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Gamble v. Chevron Oronite Company, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

September 3, 2019


         SECTION M (5)

          ORDER & REASONS


         Before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by defendants Chevron Oronite Company, LLC (“Chevron”) and Gary Thomas (collectively, “Defendants”), [1] in which they argue that Chevron qualifies as plaintiff Gordon Gamble's statutory employer under the Louisiana Workers' Compensation Law, La. R.S. 23:1061, and thus Defendants are immune from tort liability for Gamble's alleged injury. Having considered the parties' memoranda and the applicable law, the Court grants the motion finding that Chevron is Gamble's statutory employer under the statute.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This matter concerns a work-related injury. Gamble filed this action against Chevron and Thomas in the 25th Judicial District Court, Parish of Plaquemines, State of Louisiana, alleging that he was injured while working at Chevron's plant in Belle Chasse, Louisiana, as a pipefitter employed by Zachry Holding, Inc. (“Zachry”).[2] Gamble alleges that on June 26, 2018, he was asked to change a busted gasket on a two-inch condensate line.[3] Before starting the work, Gamble and Calvin Parker, his foreman, requested that Thomas isolate the valve and bleed the pipes.[4] Thomas did so and informed Gamble that it was safe to proceed.[5] Gamble alleges that, when he cut the bolts, chemicals, hot water, and steam blew out of the pipe causing him to sustain serious bodily injury, including severe burns.[6] Gamble alleges that Chevron and Thomas are liable for his injuries due to the unreasonably dangerous condition of the plant and their negligence.[7]

         Chevron removed the action to this Court on the basis of diversity subject-matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, [8] contending that Thomas was improperly joined because Gamble cannot recover from him.[9] Chevron argued that pursuant to a November 1, 2015 Master Products and Services Agreement (“MPSA”) between itself and Zachry, Chevron was Gamble's statutory employer.[10] Thus, Gamble and Thomas were co-employees and Thomas is immune from liability.[11] Gamble did not oppose the removal.

         Thomas filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure arguing that Gamble cannot state a valid claim against him.[12] Thomas, relying on the MPSA, which he did not attach to his motion, argued that the Court did not have jurisdiction over Gamble's claims against him because he is immune from liability for Gamble's alleged injuries as Gamble's co-employee due to Chevron's status as Gamble's statutory employer.[13]

         Gamble opposed Thomas' motion arguing that the MPSA provision upon which Thomas relied is invalid pursuant to Prejean v. Maintenance Enterprises, Inc., 8 So.3d 766 (La.App. 2009), which invalidated a statutory employer clause because it impermissibly sought to relieve the purported statutory employer from liability to pay workers' compensation benefits to the injured statutory employee.[14] Gamble argued that, as a result, Chevron is not his statutory employer, Thomas is not his co-employee, and they are not immune from tort liability.[15]

         This Court denied Thomas' motion to dismiss finding that the motion had to be treated as a motion for summary judgment because Thomas relied upon the MPSA which was neither referenced in, nor attached to, the pleadings.[16] Rule 12(d) dictates that in this situation all parties must have an opportunity to present all material pertinent to the motion. Therefore, the Court denied Thomas' motion to dismiss without prejudice to his refiling it as a motion for summary judgment addressing all aspects of the application of the statutory employer and co-employee doctrines.[17] The instant motion is the anticipated motion for summary judgment.

         II. LAW & ANALYSIS

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is proper “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). “Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which the party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Id. A party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the basis for summary judgment and identifying those portions of the record, discovery, and any affidavits supporting the conclusion that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. If the moving party meets that burden, then the nonmoving party must use evidence cognizable under Rule 56 to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 324.

         A genuine issue of material fact exists if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1996). The substantive law identifies which facts are material. Id. Material facts are not genuinely disputed when a rational trier of fact could not find for the nonmoving party upon a review of the record taken as a whole. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Equal Emp't Opportunity Comm'n v. Simbaki, Ltd., 767 F.3d 475, 481 (5th Cir. 2014). “[U]nsubstantiated assertions, ” “conclusory allegations, ” and merely colorable factual bases are insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50; Hopper v. Frank, 16 F.3d 92, 97 (5th Cir. 1994). In ruling on a summary judgment motion, a court may not resolve credibility issues or weigh evidence. See Delta & Pine Land Co. v. Nationwide Agribusiness Ins. Co., 530 F.3d 395, 398-99 (5th Cir. 2008). Furthermore, a court must assess the evidence, review the facts, and draw any appropriate inferences based on the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. See Tolan v. Cotton, 572 U.S. 650, 656 (2014); Daniels v. City of Arlington, 246 F.3d 500, 502 (5th Cir. 2001). Yet, a court only draws reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmovant “when there is an actual controversy, that is, when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (citing Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990)).

         After the movant demonstrates the absence of a genuine dispute, the nonmovant must articulate specific facts and point to supporting, competent evidence that may be presented in a form admissible at trial. See Lynch Props., Inc. v. Potomac Ins. Co. of Ill., 140 F.3d 622, 625 (5th Cir. 1998); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A) & (c)(2). Such facts must create more than “some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586. When the nonmovant will bear the burden of proof at trial on the dispositive issue, the moving party may simply point to insufficient admissible evidence to establish an essential element of the nonmovant's claim in order to satisfy its summary judgment burden. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at ...

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