Eldridge v. Agar Livestock, LLC, Docket No. 49570

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Idaho
Writing for the CourtBRODY, Justice.
Citation517 P.3d 843
Parties Jason S. ELDRIDGE, Claimant-Respondent, v. AGAR LIVESTOCK, LLC, Employer, Defendant-Appellant, and Meissen Trucking, Uninsured Employer; Snake River Cattle Feeders, LLC, Employer; OutWest Livestock, LLC, Employer; and Liberty Northwest Insurance Corp., Surety, Defendants.
Docket NumberDocket No. 49570
Decision Date19 September 2022

517 P.3d 843

Jason S. ELDRIDGE, Claimant-Respondent,
AGAR LIVESTOCK, LLC, Employer, Defendant-Appellant,
Meissen Trucking, Uninsured Employer; Snake River Cattle Feeders, LLC, Employer; OutWest Livestock, LLC, Employer; and Liberty Northwest Insurance Corp., Surety, Defendants.

Docket No. 49570

Supreme Court of Idaho, Boise, August 2022 Term.

Opinion Filed: September 19, 2022

Givens Pursley, LLP, Boise, for Appellant. Amber N. Dina argued.

McConnell Wagner Sykes & Stacy, PLLC, Boise, for Respondent. Joseph Wager argued.

BRODY, Justice.

This expedited appeal arises out of an Idaho Industrial Commission ("Commission") order deeming Agar Livestock, LLC ("Agar"), a category one statutory employer of Jason Eldridge under Idaho's Worker's Compensation Act. Agar appeals the order, arguing it is not a category one statutory employer because it is "merely a broker that locates livestock trucks available to transport livestock for shippers." According to Agar, it did not contract for services from Eldridge's employer, Meissen Trucking ("Meissen"). In its decision, the Commission disagreed and found that, based on the parties’ contractual relationship, Agar had contracted for services from Meissen. For the reasons discussed below, the Commission's decision is supported by substantial and competent evidence. Thus, we affirm.


A. Factual Background.

Roy M. "Matt" Agar formed Agar as an Oregon limited liability company in 2003. Prior to forming Agar, Matt Agar operated a livestock hauling business—"Roy M. Agar Livestock Transportation"—which at one time owned trucks, employed drivers, and carried workers compensation insurance across multiple states. However, at the time of the underlying events, Roy M. Agar Livestock Transportation was no longer in operation.

According to Matt Agar, unlike his previous company, "Agar operated as a livestock load brokerage service and not as a livestock

517 P.3d 845

hauling business." Agar would receive calls from clients needing loads to be transported, and Agar would also receive calls from owner-operators of trucks (i.e., carriers) looking for loads to haul. Agar would "dispatch" loads to carriers and then bill the company requesting the load. Once the load was delivered by the carrier and Agar received payment, Agar would deduct its "brokerage fee" and remit the remaining funds to the carrier. Agar has never employed any drivers or owned any of its own trucks. However, Agar leased approximately nine livestock trailers to the carriers to which it dispatched loads.

On July 17, 2014, Agar and Meissen entered into a "Brokerage Agreement" and "Trailer Lease Agreement" with overlapping terms regarding hauls and compensation. The Brokerage Agreement provides that Meissen "desires to retain [Agar] to procure contracts for the transportation of livestock to be transported by [Meissen]." It states that Meissen is an "independent contractor, and not an employee of [Agar]." It also includes, among other things, obligations that Agar has to Meissen—and that Meissen has to Agar. For example, Meissen must provide the bill of lading to the receiver and to Agar, but Meissen "shall not accept any payments tendered to [Meissen] from [the] shipper or receiver." The Brokerage Agreement repeatedly refers to Meissen as "transporting livestock for Agar."

The Trailer Lease Agreement provides that Meissen is leasing a trailer from Agar, and that the "[r]ent" paid by Meissen to Agar is "10% of the gross revenue for each haul made by [Meissen]." The Trailer Lease Agreement, like the Brokerage Agreement, tied compensation to the successful delivery of loads dispatched by Agar to Meissen. In addition to these agreements, Agar provided Meissen (and other carriers who leased trailers from Agar) with a fuel card as an advance to ensure delivery of the loads Agar dispatched. Later, when Meissen hired Eldridge, Meissen entrusted Eldridge with Agar's fuel card.

Moving forward to the underlying events, there was an initial dispute over the source of the ordered shipment, but the Commission ultimately found that "at some point prior to January 18, 2018, an employee of AB Genetics contacted [OutWest Dispatch] to arrange for the transport of the cattle in question." Notably, AB Genetics and OutWest Dispatch are not parties to this case. OutWest Dispatch typically dispatches "all, or almost all, of its brokered loads to OutWest Livestock for hauling." However, in this instance, OutWest Livestock did not have enough trucks to transport all of AB Genetics’ cattle. Because of this, OutWest Dispatch "passed on some of the dispatches to Agar in order for Agar to find someone to haul the cattle in question." The cattle were to be transported from a feedlot in American Falls, Idaho, owned and operated by Snake River Cattle Feeders, LLC ("Snake River"), to a processing facility in Toppenish, Washington. It was initially disputed by Eldridge, but the Commission ultimately found that Snake River was not involved in contracting for the shipment of AB Genetics’ cattle.

Once Agar received the dispatch from OutWest Dispatch, "Agar, in turn, dispatched four trucks owned by owner-operators to" the Snake River feedlot "including the Meissen truck (with the trailer that Meissen leased from Agar) driven by [Eldridge]." On the morning of January 18, 2018, while at Snake River's feedlot, Eldridge was severely injured when he attempted to load cattle from Snake River's chute into Agar's trailer. In essence, a cow charged Eldridge, struck him between the shoulder blades, shoved him into a gate, trampled him, and rendered him unconscious. According to Eldridge, the gate on the chute was not "spring-loaded" and instead used a "sucker rod" that made it difficult to open and close. When Eldridge tried to get away from the cow as it charged out of the trailer, the chute gate would not open, and Eldridge was trapped. Eldridge was taken to the emergency room and later admitted for numerous broken bones and a pulmonary contusion (i.e., a bruised lung ).

After the accident, Agar billed OutWest Dispatch for three completed loads. "[T]he fourth load, Meissen's, was not completed due to Eldridge's injuries, and thus Agar did not bill [OutWest Dispatch] for that load." On January 23, 2018, Snake River, acting on behalf AB Genetics, issued payment to OutWest

517 P.3d 846

Dispatch for the carrier services on the date of the accident. OutWest Dispatch then subtracted its dispatch fees from the payment and sent the remainder to Agar as payment for the three completed loads (and other loads not relevant here). "Upon receipt of payment from [OutWest Dispatch], Agar disbursed payment to the owner-operators that delivered their loads, minus Agar's agreed upon brokerage fees and/or fees for leasing its trailer." Had Eldridge delivered his load, Meissen would have been paid by Agar in the same manner.

B. Procedural Background.

Roughly two weeks after his accident, Eldridge filed a worker's compensation complaint against Meissen. Eventually, Eldridge obtained counsel, and amended his complaint to add Agar, OutWest Livestock (a separate entity from OutWest Dispatch), and Snake River, along with their respective sureties. In response, Agar's surety, Travelers Property Casualty Company ("Travelers"), answered for Travelers "only" and stated that Agar was "not insured for worker's compensation liability under the Idaho Worker's Compensation Act[.]" (Emphasis original.) Three months later, the Commission dismissed Travelers from the case. One month after that, the Commission bifurcated the case and ordered that the only issues before it were: (1) whether Eldridge was an employee of Meissen or an independent contractor; and (2) whether Agar, OutWest Livestock, and/or Snake River were statutory employers of Eldridge.

Earlier in the case, Meissen was...

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