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French v. Claiborne Parish Police Jury

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

June 27, 2018

LINDSEY FRENCH Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
CLAIBORNE PARISH POLICE JURY AND CLAIBORNE PARISH SHERIFF Defendant-Appellee

          Appealed from the Second Judicial District Court for the Parish of Claiborne, Louisiana Trial Court No. 40427 Honorable Jenifer Ward Clason, Judge

          NELSON W. CAMERON Counsel for Appellant

          GOLD, WEEMS, BRUSER, SUES & RUNDELL Counsel for Appellee By: Eugene Joseph Sues Brandon Ashley Sues Sarah Spruill Couvillon

          Before PITMAN, COX, and McCALLUM, JJ.

          McCALLUM, J.

         Lindsey French, a trusty[1] who was serving his hard labor sentence at the Claiborne Parish Detention Center ("CPDC"), was injured while operating a tractor as part of a grass-cutting crew for the Claiborne Parish Police Jury ("Police Jury"). French's lawsuit against the Police Jury was dismissed on summary judgment because there was no genuine issue of material fact that French was an employee of the Police Jury at the time of his injury, making workers' compensation his exclusive remedy against the Police Jury.

         We affirm.

         FACTS

         French was housed at the CPDC while awaiting trial on drug and firearm charges. On February 18, 2014, French pled guilty to distribution of cocaine and was sentenced to nine years at hard labor. He remained at the CPDC as an inmate of the Louisiana Department of Safety and Corrections following his conviction and sentencing.

         According to Assistant Warden John Goodwin, the Claiborne Parish Sheriff ("Sheriff") and the Police Jury had an agreement whereby inmates at the CPDC could be released to work for the Police Jury as part of the highway chipper crew ("crew") that maintained the rights of way along roads in Claiborne Parish. These inmates, or trusties, picked up trash, mowed grass using bush hogging equipment, and removed storm debris.

         After French applied for trusty status and was evaluated by the trusty board, he became a trusty on March 3, 2014, and his prison status was changed to minimum security. French was presented with the option of working on the crew because he claimed he could drive a tractor. French accepted the offered assignment.

         French, along with five other trusties from the CPDC, operated tractors provided by the Police Jury to bush hog grassy areas alongside roads. The trusties were transported by the Police Jury. On mornings that the trusties would work on the crew, a foreman or inmate supervisor would normally arrive at the CPDC between 6:45 and 7:00 a.m. to pick up the trusties. The foreman or inmate supervisor would return the inmates to the CPDC, usually between 2:30 and 3:30 in the afternoon depending on the duration of that day's work.

         On June 10, 2014, the tractor being operated by French struck an obscured tree stump. French was not wearing a seatbelt at the time. He recalled that when the tractor bucked from the impact, he fell through an opening where a tractor step should have been, and landed on the ground. His pelvis was fractured when a tractor wheel then rolled onto him.

         On March 12, 2015, French filed a lawsuit against the Police Jury and the Sheriff. The Sheriff was subsequently dismissed from the lawsuit on a joint motion. French alleged that the Police Jury was liable for: (i) failing to adequately train inmates in the operation of the work machinery; (ii) failing to adequately supervise the inmates to ensure they were following proper safety procedures; (iii) failing to adequately inspect the area to be bush hogged for hidden dangers; (iv) instructing French to bush hog an area that did not require it; (v) instructing inmates not to wear seatbelts or telling them it was more dangerous to wear a seatbelt; (vi) failing to maintain the tractor so that it could be operated safely; and (vii) failing to provide a safe work place.

         On November 21, 2015, the Police Jury filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that it was immune from liability under La. R.S. 15:708. On July 21, 2017, the Police Jury filed a supplemental motion for summary judgment asserting in the alternative that French's sole remedy against it was in workers' compensation. In support of the motion, the Police Jury submitted excerpts from the depositions of French; Goodwin; Tommy Durrett, the Superintendent of the Police Jury; and Travis Kimp, an inmate supervisor for the Police Jury.

         French argued in opposition to the motion that he was more akin to a volunteer than an employee of the Police Jury. French further argued that he never entered into an employment relationship, and there was no agreement as to hours worked, pay rate, or other usual employment concerns. In opposition to the motion, French submitted various exhibits including his affidavit and excerpts from his deposition, as well as Durrett's ...


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