LONG AND DAVID DUWAYNE LONG
v.
INTERNATIONAL PAPER CO. AND BROCK SERVICES LLC

          MAGISTRATE JUDGE PEREZ-MONTES

          RULING

          DEE D. DRELL, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Before the Court is the motion of defendant International Paper Company ("International Paper"), for summary judgment. Doc. 22. Plaintiffs filed a response to the motion (Doc. 26), and International Paper filed a reply memorandum. Doc. 27. The matter is ready for disposition. For the following reasons, International Paper's Motion for Summary Judgment will be GRANTED.

         I. Background and Procedural History

         Crystal and David Duwayne Long ("Plaintiffs") filed the original action in this case on March 1, 2016, in the 10th Judicial District Court (Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana). Defendants, International Paper and Brock Services, LLC ("Brock Services"), removed alleging complete diversity between the parties pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1332. Doc. 1. International Paper is incorporated in New York with its principal place of business in Tennessee and Brock Services' sole member is Brock Holdings III, Inc., a Delaware corporation with a principal place of business in Texas. Doc. 1, p. 2. International Paper also averred Plaintiffs' claim for damages to be in excess of $75, 000, fulfilling the amount in controversy requirement for diversity jurisdiction.

         This suit arises out of an accident resulting in David Long's ("Long") death that occurred at International Paper's Red River Mill (the "Mill") in Campti, Louisiana on March 2, 2015. Doc. 22-2, p. 1. At the time of the accident, International Paper had contracted with Brock Services to build scaffolding at the Mill over the Number 1 Paper Machine (the "Machine") to access a hydraulic leak near the lubrication tubing for repair. Id. at 2. Long and two co-workers, all employees of Brock, were actively constructing scaffolding on and over the seventh drive shaft and motor of the Machine, while the motor was in operation. Doc. 26, p. 5. Mr. Long's safety lanyard became entangled in the Machine's drive shaft and he was pulled in, leading to his death. Id.

         Plaintiffs allege there was no guard or properly installed cover over the Machine's rotating motor. They also assert International Paper knew the area in which Long was working was unreasonably dangerous and did not attempt to warn him. Doc. 1-3, p. 2. Additionally, Plaintiffs claim that International Paper and Brock did not provide proper safety equipment; the safety equipment that was provided was also unreasonably dangerous. Doc. 1-3, p. 4. Finally, Plaintiffs assert that International Paper and Brock Services should be estopped from pleading statutory employer protection under the Louisiana's Workers' Compensation Law because, they say, Defendants acted intentionally in directing the scaffolding to be built near moving machinery and should have known that serious injury and/or death were substantially certain to follow from this conduct. Doc. 1-3, p. 4.

         International Paper has filed the instant motion for summary judgment positing that at the time of his death, Long was acting in the course and scope of his employment; therefore, they conclude, Plaintiffs' claims against International Paper are barred by the Louisiana Workers' Compensation Act because Plaintiffs have not stated a claim for an intentional tort against International Paper. Doc. 22, p. 2. Plaintiffs opposed the motion, arguing that International Paper knew that death and/or serious bodily injury was substantially certain to follow from Long's building of the scaffold, which is tantamount to an "intentional act" exception under the Louisiana Workers' Compensation Act. Doc. 26, p. 7. International Paper replied, stating the intentional act exception does not apply because it was the statutory employer under the Louisiana Workers' Compensation Act. Doc. 27, p. 1.

         II. Law and Analysis

          A. Summary Judgment Standard

          A court "shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A motion for summary judgment must be supported by "particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations, admissions, interrogatory answers or other materials." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). A dispute of material fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). We consider "all evidence in the light most favorable to the party resisting the motion." Seacor Holdings, Inc. v. Commonwealth Ins. Co., 635 F.3d 675, 680 (5th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations omitted). In this analysis, we review facts and draw all inferences most favorable to the nonmovant, "[h]owever, mere conclusory allegations are not competent summary judgment evidence, and such allegations are insufficient, therefore, to defeat a motion for summary judgment." Eason v. Thaler, 73 F.3d 1322, 1325 (5th Cir. 1996). It is important to note that the standard for a summary judgment is two-fold: (1) there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and (2) the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

         B. Analysis

         After reviewing the motion, the Court finds that International Paper's Motion for Summary Judgment should be granted.[1] In the instant motion, International Paper takes the position that because it was Long's "statutory employer, " Plaintiffs' sole remedy is through the Louisiana Workers' Compensation Act. Doc. 22-2, p. 9. While Plaintiffs' do not dispute that International Paper was Long's statutory employer, they do argue that an intentional act occurred because International Paper knew that death and/or seriously bodily injury was substantially certain to follow from its conduct, whatever its desire may have been to that result. Doc. 26, p. 7, 10. Under the Louisiana Workers' Compensation Act, an employee is limited to the remedies provided in the act for any claims an employee has arising out of injuries he allegedly sustained during the course and scope of his employment under his statutory employer. La. R.S. 23:1032. In effect the "statutory employer" is immune from tort liability as if it is the actual employer. Id. However, there is an exception for intentional acts committed by the employer or statutory employer. Id.

         The Fifth Circuit has stated that a person acts intentionally if "the person either (1) consciously desires the physical result of his act, whatever the likelihood of that result happening from his conduct; or (2) knows that that result is substantially certain to follow from his conduct, whatever his desire may be as to that result." Swope v. Columbian Chemicals Co.281 F.3d 185, 195 (5th Cir. 2002). Furthermore, in accord with the jurisprudence from the Louisiana Supreme Court, the Fifth Circuit defined "substantially certain to follow" as requiring "more than a reasonable probability that an injury will occur" and "'certain' has been defined to mean 'inevitable' or 'incapable of failing.'" Romero v. Northrop Grumman Corp.44 Fed.Appx. 654, *3 (5th Cir. 2002) (quoting Reeves v. Structural Pres. Sys., 731 So.2d 208, 213 (La. 1999). Finally, the appellate court states that "a distinguishing feature in determining whether the conduct complained of meets the ...


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