GILBERT ESPREE, JR.
VANOIL COMPLETION SYSTEMS
FROM THE OFFICE OF WORKERS' COMPENSATION - DISTRICT NO. 4
PARISH OF ST. LANDRY, NO. 17-06635 ANTHONY PALERMO,
WORKERS' COMPENSATION JUDGE
Richard COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT: Gilbert Espree, Jr.
J. Waltner Allen & Gooch, A Law Corporation COUNSEL FOR
DEFENDANT/APPELLEE: Vanoil Completion Systems
composed of John D. Saunders, Elizabeth A. Pickett, and Van
H. Kyzar, Judges.
plaintiff, Gilbert Espree, Jr., appeals from a judgment of
the Office of Workers Compensation granting summary judgment
in favor of the defendant, Vanoil Completion Systems,
dismissing his claim for workers' compensation benefits.
For the reasons assigned, we reverse and remand.
OF THE RECORD
Espree, a sixteen-year employee of the defendant, Vanoil
Completion Systems (Vanoil), claimed that he suffered a
work-related injury, which resulted in the filing of a
disputed claim for compensation on October 16, 2017. Mr.
Espree was employed by Vanoil as press operator and
hydrostatic tester, and his job duties included lifting,
turning, and loading extremely heavy sections of pipe, called
mandrels. Mr. Espree claimed that during the week of February
6, 2017, he sustained a rupture of a periumbilical hernia,
together with lower back injuries, as a result of his heavy
and strenuous work activity throughout the week. While Mr.
Espree's original disputed claim asserted that the date
of the injury was February 6, 2017, and the answer by Vanoil
reflects a denial of the claim occurring on this date, his
amended disputed claim for compensation, which was filed on
March 7, 2018, asserted that the incident occurred on
February 10, 2017.
filed a motion for summary judgment on January 25, 2017.
Following a July 30, 2018 hearing, the workers'
compensation judge (WCJ) granted Vanoil's motion and
signed a judgment that same day. However, the judgment, which
was undated, merely stated that the motion for summary
judgment was granted, without further decretal language, and
was not designated as a final appealable judgment. Mr. Espree
filed a petition for appeal, which was granted on September
13, 2018. On the lodging of the appeal, we filed a rule to
show cause why the appeal should not be dismissed as having
been taken from a judgment lacking proper decretal language.
Our rule was withdrawn on the filing of an amended judgment
from the WCJ, dated December 12, 2018, which included the
proper decretal language, granting Vanoil's motion for
summary judgment, and dismissing Mr. Espree's claim with
appeal, Mr. Espree asserts that the WCJ "erred in
granting Appellee's Motion for Summary Judgment because
the Appellee's Motion did not prove that there was no
genuine issue as to material fact, and that the mover is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the issue of
whether Appellant suffered a work related accident."
Code of Civil Procedure Article 966 provides that summary
judgment procedure is favored and "is designed to secure
the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every
action, except those disallowed by Article 969." La.Code
Civ.P. art. 966(A)(2). It further provides that summary
judgment "shall be granted if the motion, memorandum,
and supporting documents show that there is no genuine issue
as to material fact and that the mover is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law." La.Code Civ.P. art.
966(A)(3). Although the burden of proof rests with the mover,
if the mover will not bear the burden of proof at trial, then
he need only point out to the trial court "the absence
of factual support for one or more elements essential to the
adverse party's claim, action, or defense."
La.Civ.Code art. 966(D)(1). Once this occurs, the burden
shifts to "the adverse party to produce factual support
sufficient to establish the existence of a genuine issue of
material fact or that the mover is not entitled to judgment
as a matter of law." Id.
supreme court in Smitko v. Gulf South Shrimp, Inc.,
11-2566, pp. 7-8 (La. 7/2/12), 94 So.3d 750, 755, set forth
our appellate standard of review of summary judgments, as
Appellate review of the granting of a motion for summary
judgment is de novo, using the identical criteria
that govern the trial court's consideration of whether
summary judgment is appropriate. Bonin v. Westport Ins.
Corp., 05-0886, p. 4 (La.5/17/06), 930 So.2d 906, 910;
Schroeder v. Bd. of Supervisors of La. State Univ.,
591 So.2d 342, 345 (La. 1991). A motion for summary judgment
is properly granted only if the pleadings, depositions,
answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together
with the affidavits, if any, show there is no genuine issue
of material fact, and the mover is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law. La. C.C.P. art. 966; Duncan v. USAA Ins.
Co., 06-0363, p. 4 (La. 11/29/06), 950 So.2d 544,
546-547. A fact is material if it potentially insures or
precludes recovery, affects a litigant's ultimate
success, or determines the outcome of the legal dispute.
Mines v. Garrett, 04-0806, p. 1 (La.6/25/04), 876
So.2d 764, 765 (per curiam)(citing Smith v. Our Lady of
the Lake Hosp., Inc., 93-2512, p. 27 (La.7/5/94), 639
So.2d 730, 751). A genuine issue of material fact is one as
to which reasonable persons could disagree; if reasonable
persons could reach only one conclusion, there is no need for
trial on that issue and summary judgment is appropriate.
Hines, 876 So.2d at 765-66.
Hines v. Garrett, 04-806, p. 1 (La. 6/25/04), 876
So.2d 764, 765 (per curiam) (alteration in original), the
supreme court stated:
We review a district court's grant of summary judgment
de novo, viewing the record and all reasonable
inferences that may be drawn from it in the light most
favorable to the non-movant. Summary judgment is warranted
only if "there is no genuine issue as to material fact
and [ ] the mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law." La.Code Civ. Proc. art. 966(C)(1). In ruling on a
motion for summary judgment, the judge's role is not to
evaluate the weight of the evidence or to determine the truth
of the matter, but instead to determine whether there is a
genuine issue of triable fact. All doubts should be resolved
in the non-moving party's favor.
well-settled that the workers' compensation laws of this
state should be liberally interpreted in favor of the worker.
Bynum v. Capital City Press, Inc., 95-1395 (La.
7/2/96), 676 So.2d 582. "[A]s in other civil actions,
the plaintiff-worker in a compensation action has the burden
of establishing a work-related accident by a preponderance of
the evidence." Bruno v. Harbert Int'l Inc.,
593 So.2d 357, 361 (La. 1992).
question before this court is whether there is any issue of
material fact as to whether Mr. Espree suffered a personal
injury from an identifiable accident during the course and
scope of his employment with Vanoil. An employee who
"receives personal injury by accident arising out of and
in the course of his employment" is entitled to
workers' compensation benefits from his employer. La.R.S.
23:1031. An accident is defined as "an unexpected or
unforeseen actual, identifiable, precipitous event happening
suddenly or violently, with or without human fault, and
directly producing at the time objective findings of an
injury which is more than simply a gradual deterioration or
progressive degeneration." La.R.S. 23:1021.
Montu v. Boise Cascade Co., 14-1248, pp. 5-6 (La.App. 3
Cir. 4/1/15), 160 So.3d 637, 642, writ denied,
15-870 (La. 6/5/15), 171 So.3d 952 (alterations in original),
this court stated:
When an employee alleges an injury under the Workers'
Compensation Act, he carries the burden of proving the
accident occurred, and that he suffered a disability as a
result of that accident, by a preponderance of the evidence.
Bruno v. Harbert Intl. Inc., 593 So.2d 357 (La.
1992). The employee must show that the accident
"directly produc[ed] at the time objective findings of
an injury which is more than simply a gradual deterioration
or progressive degeneration." La.R.S. 23:1021(1).
See also Romero v. Chabillis' Tire Serv.
Inc., 97-1722, p. 4 (La.App. 3 Cir. 5/6/98), 714 So.2d
803, 804. However, "[a]n accident exists when heavy
lifting or strenuous efforts, although usual and customary,
cause or contribute to a physical breakdown or accelerate its
occurrence because of a pre-existing condition."
Bourgeois v. Seabright Ins. Co., 12-834, p. 5
(La.App. 5 Cir. 4/10/13), 115 So.3d 50, 52-53.
motion for summary judgment, together with the documents and
depositions submitted in support thereof, Vanoil has indeed
raised the absence of factual support for one or more
elements of Mr. Espree's claim, being proof that he
suffered an accident. Vanoil offered a portion of Mr.
Espree's deposition, in support of its motion for summary
judgment, wherein he discussed how he was injured.
deposition, Mr. Espree stated that he was in pain on February
8 and 9, 2017, but he did not tell anyone with Vanoil about
his pain until February 10, 2017, when he told Orell Daigle,
Vanoil's quality assurance manager, that he was hurting
and needed to see a doctor. He stated that he was unaware
that he had suffered an injury until he saw the doctor, who
sent him for x-rays and a CT scan. He said that he thought
that his stomach and back pain were just age- and
work-related. Mr. Espree stated that he felt that his
work-related injury was related to a big job that he was
working on the week of his injury, although he could ...