A AND B CONST., INC. v. Atlas Roofing and Skylight Co., No. 93-0162L.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Rhode Island
Writing for the CourtLAGUEUX
Citation867 F. Supp. 100
PartiesA AND B CONSTRUCTION, INC. v. ATLAS ROOFING AND SKYLIGHT COMPANY.
Decision Date17 October 1994
Docket NumberNo. 93-0162L.

867 F. Supp. 100

A AND B CONSTRUCTION, INC.
v.
ATLAS ROOFING AND SKYLIGHT COMPANY.

No. 93-0162L.

United States District Court, for the District of Rhode Island.

October 17, 1994.


867 F. Supp. 101
COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED
867 F. Supp. 102
COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED
867 F. Supp. 103
John P. Graceffa, Gallagher & Gallagher, P.C., Boston, MA, Ronald P. Langlois, Providence, RI, for plaintiff

Robert W. Smith, Gunning, LaFazia & Gnys, Providence, RI, for defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

LAGUEUX, Chief Judge.

This diversity action is before the Court on cross motions for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The issue raised is whether, under Rhode Island law, a subcontractor who has paid workers' compensation benefits to its injured employee must indemnify a third-party general contractor for the settlement amount it paid to the injured worker. This Court holds, as a matter of law, that plaintiff is not entitled to indemnification under any indemnity theory and accordingly denies plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and grants summary judgment in favor of defendant.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff A & B Construction, Inc. ("A & B") is a Rhode Island corporation with its principal place of business in East Providence, Rhode Island. Defendant Atlas Roofing & Skylight Co., Inc. ("Atlas") is a Massachusetts corporation having its principal place of business in Massachusetts. It is agreed that Rhode Island law applies. The parties submit the following undisputed facts.

In October of 1989, A & B was hired as general contractor for a warehouse construction project in East Providence, Rhode Island. To complete the project, A & B hired Atlas as a subcontractor to do roofing work, including the installation of skylights. A subcontract agreement, drafted by A & B, was executed by the parties on October 29, 1989. That agreement constituted the entire, complete, and integrated contract between the parties. No other written or oral agreements, additions, or amendments to the October 29, 1989 subcontract were made.

The October 29, 1989 subcontract agreement provided:

Job Specifications: Furnish all necessary labor,
materials, and equipment to install the following: roof
system as shown on plans prepared by R.K.C. revised
9-11-89.
Approx. 12,742 sq. ft. of 2" Class I insulation
Firestone Ballaster Roof
Flash 2 roof top with pitch pocket
Flash 4 unit heater vent stacks
Flash 3 plumbing vents
Flash 8 4' × 4' skylights
Flash parapet around 3 sides of the building
Furnish and install 5 aluminum downspouts with gutters
Furnish 10 year warranty
Skylights and wood blocking will be supplied by A and B
Construction, Inc.

The subcontract further provided:

The above-specified project is to be completed in strict conformance with all specifications and conditions relating to this agreement. In addition, the project is to be performed in compliance with OSHA Regulations1 and local, state and national building codes. Although the contractor has control over the quality of all work relating to this project, the subcontractor is an independent contractor in all respects.
867 F. Supp. 104
The subcontractor is responsible for his employees, his subcontractors, materials, equipment and all applicable taxes, benefits and insurances. The subcontractor is responsible for coordinating his activity with other trades and promptly cleaning up any surplus or refuse which was created by his work.

Atlas' subcontracting work on the warehouse was expected to take one day. On December 12, 1989, one of Atlas' employees, Mark Silva, was injured as he worked on the warehouse. Unfortunately, Silva fell through a skylight opening in the roof while he was laying down insulation.

The opening through which Silva fell had been cut by A & B and/or one of its subcontractors so that one of eight skylights could be installed. To prevent injuries, each of the skylight openings should have been sealed with wood blocks. However, on December 12, 1989, A & B and/or one of its subcontractors were still in the process of wood blocking the skylight openings. As a result the openings to all of the eight skylights remained uncovered on the day that Silva was injured.

As a result of the job-related injury, Silva received workers' compensation benefits paid by Atlas' insurer under the Massachusetts Workers' Compensation Act. Silva subsequently filed suit against A & B in the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island. A & B, in turn, filed a third-party complaint against Atlas in that case. Silva ultimately settled his action against A & B on May 21, 1992. A & B dismissed the third-party complaint against Atlas without prejudice in order to proceed to final settlement with Silva. Later, A & B brought this action seeking indemnification against Atlas on March 18, 1993.

In this case, Steven Agostini, the President of A & B, alleges that he believed that Atlas was assuming responsibility for its employees when it signed the subcontract, including safety obligations such as OSHA compliance. A & B also claims that it was Agostini's understanding that Atlas was agreeing to indemnify A & B should any accidents arise due to Atlas' failure to adhere to safety regulations.

After discovery was complete in this case, each party filed a motion for summary judgment. After a hearing on the cross motions was held on May 18, 1994, the matter was taken under advisement. It is now in order for decision.

DISCUSSION

The standard for ruling on a summary judgment motion is set forth in Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure:

The judgment sought shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers, interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Further, the court must view the facts and all inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to each nonmoving party. Continental Casualty Co. v. Canadian Universal Ins. Co., 924 F.2d 370, 373 (1st Cir.1991). When there are no material facts in dispute on cross motions for summary judgment, the court must resolve the legal issues by determining which moving party is "entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).

The Rhode Island Workers' Compensation Act ("RIWCA"), R.I.Gen.Laws §§ 28-29-1 to -38-25 (1986), is a no-fault system of compensation for personal injuries sustained by employees arising out of and in the course of their employment. Its purpose is to provide a simple and expeditious procedure by which employees or their dependents can receive compensation benefits from an employer regardless of fault. It is the exclusive remedy available to injured employees from their employers. R.I.Gen.Laws § 28-29-20.

In essence, the RIWCA is a compromise. Employees relinquish any cause of action for personal injuries against their employer, and employers are deprived of certain common law defenses previously made available to them. Mustapha v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 268 F.Supp. 890 (D.R.I.1967). The RIWCA recognizes, however, that an employee might be injured under circumstances

867 F. Supp. 105
that create a cause of action against a third party. In view of this possibility, the RIWCA allows the employee to bring suit against the third party for damages, even though the employee could simply recover compensation from his employer under the RIWCA. R.I.Gen.Laws § 28-35-58. When an injured employee does recover against a nonimmune third party, he becomes obligated to reimburse his employer (or the employer's insurance carrier) for any compensation already paid pursuant to the RIWCA. Cf. Travis v. Rialto Furniture Co., 101 R.I. 45, 220 A.2d 179 (1966)

Generally, indemnity is an obligation owed by one party to another whereby the indemnitor agrees to make good any loss or damage incurred by the indemnitee while acting at the indemnitor's request or for his benefit. 41 Am.Jur. Indemnity § 1 (1986). It is a relationship, independent of any other, and can be express, implied-in-fact, or implied-in-law. See generally Araujo v. Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard, Etc., 693 F.2d 1, 2 (1st Cir.1982). Although indemnity implied-in-law is based on quasi-contract, a legal fiction created to impose equity rules on courts of law, indemnity is an obligation conceived independently of an underlying tort and, therefore, follows contract principles.

Although contribution and indemnity share points of resemblance, the independent character of indemnity sets it apart from contribution. The doctrine of contribution requires that persons under a common burden bear responsibility in equal proportion to fault so that one party shall not be burdened more than his just share to the advantage of his co-obligors. 18 Am.Jur. Contribution § 5 (1986). Thus, the right of contribution is a derivative right and not an independent cause of action. Cacchillo v. H. Leach Mach. Co., 111 R.I. 593, 305 A.2d 541, 543 (1973); Rowe v. John C. Motter Printing Press Co., 273 F.Supp. 363 (D.R.I.1967). Indemnity, on the other hand, is an independent cause of action. When implied-in-law, indemnity results in the establishment of a quasi-contractual relationship between two parties. When one party has conferred a benefit upon another as when it is compelled to discharge a legal obligation to a third, the second party may be held to indemnify the first even where it was never liable to the third. Therefore, while both indemnity and contribution may work to benefit a tortfeasor who discharges a disproportionate share of common or joint liability, the obligations are distinct from one another.2

In this case, an employee (Silva) sustained personal injuries in the course of his employment for which he has received workers' compensation benefits as his exclusive remedy from his employer (Atlas). He then initiated an action against a third party (A & B),...

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33 practice notes
  • Shire Corp., Inc. v. Rhode Island Department of Tranportation, C.A. PB 09-5686
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Rhode Island
    • March 2, 2012
    ...is simply the manner by which the parties express their mutual assent." Id. (citing A & B Constr., Inc. v. Atlas Roofing & Skylight Co., 867 F.Supp. 100, 108 (D. R.I. 1994)). Even where there is a statutory or regulatory requirement that a public contract be in writing, implied-in-fact cont......
  • Wyss v. General Dynamics Corp., No. 96-0539L.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Rhode Island
    • October 7, 1998
    ...against the discriminating supervisory employee under common law principles. See A and B Const., Inc. v. Atlas Roofing and Skylight Co., 867 F.Supp. 100, 113 (D.R.I.1994). The Tomka majority merely creates a tortured process. Why should a wrongdoer be insulated from liability directly to th......
  • Shire Corp., Inc. v. Rhode Island Department of Tranportation, C.A. PB 09-5686
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Rhode Island
    • March 2, 2012
    ...is simply the manner by which the parties express their mutual assent." Id. (citing A & B Constr., Inc. v. Atlas Roofing & Skylight Co., 867 F.Supp. 100, 108 (D. R.I. 1994)). Even where there is a statutory or regulatory requirement that a public contract be in writing, implied-in-fact cont......
  • Shire Corp., Inc. v. Rhode Island Department of Tranportation, C.A. PB 09-5686
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Rhode Island
    • March 2, 2012
    ...is simply the manner by which the parties express their mutual assent." Id. (citing A & B Constr., Inc. v. Atlas Roofing & Skylight Co., 867 F.Supp. 100, 108 (D. R.I. 1994)). Even where there is a statutory or regulatory requirement that a public contract be in writing, implied-in-fact cont......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
33 cases
  • Shire Corp., Inc. v. Rhode Island Department of Tranportation, C.A. PB 09-5686
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Rhode Island
    • March 2, 2012
    ...is simply the manner by which the parties express their mutual assent." Id. (citing A & B Constr., Inc. v. Atlas Roofing & Skylight Co., 867 F.Supp. 100, 108 (D. R.I. 1994)). Even where there is a statutory or regulatory requirement that a public contract be in writing, implied-in-fact cont......
  • Wyss v. General Dynamics Corp., No. 96-0539L.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Rhode Island
    • October 7, 1998
    ...against the discriminating supervisory employee under common law principles. See A and B Const., Inc. v. Atlas Roofing and Skylight Co., 867 F.Supp. 100, 113 (D.R.I.1994). The Tomka majority merely creates a tortured process. Why should a wrongdoer be insulated from liability directly to th......
  • Shire Corp., Inc. v. Rhode Island Department of Tranportation, C.A. PB 09-5686
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Rhode Island
    • March 2, 2012
    ...is simply the manner by which the parties express their mutual assent." Id. (citing A & B Constr., Inc. v. Atlas Roofing & Skylight Co., 867 F.Supp. 100, 108 (D. R.I. 1994)). Even where there is a statutory or regulatory requirement that a public contract be in writing, implied-in-fact cont......
  • Shire Corp., Inc. v. Rhode Island Department of Tranportation, C.A. PB 09-5686
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Rhode Island
    • March 2, 2012
    ...is simply the manner by which the parties express their mutual assent." Id. (citing A & B Constr., Inc. v. Atlas Roofing & Skylight Co., 867 F.Supp. 100, 108 (D. R.I. 1994)). Even where there is a statutory or regulatory requirement that a public contract be in writing, implied-in-fact cont......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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