Maney v. Louisiana Pacific Corp.

Decision Date28 December 2000
Docket NumberNo. 99-634.,99-634.
CourtMontana Supreme Court
PartiesKaren A. MANEY, personally, and as the Personal Representative of the Estate of Jason Robert Fogleson, and as the Guardian Ad Litem and parent of Anthony Michael Fogleson, Cordell William Maney and Delana TL Maney, Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. LOUISIANA PACIFIC CORPORATION, Defendant and Appellant, v. Thomas B. Cheff, d/b/a T & S Cheff Logging, Defendant and Respondent.

Michael C. Coil (argued); Angel Law Firm, Bozeman, MT, For Appellants.

Lawrence F. Daly (argued); Garlington, Lohn & Robinson, Missoula, MT, (for Louisiana Pacific Corporation).

Robert J. Phillips (argued); Phillips & Bohyer, Missoula, MT, For Respondent.

Justice KARLA M. GRAY delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶ 1 Karen A. Maney (Maney) and the Louisiana Pacific Corporation (LP) appeal from the judgment entered by the Eighteenth Judicial District Court, Gallatin County, on its order granting summary judgment to Thomas B. Cheff, d/b/a T & S Cheff Logging (Cheff), and denying LP's motion for leave to file a cross-claim against Cheff. We affirm.

¶ 2 We address the following issues:

¶ 3 1. Did the District Court err in granting summary judgment to Cheff based on its conclusion that the claims raised in Maney's complaint were barred by the exclusive remedy provision of Montana's Workers' Compensation Act?

¶ 4 2. Did the District Court abuse its discretion in denying LP's motion for leave to file a cross-claim against Cheff?

BACKGROUND

¶ 5 Prior to the summer of 1994, Cheff contracted with LP to cut and remove timber owned by LP and located in the Mill Creek drainage in Park County, Montana. Cheff hired Jason Robert Fogleson (Fogleson) to assist in logging the timber. On July 8, 1994, while working for Cheff, Fogleson was injured by a falling tree; he died later that day. At the time of the accident, Fogleson was covered by workers' compensation insurance provided by Cheff.

¶ 6 Maney, Fogleson's mother, subsequently filed a complaint against Cheff and LP for damages resulting from Fogleson's death, asserting claims based on negligence, loss of consortium, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violations of the Montana Safety Act. The complaint was filed by Maney individually, as personal representative of Fogleson's estate and as guardian ad litem of Fogleson's minor siblings. LP answered the complaint and asserted various affirmative defenses. Cheff moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that Maney's claims were barred by the exclusivity provision of the Workers' Compensation Act (the Act) because Fogleson's injury and death were compensable under the Act. While Cheff's motion to dismiss was pending, LP moved the District Court for leave to amend its answer to assert a cross-claim against Cheff for indemnity and contribution.

¶ 7 The District Court heard arguments on both motions and, because Cheff had filed an affidavit in support of the motion to dismiss, converted that motion to one for summary judgment. The court concluded that all of Maney's claims were barred by the Act's exclusivity provision and granted summary judgment to Cheff on that basis. Based on its conclusion that the Act barred Maney's claims against Cheff, the court also denied LP's motion for leave to amend its answer to assert a cross-claim against Cheff.

¶ 8 Maney appeals from the District Court's order granting summary judgment to Cheff on her negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims which were based on her seeing the severe injuries her son suffered and watching him die in the hospital. LP appeals from the court's denial of its motion for leave to amend.

DISCUSSION

¶ 9 1. Did the District Court err in granting summary judgment to Cheff based on its conclusion that the claims raised in Maney's complaint were barred by the exclusive remedy provision of the Act?

¶ 10 We review a district court's grant of summary judgment using the same Rule 56, M.R.Civ.P., criteria applied by that court. Sherner v. Conoco, Inc., 2000 MT 50, ¶ 10, 298 Mont. 401, ¶ 10, 995 P.2d 990, ¶ 10. In that regard, summary judgment is appropriate only when no genuine issue of material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Rule 56(c), M.R.Civ.P. Here, the parties do not dispute the material facts and, as a result, we review only whether Cheff is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

¶ 11 The general purpose of the Act is to protect employers and employees by incorporating a quid pro quo for negligent acts by employers. Sherner, ¶ 17. Employees are assured of compensation for their work-related injuries under the Act and forego other legal recourse against their employer. Sherner, ¶ 17. In turn, employers are given immunity from suit by an injured employee and relinquish their common law defenses to liability. Sherner, ¶ 17. In furtherance of this purpose, the Act contains an exclusive remedy provision which states as follows:

For all employments covered under the ... Act ... the provisions of this chapter are exclusive. Except as provided in part 5 of this chapter for uninsured employers and except as otherwise provided in the ... Act, an employer is not subject to any liability whatever for the death of or personal injury to an employee covered by the ... Act or for any claims for contribution or indemnity asserted by a third person from whom damages are sought on account of such injuries or death. The . . . Act binds the employee himself, and in case of death binds his personal representative and all persons having any right or claim to compensation for his injury or death, as well as the employer and the servants and employees of such employer and those conducting his business during liquidation, bankruptcy, or insolvency.

Section 39-71-411, MCA.

¶ 12 Cheff argued in the District Court that Maney's claims were barred by § 39-71-411, MCA, because they were based on Fogleson's personal injury and death. The District Court agreed and granted Cheff summary judgment on all of Maney's claims. Maney asserts the court erred in determining that the Act precludes her from bringing her claims for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

¶ 13 Maney's first argument is that her emotional distress claims are not barred by § 39-71-411, MCA, because they are psychological injuries which do not come within the purview of the Act. She asserts that a psychological injury such as emotional distress is not an "injury" as defined in § 39-71-119, MCA, and is not compensable under the Act. She contends, therefore, that because her emotional distress claims do not constitute injuries under the Act, they are not precluded by the Act's exclusivity provision. In support of her argument, Maney cites Stratemeyer v. Lincoln County (1996), 276 Mont. 67, 915 P.2d 175,Kleinhesselink v. Chevron, U.S.A. (1996), 277 Mont. 158, 920 P.2d 108, and Yarborough v. Mont. Mun. Ins. Auth. (1997), 282 Mont. 475, 938 P.2d 679.

¶ 14 In Stratemeyer, the plaintiff sued his employer alleging he had suffered severe mental and emotional distress resulting from a work-related incident. Stratemeyer, 276 Mont. at 70, 915 P.2d at 177. The district court granted the employer's motion to dismiss, concluding that the Act provided the plaintiff's exclusive remedy. Stratemeyer, 276 Mont. at 69, 915 P.2d at 176. We held on appeal that, because an emotional injury resulting from work-related mental or emotional stress—known as a "mental-mental" injury—is not an "injury" as defined in § 39-71-119, MCA, and is not compensable under the Act, the exclusive remedy provision did not apply. Stratemeyer, 276 Mont. at 78, 915 P.2d at 181-82. Thus, a plaintiff with a work-related "mental-mental" injury may bring a tort action against his or her employer to recover damages. See Stratemeyer, 276 Mont. at 79,

915 P.2d at 182.

¶ 15 In Kleinhesselink, the plaintiff brought suit against his employer alleging both mental and physical injuries resulting from work-related emotional or mental stress. Kleinhesselink, 277 Mont. at 160, 920 P.2d at 109-10. In other words, the plaintiff alleged both "mental-mental" and "mental-physical" injuries. We observed that § 39-71-119(3)(a), MCA, excludes both mental and physical conditions arising from emotional or mental stress from the definition of "injury" and, as a result, the plaintiff's "mental-mental" and "mental-physical" injuries were not compensable under the Act. Therefore, pursuant to our holding in Stratemeyer, we held that the plaintiff could proceed with a tort action against his employer. Kleinhesselink, 277 Mont. at 163, 920 P.2d at 111. In Yarborough, we held that the Workers' Compensation Court correctly denied a claimant benefits under the Act where the evidence established the claimant suffered from a "mental-mental" injury excluded from the § 39 71-119, MCA, definition of "injury." Yarborough, 282 Mont. at 483, 938 P.2d at 684.

¶ 16 In each of these cases, the issue was the nature of the employee's injury and whether it was a compensable "injury" under the Act. If an employee's injury is not compensable under the Act, the exclusive remedy provision does not preclude a tort action against the employer. Thus, the initial inquiry in determining whether the § 39-71-411, MCA, exclusive remedy provision applies is whether the employee suffered an "injury" as defined in § 39-71-119, MCA. Before even reaching the "injury" portion of the inquiry, of course, it is clear that, to avoid the exclusivity provision, the injuries at issue must be those of the employee. In attempting to analogize her injuries to those at issue in our previous cases, Maney fails to recognize that she was not the injured employee here; Fogleson was. Furthermore, the parties do not dispute that Fogleson's physical injury and death were compensable injuries under the Act,...

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