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Patterson v. Raceland Equipment Co., LLC

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

April 18, 2018

NEVILLE PATTERSON
v.
RACELAND EQUIPMENT COMPANY, LLC AND RACELAND RAW SUGAR LLC D/B/A RACELAND SUGAR MILL

          Appealed from the Seventeenth Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of Lafourche State of Louisiana Suit Number 126414 Honorable Steven M. Miller, Presiding

          Allen J. Myles Plaquemine, LA and Daniel A. Cavell Thibodaux, LA Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellant Neville Patterson

          Brent P. Frederick Michael T. Beckers Danielle N. Goren Baton Rouge, LA Counsel for Defendants/ Appellees Raceland Equipment Company, LLC and Raceland Raw Sugar, LLC d/ b/ a Raceland Sugar Mill

          Musa Rahman Baton Rouge, LA Counsel for Intervenor/Appellee Louisiana Workers Compensation Corporation

          BEFORE: GUIDRY, PETTIGREW, AND GRAIN, JJ.

          GUIDRY, J.

         In this action seeking damages for personal injuries, plaintiff, Neville Patterson, appeals from a judgment of the trial court granting summary judgment in favor of defendants, Raceland Equipment Company, LLC and Raceland Raw Sugar, LLC d/b/a Raceland Raw Sugar Mill, and dismissing his claims against them with prejudice. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Raceland Raw Sugar, LLC (RRS) is a sugar mill in Lafourche Parish that contracts out the hauling of sugar cane from the field to their mill. RRS formed Raceland Equipment Company, LLC (REC) to offer a way for its contractors to obtain affordable workers' compensation insurance if they did not otherwise have a workers' compensation insurance policy. On September 18, 2013, Patterson, in his individual capacity, signed several documents with RRS and REC in order to haul cane for RRS. Included among these documents was an indemnification agreement and insurance requirements form, signed by Patterson, identifying him as the "contractor" and recognizing RRS and REC's legal status as statutory employers.

         At the time Patterson completed the paperwork and signed the indemnification agreement with RRS and REC, he was driving a truck owned by S&S Holmes (S&S). The haul checks from RRS were paid to S&S but were endorsed by Patterson, and Patterson received a separate check from REC for driver wages. Thereafter, on November 4, 2013, Patterson formed N-A-N Trucking, LLC (N-A-N) with the Louisiana Secretary of State's office. Patterson submitted copies of his paperwork to RRS and began operating his own truck. From that point forward, RRS made haul checks payable to N-A-N, which were also endorsed by Patterson, and Patterson continued to receive his driver wages from REC.

          Thereafter, on December 23, 2013, while Patterson was unloading his trailer at the RRS sugar mill, the cable used to pick up the trailer broke, causing the trailer to fall back onto the truck. Patterson subsequently filed a petition for damages, naming RRS and REC as defendants and asserting that he was an employee of N-A-N; he sustained physical injuries to his neck and back as a result of the December 23, 2013 accident; and that the accident was caused by the negligence of RRS and REC. RRS and REC filed an answer, alleging several affirmative defenses. Particularly, RRS and REC asserted that at all pertinent times, Patterson was a direct employee of REC and pursuant to contract, was a statutory employee of RRS, and therefore, his tort claims against them were barred by the Louisiana Workers' Compensation Act (the Act).

         On March 6, 2015, RRS and REC filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that because Patterson is a direct employee of REC and a statutory employee of RRS, they are immune from a civil tort action pursuant to the Act. Following a hearing on RRS and REC's motion, the trial court signed a judgment on June 5, 2015, denying the motion. In reasons for judgment, the trial court noted conflicting evidence regarding whether Patterson was a direct employee of REC. Additionally, the court noted inconsistent evidence regarding whether the indemnification agreement established that Patterson was an employee of N-A-N or a contractor with RRS and REC.

         Thereafter, following the taking of depositions of the parties and witnesses, RRS and REC filed a renewed motion for summary judgment. In their motion, RRS and REC asserted that the undisputed facts demonstrate that Patterson, in his individual capacity, was an independent contractor of both RRS and REC through a written agreement, and that the agreement is compliant with La. R.S. 23:1061 and conveys statutory employer status upon RRS and REC. Therefore, RRS and REC asserted that they are immune from civil tort liability pursuant to the Act. Patterson opposed the motion, asserting that he is an employee of N-A-N, and there is no contract between RRS and N-A-N. Both parties submitted copies of the indemnification agreement, LLC documents, payroll checks, and depositions of the parties and other witnesses.

         Following a hearing, the trial court signed a judgment granting summary judgment in favor of RRS and REC and dismissing Patterson's claims against them with prejudice.[1] In reasons for judgment, the trial court found that the indemnification agreement, executed by Patterson in his individual capacity and listing him as "contractor, " recognized RRS and REC as statutory employers and thereby created a rebuttable presumption of a statutory employment relationship. As such, Patterson bore the burden of showing that the parties severed the contract ...


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