Delbridge v. Salt River Project Agr. Imp. and Power Dist.

Decision Date08 November 1994
Docket NumberNo. 1,CA-CV,1
Citation893 P.2d 46,182 Ariz. 46
PartiesRonald DELBRIDGE, a single man, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. SALT RIVER PROJECT AGRICULTURAL IMPROVEMENT AND POWER DISTRICT, a political subdivision of the State of Arizona, Defendant-Appellee. 92-0531.
CourtArizona Court of Appeals
OPINION

CONTRERAS, Judge.

Plaintiff-Appellant Ronald Delbridge ("Delbridge") appeals from the granting of summary judgment in favor of Defendant-Appellee Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District ("SRP") and denial of his motions for relief from judgment under Rule 60(c) and for a new trial. The issue presented in this appeal is whether workers' compensation is Delbridge's exclusive remedy against his employer (SRP) for injuries received in a job-related training class required by SRP but conducted outside of working hours. We conclude that the trial court correctly determined that Delbridge's injuries arose out of and were within the course of his employment and therefore that workers' compensation is his exclusive remedy against SRP. 1 Further, we conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying either the Rule 60(c) motion or the motion for new trial. State v. Mecher, 173 Ariz. 474, 478, 844 P.2d 641, 645 (App.1992).

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Delbridge was employed by SRP as a pre-apprentice lineman. SRP required employees in that position to take two sixteen-week training courses as a condition of their employment. SRP also signed an Educational Service Agreement with Maricopa County Community College District ("MCCCD"); under the contract, Rio Salado Community College ("Rio Salado") agreed to offer the courses in pre-apprentice lineman training under its aegis. Because Rio Salado does not have a campus but holds classes at various business locations, SRP and Rio Salado agreed to hold the training classes in the evening at the SRP skills training center. The training center had a pole yard for instruction and practice in utility pole climbing. SRP provided one of its employees, who was certified to teach by the State Board of Directors for Community Colleges of Arizona, as the instructor.

Delbridge enrolled in the Rio Salado courses in consecutive semesters. SRP did not pay him for the time spent preparing for and attending class. Although Delbridge initially paid the tuition, after he received a grade report and credit for the first course, SRP reimbursed him for the tuition.

During a class held in the second semester, Delbridge was performing a required 30-foot free-climb (a climb without use of a safety strap) on a large diameter utility pole when he fell to the ground and was rendered paraplegic. The Occupational Safety and Health Division of the Industrial Commission of Arizona ("OSHD") immediately investigated Delbridge's fall. It ceased the investigation, however, when it concluded that Delbridge was a student voluntarily attending class at the time of the accident.

SRP began sending workers' compensation benefit payments to Delbridge, but he refused the benefits in the belief that his injuries were not employment related. SRP filed notices of claim status with the Industrial Commission of Arizona to attempt to invoke or create its jurisdiction. The commission, however, ruled that it had no jurisdiction over the matter until it received an application or claim from Delbridge, and Delbridge had made no application or claim.

Delbridge filed a civil action against SRP, alleging that it had been negligent in the design, supervision, and instruction of the course; in the provision of equipment and maintenance of the training center; and in the failure to warn Delbridge of the serious risks involved in the class. SRP moved for summary judgment and argued that Delbridge was an SRP employee, had not rejected workers' compensation coverage prior to the accident, and suffered injuries arising out and in the course of his employment. Accordingly, SRP argued that, as a matter of law, Delbridge's sole remedy against SRP would be under workers' compensation, and the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the tort action.

In response to the motion for summary judgment, Delbridge contended that his injuries neither arose out of his employment, because his job did not require free climbing of large diameter poles, nor were they sustained in the course of his employment because he simply attended a class offered by Rio Salado on his own time. The purpose of workers' compensation, Delbridge maintained, is to protect workers, and the statutory scheme should be narrowly interpreted to leave intact his common law right to sue SRP for negligence that occurred outside the employment relationship.

In granting SRP's motion for summary judgment, the trial court determined that Delbridge's injuries arose out of and in the course of employment, that the basic activity in which Delbridge was engaged at the time of his accident related to his work, and, thus the court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over the civil tort action.

Delbridge filed a motion for new trial and asserted that under the dual capacity doctrine, he was entitled to maintain a civil action against SRP not as his employer but as the instructor and designer of the training course. He also claimed a right under our state constitution to maintain a civil action against SRP. The trial court denied the motion, and Delbridge appealed.

While his appeal was pending, Delbridge requested that this court suspend the appeal and revest jurisdiction in the trial court so that he could file a motion for relief from judgment pursuant to Rule 60(c), Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure. He claimed to have newly discovered evidence bearing directly on the summary judgment. This court suspended the appeal and revested jurisdiction in the trial court. In his Rule 60(c) motion, Delbridge contended that federal labor regulations prohibited SRP from requiring pre-apprentices to attend classes on their own time and that new evidence showed that linemen were not required to climb utility poles without a safety strap as Delbridge had been required to do.

The trial court denied Delbridge's motion for relief from the judgment without comment. Delbridge appealed from the denial of the motion, denial of the motion for new trial, and the grant of summary judgment for SRP.

DISCUSSION
A. Appeal From Summary Judgment

In reviewing summary judgment, we examine the facts and evidence in a light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was granted and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. AROK Const. Co. v. Indian Const. Services, 174 Ariz. 291, 293, 848 P.2d 870, 872 (App.1993).

Arizona's workers' compensation scheme provides that every employee covered by workers' compensation insurance who is injured in an accident "arising out of and in the course of his employment" is entitled to compensation for losses suffered as the result of the injury. Ariz.Rev.Stat.Ann. ("A.R.S.") section 23-1021 (1983). An employee's right to recover workers' compensation for such injury is the exclusive remedy against the employer and any co-employee acting in the scope of his or her employment. A.R.S. section 23-1022(A) (Supp.1993). Thus, if Delbridge's fall arose out of and occurred in the course of his employment, his exclusive remedy is workers' compensation benefits.

Delbridge stresses that the statutes are designed to benefit an injured employee and his dependents and "to protect the employee rather than the employer." Young v. Environmental Air Products, Inc., 136 Ariz. 158, 163, 665 P.2d 40, 45 (1983) (quoting United States Fidelity and Guaranty Co. v. Industrial Comm'n, 42 Ariz. 422, 430, 26 P.2d 1012, 1015 (1933)). He urges us to adopt a narrow construction of the statutory scheme when it results in the loss of his common law right to sue for his injuries.

In Young, two employees of a contractor were injured while constructing a prefabricated building for Environmental Air Products ("EAP"). They filed a tort action against EAP and others. EAP attempted to invoke the workers' compensation statutes to escape tort liability. The court of appeals found no statutory employer relationship existed absent the injured employees' consent and thus would have permitted the tort action to proceed. On review, the supreme court recognized that "the legislative objectives are furthered if the statute is liberally interpreted when imposing liability for payment of compensation benefits, ... and strictly interpreted when loss of the worker's common law rights is the object for which the statute is invoked." 136 Ariz. at 163, 665 P.2d at 45 (citation omitted). Yet, the court was unwilling to engraft a requirement of employee consent when the legislature had not done so. Id. at 162-63, 665 P.2d at 44-45. 2

Thus, although we may be guided by a strict interpretation of the workers' compensation scheme in determining whether Delbridge's injuries both arose out of and occurred in the course of his employment with SRP, we cannot ignore the language of the Arizona Constitution or of the relevant statutes. Our courts have consistently held that Article 18, section 8 of the constitution empowers the legislature to grant immunity to employers who comply with the workers' compensation scheme. Anderson v. Industrial Comm'n, 147 Ariz. 456, 461, 711 P.2d 595, 600 (1985); Citizen's Util., Inc. v. Livingston, 21 Ariz.App. 48, 51, 515 P.2d 345, 348 (1973); Williams v. Magma Copper Co., 5 Ariz.App. 236, 237, 425 P.2d 138, 139 (1967). The grant of immunity supersedes the employee's right to pursue an employer in a civil tort action if the employee does not opt out of the workers' compensation scheme. Anderson, ...

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