55 N.E.3d 1082 (Ohio 2016), 2015-0628, Stolz v. J & B Steel Erectors, Inc.

Docket Nº:2015-0628
Citation:55 N.E.3d 1082, 146 Ohio St.3d 281, 2016-Ohio-1567
Opinion Judge:O'Connor , C.J.
Party Name:STOLZ v. J & B STEEL ERECTORS, INC., ET AL
Attorney:Goodson & Co. and Brett C. Goodson, for respondent. Kohnen & Patton, L.L.P., and Colleen M. Blandford, for petitioner J & B Steel Erectors, Inc. Patsfall, Yeager & Pflum, L.L.C., Stephen M. Yeager, and Steve Patsfall, for petitioners D.A.G. Construction Co., Inc., and TriVersity Construction Co.,...
Judge Panel:O'CONNOR, C.J. O'DONNELL, LANZINGER, KENNEDY, and O'NEILL, JJ., concur. FRENCH, J., dissents with an opinion that PFEIFER, J., joins. O'Donnell, Lanzinger, Kennedy, and O'Neill, JJ., concur. French, J., dissents with an opinion that Pfeifer, J., joins. French , J., dissenting. Pfeifer, J., concurs
Case Date:April 19, 2016
Court:Supreme Court of Ohio
 
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Page 1082

55 N.E.3d 1082 (Ohio 2016)

146 Ohio St.3d 281, 2016-Ohio-1567

STOLZ

v.

J & B STEEL ERECTORS, INC., ET AL

No. 2015-0628

Supreme Court of Ohio

April 19, 2016

Submitted December 2, 2015.

ON ORDER from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Western Division, Certifying a Question of State Law, No. 1:14-cv-44.

Stolz v. J & B Steel Erectors, Inc., 142 Ohio St.3d 1515, 2015-Ohio-2341, 33 N.E.3d 64 (2015)

Goodson & Co. and Brett C. Goodson, for respondent.

Kohnen & Patton, L.L.P., and Colleen M. Blandford, for petitioner J & B Steel Erectors, Inc.

Patsfall, Yeager & Pflum, L.L.C., Stephen M. Yeager, and Steve Patsfall, for petitioners D.A.G. Construction Co., Inc., and TriVersity Construction Co., L.L.C.

Green & Green, Jane M. Lynch, and Jared A. Wagner, for petitioner Messer Construction Co.

O'CONNOR, C.J. O'DONNELL, LANZINGER, KENNEDY, and O'NEILL, JJ., concur. FRENCH, J., dissents with an opinion that PFEIFER, J., joins.

OPINION

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[146 Ohio St.3d 282] O'Connor , C.J.

[¶1] This case is before us on the certification of a state-law question by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Western Division. The federal court asks that we determine whether Ohio's workers' compensation laws, specifically R.C. 4123.35 and 4123.74, provide immunity to a subcontractor enrolled in a self-insured construction-project plan from a tort claim for workplace injury by an employee of another enrolled subcontractor on the same project.

[¶2] The unambiguous language of R.C. 4123.35 and 4123.74 compels our conclusion that subcontractors enrolled in a self-insured-construction-project plan are immune from tort claims made by the employees of other enrolled subcontractors who are injured or killed while working on the self-insured construction project and whose injury, illness, or death is compensable under Ohio's workers' compensation law. We therefore answer the certified state-law question in the affirmative.

Relevant Background

[¶3] The federal court provided the following facts and allegations from which the question of law arises.

[¶4] The plaintiff in the underlying action, Daniel Stolz, worked as a concrete finisher for Jostin Construction, Inc. (" Jostin" ) at the Horseshoe Casino construction project in Cincinnati (" Casino Project" ). Messer Construction Company (" Messer" ) was the general contractor for the Casino Project, and Jostin was a subcontractor.

[¶5] An accident on the job site injured Stolz, who brought negligence claims against Messer and against subcontractors J & B Steel Erectors (" J & B Steel" ), Terracon Consultants, Inc. (" Terracon" ), Pendleton Construction Group, L.L.C. (" Pendleton" ), D.A.G. Construction Co., Inc. (" D.A.G." ), and TriVersity Construction Co., L.L.C. (" TriVersity" ). Stolz claims each of the defendants had responsibilities related to the construction project.

[¶6] Prior to the accident, Messer had applied for and obtained authority from the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (" BWC" ) to act as the self-insuring employer on the project under R.C. 4123.35(O). In that role, Messer was responsible for providing workers' compensation coverage for its own employees [146 Ohio St.3d 283] as well as the employees of enrolled subcontractors working on the Casino Project, including Jostin, J & B Steel, D.A.G., and TriVersity.

[¶7] Messer, J & B Steel, D.A.G., and TriVersity1 moved for summary judgment on the basis that they were immune from

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Stolz's negligence claims under Ohio's workers' compensation laws, specifically R.C. 4123.35 and 4123.74. The district court granted summary judgment to the general contractor, Messer, as the self-insuring employer on the Casino Project. But the court denied summary judgment to subcontractors J & B Steel, D.A.G., and TriVersity, finding that an enrolled subcontractor on a self-insured construction project is immune only from claims made by its own employees and not from those made by employees of fellow enrolled subcontractors.

The Question of State Law

[¶8] Following the summary-judgment decision, J & B Steel, D.A.G., and TriVersity moved the federal court to certify a question of state law to this court. The federal court granted the motion and certified to us the following question: Whether Ohio Rev. Code § § 4123.35 and 4123.74 provide immunity to subcontractors enrolled in a Workers' Compensation self-insurance plan from tort claims made by employees of [other] enrolled subcontractors injured while working on the self-insured project.

(Brackets sic.) We accepted the question, 142 Ohio St.3d 1515, 2015-Ohio-2341, 33 N.E.3d 64, and granted Messer's motion to be designated as a petitioner alongside the three petitioning subcontractors, 143 Ohio St.3d 1423, 2015-Ohio-3021, 34 N.E.3d 935.

Analysis

Applicable canons of statutory construction

[¶9] When a court interprets the meaning of a statute, " [w]ords and phrases shall be read in context and construed according to the rules of grammar and common usage," R.C. 1.42, and the court must give effect to all of the statute's words, Bryan v. Hudson, 77 Ohio St.3d 376, 380, 1997-Ohio-261, 674 N.E.2d 678 (1997). " If the meaning of the statute is unambiguous and definite, it must be applied as written and no further interpretation is necessary." State ex rel. Savarese v. Buckeye Local School Dist. Bd. of Edn., 74 Ohio St.3d 543, 545, 1996-Ohio-291, 660 N.E.2d 463 (1996). [146 Ohio St.3d 284] Additionally, a court must give effect to the natural and most obvious import of a statute's language, avoiding any subtle or forced constructions. Ohio Neighborhood Fin., Inc. v. Scott, 139 Ohio St.3d 536, 2014-Ohio-2440, 13 N.E.3d 1115, ¶ 22.

Ohio's statutory scheme for workers' compensation

[¶10] Ohio's workers' compensation scheme is codified in Chapter 4123 of the Revised Code.

[¶11] R.C. Chapter 4123 requires most employers to pay premiums into the state insurance fund that administers and pays out workers' compensation claims. R.C. 4123.35(A). In return for these premium payments, an employer, in most cases, receives immunity from claims for common-law and statutory damages made by its employees " for any injury, or occupational disease, or bodily condition, received or contracted by any employee in the course of or arising out of his employment" or for any resulting death. R.C. 4123.74.

[¶12] Ohio's workers' compensation law contains a special carve-out for " self-insuring employers," who do not pay into the state insurance fund. R.C. 4123.35(B).

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Employers eligible for the carve-out " may be granted...

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