Aravena v. Miami-Dade County, No. SC04-2349.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida
Writing for the CourtPariente
Citation928 So.2d 1163
PartiesJulio ARAVENA, etc., Petitioner, v. MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Respondent.
Decision Date06 April 2006
Docket NumberNo. SC04-2349.

Page 1163

928 So.2d 1163
Julio ARAVENA, etc., Petitioner,
v.
MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Respondent.
No. SC04-2349.
Supreme Court of Florida.
April 6, 2006.

Page 1164

Martin E. Leach of Feiler, Leach and McCarron, PL, Coral Gables, Florida, for Petitioner.

Robert A. Ginsburg, Miami-Dade County Attorney, Jeffrey P. Ehrlich, and Susan Torres, Assistant County Attorneys, Miami, Florida, for Respondent.

Melinda L. McNichols, Miami, Florida, on behalf of the School Board of Miami-Dade County, Florida; and Margaret E. Sojourner of Langston, Hess, Bolton, Znosko and Shepard, Maitland, Florida, on behalf of Florida Defense Lawyers Association, for Amici Curiae.

PARIENTE, C.J.


We have for review the Third District Court of Appeal's decision in Miami-Dade County v. Aravena, 886 So.2d 303 (Fla. 3d DCA 2004), which expressly and directly conflicts with the Fourth District Court of Appeal's decision in Palm Beach County v. Kelly, 810 So.2d 560 (Fla. 4th DCA 2002). We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(3), Fla. Const. The conflict issue is whether county employees who work at different physical locations for different departments, have different supervisors,

Page 1165

and perform different duties and functions in their primary assignments fall within the unrelated works exception to workers' compensation immunity. We answer this question in the affirmative and conclude that the unrelated works exception was intended to cover this precise set of circumstances. We hold that although no bright-line rule governs, the unrelated works exception has both locational and operational components and requires consideration of several factors, which we set forth herein.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Miami-Dade County is the largest of Florida's sixty-seven counties, and its government comprises forty-five departments and approximately 30,000 employees. Gregoria Vega was employed by Miami-Dade County's Police Department as a part-time elementary school crossing guard. Her job was to help children cross the street at the intersection of Southwest 16th Street and 62nd Avenue. On October 24, 2001, the traffic lights at the intersection were not operating properly. As a result, two vehicles collided in the intersection and one veered off the road, killing Vega. Vega was standing on the swale of the road at the time of the accident, which occurred at approximately 7:20 a.m.

Julio Aravena, Vega's husband, initiated a wrongful death case against the county, alleging that the accident was caused in part by the negligence of the county's traffic signal repair personnel who failed to repair the malfunctioning traffic lights at the intersection. The traffic signal repair personnel worked for the maintenance section of the Miami-Dade County Public Works Department, which is located at 3655 Southwest 25th Terrace. The maintenance section receives information from the traffic control section of the Public Works Department, which is responsible for all traffic lights in Miami-Dade County and is located at 7100 Northwest 36th Street.

In response to the complaint, the county claimed that Aravena's action was barred by the portion of Florida's Workers' Compensation Law that accords tort immunity to coemployees "acting in furtherance of the employer's business" and that the exception for employees "assigned primarily to unrelated works" did not apply. § 440.11(1), Fla. Stat. (2001). The county filed a motion for summary judgment, which was denied. After a jury verdict in favor of Aravena, the county filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict based on workers' compensation immunity. The trial court denied the county's motion and entered judgment for Aravena. The parties did not dispute the facts relevant to the determination of the issue of workers' compensation immunity and this issue was never argued to the jury.

The county appealed. The Third District reversed the trial court's order denying the county's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and remanded for entry of judgment for the county based on workers' compensation immunity. See Aravena, 886 So.2d at 305. Noting this Court's recent decision in Taylor v. School Board of Brevard County, 888 So.2d 1 (Fla.2004), the Third District concluded that Vega and the county's traffic signal repair personnel were not assigned primarily to unrelated works. See Aravena, 886 So.2d at 304-05. The district court explained:

[I]t cannot be said that these co-employees worked on entirely different projects. Nor can it be clearly demonstrated that the work of the County's traffic signal repair personnel, whose job was to regulate vehicular and pedestrian traffic, was unrelated to the work of the school crossing guard, whose job also was to regulate vehicular and pedestrian

Page 1166

traffic at the same intersection. To hold otherwise would contravene the overall legislative intent of the workers' compensation law, which "was meant to systematically resolve nearly every workplace injury case on behalf of both the employee and the employer." Taylor, 888 So.2d at 4.

Aravena, 886 So.2d at 305.

ANALYSIS

The issue before the Court is whether county employees who work at different physical locations for different departments, have different supervisors, and perform different duties and functions in their primary assignments fall within the exception to the general immunity provision of Florida's Workers' Compensation Law, which provides that immunity is not available in cases involving coemployees that are "assigned primarily to unrelated works." § 440.11(1). Both the trial court and district court decided this issue as a matter of law based on the undisputed facts. Thus, our review is de novo. See generally Blanton v. City of Pinellas Park, 887 So.2d 1224, 1226 (Fla.2004).

Conflict between Aravena and Kelly

Initially, we address whether an express and direct conflict exists between the decision reached in this case and the decision reached by the Fourth District in Kelly. The county asserts that there is no conflict. We disagree.

In Kelly, the Fourth District held that two coemployees, who began and ended their work days at the same general location but who worked at different locations and performed different job duties, were assigned primarily to unrelated works. See 810 So.2d at 562. One employee, Kevin Kelly, worked as a maintenance equipment operator for the maintenance division at Palm Beach International Airport. Kelly began and ended his day at 3700 Belvedere Road, Building G. See id. The other employee, Rostant John, was an equipment mechanic for Palm Beach County's Fleet Management Division, who usually worked at the county's shell rock pit in Boca Raton. See id. John began and ended his day at 3700 Belvedere Road, Building D.

Similar to the coemployees in Kelly, Vega and the traffic signal repair personnel worked at different locations. Vega worked for the Miami-Dade County Police Department and was assigned primarily to work at a specific location as a school crossing guard. The traffic signal repair personnel were employees of the Miami-Dade County Public Works Department and were assigned primarily to maintain the traffic lights at the numerous intersections throughout Miami-Dade County. The Third District's conclusion that the coemployees had jobs involving the regulation of vehicular and pedestrian traffic in effect defines "related works" as any jobs that are generally related. The same could be said for the coemployees in Kelly who were both engaged in the generally related jobs of maintenance.

Further, we note that there was a greater connection between the coemployees in Kelly than exists in this case. Unlike Vega and the traffic signal repair personnel, the coemployees in Kelly began and ended their days at the same location. The facts of this case therefore present a stronger argument for concluding that Vega and the traffic signal repair personnel were assigned primarily to unrelated works. The holdings of Aravena and Kelly are irreconcilable, which is one of the tests for conflict jurisdiction. See Crossley v. State, 596 So.2d 447, 449 (Fla.1992) (concluding that because the court below "reached the opposite result on controlling facts which, if not virtually identical, more

Page 1167

strongly dictated" the result reached by the alleged conflict case, a conflict of decisions existed that warranted accepting jurisdiction).

Florida's Workers' Compensation Law

Having concluded that an express and direct conflict exists between this case and Kelly, we next review Florida's Workers' Compensation Law, chapter 440, Florida Statutes. The Workers' Compensation Law is a "comprehensive scheme ... that generally provides workers' benefits without proof of fault and employers immunity from tort actions based upon the same work place incident." Taylor, 888 So.2d at 2. The Legislature has declared its intent that

the Workers' Compensation Law be interpreted so as to assure the quick and efficient delivery of disability and medical benefits to an injured worker and to facilitate the worker's return to gainful reemployment at a reasonable cost to the employer. It is the specific intent of the Legislature that workers' compensation cases shall be decided on their merits. The workers' compensation system in Florida is based on a mutual renunciation of common-law rights and defenses by employers and employees alike. In addition, it is the intent of the Legislature that the facts in a workers' compensation case are not to be interpreted liberally in favor of either the rights of the injured worker or the rights of the employer. Additionally, the Legislature hereby declares that disputes concerning the facts in workers' compensation cases are not to be given a broad liberal construction in favor of the employee on the one hand or of the employer on the other hand, and the laws pertaining to workers' compensation are to be construed in accordance with the basic principles of...

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14 practice notes
  • Basulto v. Automotive, No. SC09–2358.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • 19 Junio 2014
    ...District decided the present issues as a matter of law, our review of the Basulto decision is de novo. Aravena v. Miami–Dade County, 928 So.2d 1163, 1166 (Fla.2006).C. The Purported Agreements1. The District Court's Decision to Reverse The trial court, relying on the Seifert standard, denie......
  • Miles v. Weingrad, No. SC13–54.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • 21 Mayo 2015
    ...question of law, we review de novo. See Basulto v. Hialeah Auto., 141 So.3d 1145, 1152 (Fla.2014) (citing Aravena v. Miami–Dade Cnty., 928 So.2d 1163, 1166 (Fla.2006) ).Jurisdiction Dr. Weingrad argues that there is nothing in the Third District's one-sentence affirmance that provides this ......
  • Basulto v. Automotive, No. SC09-2358
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • 20 Marzo 2014
    ...District decided the present issues as a matter of law, our review of the Basulto decision is de novo. Aravena v. Miami-Dade County, 928 So. 2d 1163, 1166 (Fla. 2006).C. The Purported Agreements1. The District Court's Decision to Reverse The trial court, relying on the Seifert standard, den......
  • Alachua Cnty. v. Expedia, Inc., No. SC13–838.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • 11 Junio 2015
    ...question of law. Therefore, our review of the First District's Expedia decision is de novo. See generally Aravena v. Miami–Dade Cnty., 928 So.2d 1163, 1166 (Fla.2006).175 So.3d 733Merits We rephrase the certified question as follows:Are the total monetary amounts that OTCs charge their cust......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
14 cases
  • Basulto v. Automotive, No. SC09–2358.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • 19 Junio 2014
    ...District decided the present issues as a matter of law, our review of the Basulto decision is de novo. Aravena v. Miami–Dade County, 928 So.2d 1163, 1166 (Fla.2006).C. The Purported Agreements1. The District Court's Decision to Reverse The trial court, relying on the Seifert standard, denie......
  • Miles v. Weingrad, No. SC13–54.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • 21 Mayo 2015
    ...question of law, we review de novo. See Basulto v. Hialeah Auto., 141 So.3d 1145, 1152 (Fla.2014) (citing Aravena v. Miami–Dade Cnty., 928 So.2d 1163, 1166 (Fla.2006) ).Jurisdiction Dr. Weingrad argues that there is nothing in the Third District's one-sentence affirmance that provides this ......
  • Basulto v. Automotive, No. SC09-2358
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • 20 Marzo 2014
    ...District decided the present issues as a matter of law, our review of the Basulto decision is de novo. Aravena v. Miami-Dade County, 928 So. 2d 1163, 1166 (Fla. 2006).C. The Purported Agreements1. The District Court's Decision to Reverse The trial court, relying on the Seifert standard, den......
  • Alachua Cnty. v. Expedia, Inc., No. SC13–838.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • 11 Junio 2015
    ...question of law. Therefore, our review of the First District's Expedia decision is de novo. See generally Aravena v. Miami–Dade Cnty., 928 So.2d 1163, 1166 (Fla.2006).175 So.3d 733Merits We rephrase the certified question as follows:Are the total monetary amounts that OTCs charge their cust......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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