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Spears v. Exxon Mobil Corp.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

December 17, 2019

MICHAEL SPEARS
v.
EXXON MOBIL CORPORATION AND TURNER INDUSTRIES GROUP, L.L.C.

          On Appeal from The 19th Judicial District Court, Parish of East Baton Rouge, State of Louisiana Trial Court No. C658600 The Honorable R. Michael Caldwell, Judge Presiding

          Eulis Simien Jr. Matthew Pertuit Baton Rouge, Louisiana Attorneys for Plaintiff/Appellant, Michael Spears

          Robert T. Myers Metairie, Louisiana Attorney for Defendant/Appellee, ExxonMobil Corporation

          Thomas E. Balhoff Judith R. Atkinson Baton Rouge, Louisiana Attorneys for Defendant/Appellee Turner Industries Group, L.L.C.

          BEFORE: WHIPPLE, C.J., GUIDRY, AND CRAIN, [1] JJ.

          CRAIN, J.

         In this tort suit, Michael Spears appeals a summary judgment dismissing his claims with prejudice against ExxonMobil Corporation. We affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ExxonMobil contracted with Poly-America, L.P. to collect and remove scrap polyethylene pellets from ExxonMobil's plastics plant in Baton Rouge. The parties agreed ExxonMobil would be "the statutory employer of employees of [Poly-America] and subcontractors while such employees are engaged in [w]ork" under the contract. Poly-America subcontracted with an affiliated entity, Poly Trucking, Inc., to do the work. Poly Trucking employed Spears.

         The work required the use of a vacuum truck to collect the polyethylene pellets and a worker who used a water hose, when needed, to direct the pellets into the vacuum sump. While engaged in that work, Spears allegedly slipped and fell on an algae-covered surface at the worksite. He filed suit against multiple parties, including ExxonMobil, alleging it failed to provide a safe place for persons on the premises, failed to timely remove the algae, and failed to institute and enforce policies and procedures to discover hazards on the premises.

         ExxonMobil filed a motion for summary judgment urging it was Spears's statutory employer and thus immune from tort liability under the Workers' Compensation Act. See La. R.S. 23:1032A(1)(a) and 1061A. The trial court agreed, granted the motion, and signed a judgment on September 5, 2018, dismissing Spears's claims against ExxonMobil with prejudice. Spears appeals.

         DISCUSSION

         After an opportunity for adequate discovery, a motion for summary judgment shall be granted if the motion, memorandum, and supporting documents show there is no genuine issue as to material fact and mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. La. Code Civ. Pro. art. 966A(3). The summary judgment procedure is favored and shall be construed to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action. La. Code Civ. Pro. art. 966A(2). In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, appellate courts review evidence de novo under the same criteria governing the trial court's determination of whether summary judgment is appropriate. In re Succession of Beard, 13-1717 (La.App. 1 Cir. 6/6/14), 147 So.3d 753, 759-60.

         If the mover will bear the burden of proof at trial on the issue before the court on the motion, the burden of showing there is no genuine issue of material fact remains with the mover. See La. Code Civ. Pro. art. 966D(1); Smith v. Moreau, 17-0003 (La.App. 1 Cir. 6/2/17), 222 So.3d 761, 765. When a motion is made and properly supported, an adverse party may not rest on the mere allegations or denials of his pleading; his response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided by law, must set forth specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial. If he does not so respond, summary judgment, if appropriate, shall be rendered against him. See La. Code Civ. Pro. art. 967B.

         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. Hines v. Garrett, 04-0806 (La. 6/25/04), 876 So.2d 764, 765 (per curiam); Smith v. Our Lady of the Lake Hospital, Inc., 93-2512 (La. 7/5/94), 639 So.2d 730, 751. A genuine issue 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; Smith, 639 So.2d at 751. Because the applicable substantive law determines materiality, whether a particular fact in dispute is material must be viewed in light of ...


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