Gates Rubber Co. v. Cantrell

Decision Date19 April 1996
Citation678 So.2d 754
Parties11 IER Cases 1125 GATES RUBBER COMPANY v. Phillip CANTRELL. 1941438.
CourtAlabama Supreme Court

Cary Schwimmer of Young & Perl, P.C., Memphis, Tennessee, Grant A. Wright of Ashe, Tanner, Moore & Wright, Tuscumbia, for Appellant.

J. Tony Glenn, Russellville, for Appellee.


Pursuant to Rule 5, Ala.R.App.P., the defendant, Gates Rubber Company ("Gates"), appeals from an interlocutory order denying its motion to dismiss the plaintiff Phillip Cantrell's retaliatory discharge claim. The issue is whether, as a matter of law, Cantrell's claim is precluded by the language of a prior settlement agreement between the parties.

On August 19, 1990, Cantrell received an on-the-job injury while employed by Gates. Based on this injury, Cantrell made a worker's compensation claim. On June 24, 1994, Cantrell and Gates entered into a written settlement of that claim. The settlement agreement provided:

"[The] defendant agrees to pay and [the] plaintiff agrees to accept the lump sum of [t]wenty-[f]ive thousand and [n]o/100 ($25,000.00) [d]ollars in full satisfaction of any and all claims by the plaintiff for compensation and vocational rehabilitation benefits under the workmen's compensation laws of the State of Alabama for [the plaintiff's work-related] accidental injury of August 19, 1990.... Upon payment of said sum by the defendant to the plaintiff, the plaintiff agrees to and does hereby release the defendant and its workmen's compensation insurance carrier from any and all liability now accrued or hereafter to accrue for compensation and vocational rehabilitation benefits under the workmen's compensation laws of the State of Alabama, or otherwise, due or arising out of [the plaintiff's work-related] injury of August 19, 1990, or any other accidental injury sustained by the plaintiff while employed by the defendant...."

(Emphasis added.)

On the same day the agreement was executed by the parties, June 24, 1994, the trial court entered an order approving the settlement. Nine months later, on March 24, 1995, Cantrell filed this action against Gates, seeking damages for an alleged violation of the "retaliatory discharge" provision at Ala.Code 1975, § 25-5-11.1, a part of the Workers' Compensation Act. 1 Gates moved for a dismissal of this claim, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Ala.R.Civ.P., for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Gates argued specifically that the claim was barred by the earlier settlement agreement.

In support of its motion to dismiss, Gates submitted a copy of the settlement agreement, which the trial court considered in ruling on the motion to dismiss. Because the settlement agreement was a matter outside the pleadings, we understand the trial court to have treated Gates's Rule 12(b)(6) motion as a Rule 56 motion for a summary judgment. See Graveman v. Wind Drift Owners' Ass'n, Inc., 607 So.2d 199 (Ala.1992) (discussing the situation where a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is converted to a Rule 56 motion for a summary judgment).

In most cases, perhaps, the critical issue in determining whether a summary judgment motion was properly granted or properly denied relates to whether there is a genuine issue of material fact. See Bussey v. John Deere Co., 531 So.2d 860, 862 (Ala.1988) (discussing the Rule 56 principle that a summary judgment is proper where there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law). Here, however, the material facts are not in dispute. The issue here is simply whether the language of the settlement agreement entitles Gates to a judgment as a matter of law.

In denying Gates's motion, the trial court held simply that "the plaintiff's claim for retaliatory discharge is not barred by his Worker's Compensation settlement agreement." Cantrell argues that the trial court was correct in so holding, because, he says, the agreement only released Gates from paying "vocational rehabilitation benefits" and "compensation" benefits, "compensation" having a meaning, he says, consistent with the definition found at § 25-5-1(1).

Section 25-5-1(1) contains one of many definitions found at the beginning of the Workers' Compensation Act. In pertinent part, it defines "compensation," as that word is used within the provisions of the Act, see § 25-5-1, as "[t]he money benefits to be paid on account of [work-related] injury or death." The plaintiff says that he was releasing Gates from liability only for this type of benefits when he released Gates from liability for "compensation." Damages payable on a retaliatory discharge claim, says the plaintiff, would not fit within this definition of "compensation," and thus, he says, that claim was not within the matters settled by the agreement.

The language of the settlement agreement, settling claims as to "any and all liability now accrued or hereafter to accrue for compensation and vocational rehabilitation benefits," is not substantially different from the language this Court examined in Sanders v. Southern Risk Services, 603 So.2d 994 (Ala.1992). In Sanders, this Court examined a settlement petition, which stated the terms agreed to by the parties in settlement of a...

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  • Dillard's Inc. v. Gallups
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Civil Appeals
    • September 10, 2010
    ...workers' compensation claim giving rise to the release. Sanders v. Southern Risk Servs., 603 So.2d 994 (Ala.1992); Gates Rubber Co. v. Cantrell, 678 So.2d 754 (Ala.1996); and Walton v. Beverly Enters.-Alabama, Inc., 4 So.3d 537, 545 (Ala.Civ.App.2008). Based on those cases, the trial court ......
  • Walton v. Beverly Enterprises-Alabama, Inc.
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Civil Appeals
    • July 25, 2008
    ...a retaliatory-discharge claim arising from the workers' compensation claim unless there is evidence of fraud.3 See Gates Rubber Co. v. Cantrell, 678 So.2d 754, 756 (Ala.1996); Ex parte Aratex Servs., Inc., 622 So.2d 367, 369 (Ala.1993); Sanders v. Southern Risk Servs., 603 So.2d 994, 995 (A......
  • Jack Ingram Motors, Inc. v. Ward
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • December 3, 1999
    ...rule in settings where the facts are controverted, as is often the case in regard to arbitration disputes. See, e.g., Gates Rubber Co. v. Cantrell, 678 So.2d 754 (Ala.1996); Travelers Ins. Co. v. Jones, 529 So.2d 234 (Ala. 1988). Because an order compelling or denying arbitration does not d......
  • Sparks v. Sunshine Mills, Inc.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Alabama
    • September 4, 2013
    ...that the plaintiff's retaliatory discharge claim was barred by the valid release. Id. at 995-96. Likewise, in Gates Rubber Co v. Cantrell, 678 So. 2d 754, 755-56 (Ala. 1996), the Alabama Supreme Court held that a plaintiff could not bring a retaliatory discharge claim based on § 25-5-11.1, ......
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