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Moore v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

November 8, 2017




         Before the Court are the Motions to Dismiss Entergy Louisiana LLC's ("Entergy") Third Party Complaint (Docs. 53, 54, 72) filed by S&H Trucking, Inc., Commercial Coolants, Inc. d/b/a Design Air Systems ("Design Air"), and Fleet Personnel Corporation. Also before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 66) filed by Countrywide Payroll & HR Solutions, Inc., the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 71) filed by Design Air, and the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 84) filed by Home Depot U.S.A., Inc. The parties filed oppositions (Docs. 62, 78, 81, 86, 92) and replies (Docs. 63 and 93), where applicable. For the following reasons, the Motions to Dismiss (Docs. 53, 54, 71, 72, 84) are DENIED and the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 66) is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs Steven Moore and Renee Moore claim that Steven Moore was seriously injured while delivering equipment to a Home Depot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Doc. 1-2). Plaintiffs allege that on November 2, 2015, Mr. Moore arrived at the Home Depot before normal store hours to deliver some equipment for what the Court presumes was some kind of construction project, and that the Home Depot was not ready to unload his cargo. Id. at ¶ 2. Plaintiffs allege that Home Depot employees then directed Mr. Moore to a parking area on Home Depot property where they should have known that there was a high voltage power line. Id. at ¶ 3-4. Plaintiffs further allege that while preparing to unload his delivery, Mr. Moore came into contact with low-hanging power lines and he sustained significant injuries, including the loss of his leg. Id. at ¶¶ 7, 9. Plaintiffs allege that he was employed by S&H Trucking while making the delivery. Id. at ¶ 2. Mr. Moore seeks damages as a result of his alleged injury and his wife, Mrs. Moore, seeks damages for loss of consortium. Id. at ¶¶ 9, 12)

         Plaintiffs sued Home Depot, Entergy, RLM Consulting, LLC, Richard Morris, The Travelers Indemnity Company of Connecticut, Design Air Systems, and Depositors Insurance Company. (Docs. 1-2 and 50). Plaintiffs claim that Home Depot failed to maintain the power line in a safe condition, failed to warn Mr. Moore of an unsafe condition, and failed to ensure that the power line was a safe distance above the ground. (Doc. 1-2 at ¶ 10). Plaintiffs allege that Entergy failed to maintain the power line and to ensure that it was at a safe height, and that it failed to warn Mr. Moore of other dangerous conditions. Id. at ¶ 11.

         Plaintiffs also claim that Mr. Morris is the sole stock holder of RLM Consulting and that he was the project coordinator/manager of the construction project at the Home Depot. (Doc. 50 at ¶ 1(c)). Plaintiffs claim that Design Air was involved in the construction project as well. Id. at ¶ 2-3. Plaintiffs claim that RLM Consulting, Mr. Morris, and Design Air failed to provide Plaintiff a safe space to unload the HVAC system, failed to ensure that Mr. Moore had a safe area to park, failed to provide adequate supervision, and failed to contact Entergy to ensure that the power line met safe and proper height restrictions. Id. at ¶ 2-3, 5. Plaintiff alleges that Travelers was the liability insurer of RLM Consulting, Id. at ¶ 4, and that Depositors provided an insurance policy to Design Air. Id. at ¶ 5.

         Entergy then filed third party demands against S&H Trucking, (Doc. 9), Project RLM Consulting, LLC, Richard Morris, Design Air Systems, and Fleet Personnel Corporation. (Doc. 37).[1] Entergy seeks indemnification from these third party defendants under the Louisiana Overhead Power Line Safety Act because they allegedly failed to contact or notify Entergy of any plans to perform work within ten feet of an Entergy power line, as required by the Overhead Power Act. Id. at ¶ 7.

         Depositors Insurance Company then filed a crossclaim against Home Depot. (Doc. 68). Depositors alleges that Home Depot demanded that it defend and indemnify Home Depot. Id. at ¶ 10. Depositors alleges that about a month later, it declined to defend and indemnify Home Depot. Id. at ¶ 33. Depositors alleges that it issued a general liability policy and an umbrella policy to Design Air, in effect at the time of Mr. Moore's accident. Id. at ¶ 27. It also claims that Home Depot was not a named insured on the Depositors insurance policies that were issued to Design Air. Id. at ¶ 27. Depositors also asserts that Home Depot is not covered by the blanket additional insured endorsements. Id. at ¶ 27. Based on these allegations, Depositors seeks a declaratory judgment that it does not owe a duty to indemnify or defend Home Depot. Id. at ¶ 35.


         A. Motions to Dismiss

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the complaint against the legal standard set forth in Rule 8, which requires "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Rule 8(a)(2). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Ail. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] . . . a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 679.

         "[F]acial plausibility" exists "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Hence, the complaint need not set out "detailed factual allegations, " but something "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" is required. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. When conducting its inquiry, the Court "accepts all well-pleaded facts as true and views those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Bustos v. Martini Club Inc., 599 F.3d 458, 461 (5th Cir. 2010) (quotation marks omitted).

         1. Design Air System's Motion to Dismiss

         Plaintiffs allege that Design Air's negligence caused Mr. Moore's injuries. (Doc. 1-2). Design Air argues that Plaintiffs negligence claim should be dismissed because Design Air Systems did not owe a duty to Mr. Moore at the time of the accident. (Doc. 71-1 at p. 1). In a negligence action under Louisiana law, courts apply the "duty risk analysis" in which a plaintiff must establish, among other things, that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care. Rando v. Anco Insulations Inc., 16 So.3d 1065, 1086 (La. 2009). Determining whether a defendant owes a duty of care to a plaintiff is a question of law, which turns on "whether the plaintiff has any law (statutory, jurisprudential, or arising from general principles of fault) to support the claim that the defendant owed him a duty." Id. In Louisiana, "[t]here is an almost universal duty on the part of the defendant in a negligence action to use reasonable care to avoid injury to another." Id. But "[i]n some cases, the duty is refined more specifically that the defendant must conform his or her conduct to some specially defined standard of behavior." Boykin v. Louisiana Transit Co., 707 So.2d 1225, 1231 (La. 1998).

         Design Air argues that it did not owe a duty to Mr. Moore because Design Air did not exert any control over Mr. Moore while he was delivering equipment to Home Depot. (Doc. 71-1 at p. 6). In support of this contention, Design Air cites Groover v. Camp Dresser & McKee Inc., 420 Fed.Appx. 358 (5th Cir. 2011). In Groover, the court held that a principal is not liable for the injuries resulting from the negligent acts of an independent contract, unless the principal controls the contractor's work. Id. at 362. Here, however, Plaintiffs do not allege that Design Air was an independent contractor or a principal, rather Plaintiffs allege that Design Air "was involved in the installation of the HVAC equipment for the construction project at the Home Depot facility in Baton Rouge, Louisiana[.]" (Doc. 50 at ¶ 1(f)). Plaintiffs further allege that Design Air was negligent by failing to provide Mr. Moore a safe place to unload, failing to ensure the location to park was safe, and failing to provide adequate supervision of the unloading operation. (Doc. 50 at ¶ 5). In other words, Plaintiffs allege that Design Air was directly negligent to Mr. Moore, and the claims do not implicate agency theories of principal and independent contractor liability. The facts as alleged do not implicate Groover. Because Plaintiffs allege that Design Air was involved in the very construction project that resulted in Mr. Moore's injuries, Plaintiffs have alleged sufficient facts to establish that Design Air owed Mr. Moore a duty of care at the time he was injured. Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 679. Plaintiffs therefore adequately allege a claim of negligence against Design Air. Design Air's Motion to Dismiss is denied.

         2. S&H Trucking, Design Air, and Fleet Personnel's Motions to Dismiss ...

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