Nagle v. Trueblue, Inc.

Decision Date24 October 2016
Docket NumberNo. 247 C.D. 2016,247 C.D. 2016
CourtPennsylvania Commonwealth Court
Parties Jeffrey Lynn NAGLE, Executor of the Estate of Douglas Edward Bell, Deceased, Appellant v. TRUEBLUE, INC., Labor Ready, Inc. and Labor Ready Northeast, Inc. and Rye Township

David B. Dowling, Harrisburg, for appellant.

Stephen L. Banko, Jr., Camp Hill, for appellees TrueBlue, Inc., Labor Ready, Inc. and Labor Ready Northeast, Inc.

Thomas X. McAndrew, Jr., Chester Springs, for appellee Rye Township.

BEFORE: HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, President Judge, HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge (P.), HONORABLE ANNE E. COVEY, Judge

OPINION BY JUDGE COVEY

Jeffrey Lynn Nagle (Nagle), as executor of Douglas Edward Bell's (Bell) estate, appeals from the January 29, 2016 order of the Court of Common Pleas of the 41st Judicial District (Perry County Branch) (trial court) granting TrueBlue, Inc.'s, Labor Ready Inc.'s and Labor Ready Northeast, Inc.'s (collectively, Labor Ready)1 and Rye Township's (Township) motions for summary judgment (Motions), and dismissing Nagle's complaint (Complaint). Nagle presents two issues for this Court's review: (1) whether the trial court erred by determining that equitable principles preclude Nagle from suing Labor Ready and, (2) whether the trial court erred by concluding that Labor Ready and the Township were entitled to immunity under the Workers' Compensation Act (Act).2 After review, we affirm.

Bell was hired by Labor Ready, an employment agency, to furnish temporary services. Labor Ready and the Township had an agreement under which Labor Ready would furnish the Township temporary labor. On October 18, 2010, Labor Ready instructed Bell to report to work for the Township. The Township assigned Bell to work on the back of a Township trash truck. Township employee Bradley Sloop (Sloop) instructed Bell regarding the job.3 Sloop testified that, after successfully making a few stops, while the truck was still moving, Bell “step [ped] back like he was getting off the truck and he fell.” Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 650a; see also R.R. at 647a. Bell sustained serious injuries that ultimately resulted in his death on August 25, 2011.

As a result of Bell's work injury, Labor Ready's workers' compensation insurance carrier paid approximately $770,000.00 in workers' compensation benefits.4 On February 14, 2011, Nagle filed a penalty petition alleging that Labor Ready “has failed to [timely] pay wage loss benefits.” R.R. at 552a; see also R.R. at 549a-551a, 553a. The penalty petition was resolved by March 23, 2011 stipulation, wherein Nagle and Labor Ready agreed that Defendant/[E]mployer” Labor Ready would pay a lump sum of $900.00. R.R. at 552a; see also R.R. at 553a. The Township did not participate in the workers' compensation proceedings.

On December 1, 2011, Nagle filed a writ of summons with the Dauphin County Common Pleas Court. After conducting pre-pleading discovery, Nagle filed his Complaint with the Dauphin County Common Pleas Court on July 6, 2012 asserting negligence, wrongful death and survival claims against Labor Ready and the Township.5 The case was transferred to the trial court on May 5, 2014.6

In June 2014, Labor Ready and the Township filed preliminary objections claiming they were entitled to immunity under Section 303(a) of the Act, 77 P.S. § 481(a). On December 19, 2014, the trial court overruled the preliminary objections. The pleadings were closed on February 20, 2015. After discovery was completed, Labor Ready and the Township filed the Motions asserting their immunity under the Act. On January 29, 2016, the trial court granted the Motions and dismissed the Complaint. Nagle appealed to this Court.7

Initially,

[s]ummary judgment is properly granted ‘whenever there is no genuine issue of material fact as to a necessary element of the cause of action or defense which could be established by additional discovery or expert report[.] Pa.R.C [ ].P. No. 1035.2(1). Summary judgment may be granted only in those cases where the right is clear and free from doubt. The moving party has the burden of proving that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Furthermore, the record and any inferences therefrom must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact must be resolved against the moving party.

Laich v. Bracey , 776 A.2d 1022, 1024 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2001) (citations omitted).

Labor Ready claims that because Labor Ready employed Bell at the time he was injured, and paid Bell's resulting workers' compensation benefits, Bell ‘surrender[ed] [ ] any other form or amount of compensation or damage” and, thus, Labor Ready is immune from Nagle's actions under Section 303(a) of the Act. Labor Ready Br. at 6. Labor Ready also contends that since Nagle explicitly agreed during the workers' compensation proceedings that Labor Ready was Bell's employer, judicial estoppel prohibits Nagle from now seeking tort remedies from Labor Ready.

The Township asserts that since it “controlled [Bell's] work and the manner in which he performed [it],” Township Br. at 9, the Township is immune from Nagle's lawsuit under Section 303(a) of the Act. The Township further argues that since Nagle maintains on appeal that the trial court only erred by dismissing Labor Ready, Nagle concedes that the Township was Bell's employer on October 18, 2010 and, thus, is immune from Nagle's action.

Genuine Issue of Material Fact

The facts of this case are undisputed.8 On December 21, 2009, Bell signed an employment application with Labor Ready, wherein he acknowledged, among other things, that Labor Ready was his employer and, if he was ever injured while in the course of his work for a Labor Ready customer, he “will look only to Labor Ready's Workers' Compensation coverage and not to Labor Ready's customer for any recovery.” R.R. at 215a. Bell also agreed and consented: “While working at the customer's job site, ... the customer is [his] special employer and ... directs, controls and supervises [his] work.” R.R. at 215a. Labor Ready paid Bell as a day laborer, and provided him general safety training (see R.R. at 219a-221a, 224a, 228a-231a, 387a), work gloves and workers' compensation coverage. Labor Ready had the authority to assign Bell to any job, to remove him from that job or fire him from Labor Ready's employ.

The Township has an agreement with Labor Ready under which Labor Ready is to furnish temporary day laborers to the Township on an as-needed basis. The Confirmation of Rates and Services agreement between Labor Ready and the Township specified that Labor Ready's bill rates included “all wages, withholdings, FICA, Medicare, payroll taxes, unemployment insurance and workers' compensation insurance ... for supplied employees.” R.R. at 919a. The Township was required to [p]rovide adequate supervision and accurately record work hours ....” R.R. at 919a. In the agreement, Labor Ready further specified that [s]ince our workers will be under [the Township's] supervision, ... [the Township is] required to ... provide any necessary site-specific safety training ....” R.R. at 919a.

In addition, the Township agreed to Labor Ready's Conditions of Service that “Labor Ready workers are under Customer's [the Township's] supervision, direction, and control.” R.R. at 921a. Labor Ready's Temporary Worker Safety Training Manual (Manual) also stated: “Labor Ready does not provide work site supervision, as you will be under the sole direction and control of the customer.” R.R. at 924a. Moreover, the Manual detailed:

Labor Ready requires from its customers that each work site be supervised by a ‘competent’ person. This is someone who:
Has knowledge and experience in the job.
Has the knowledge of the work site hazards.
Has knowledge of safety regulations related to the job site.
Has authority to correct hazards.

R.R. at 924a. Accordingly, Labor Ready expected the Township to instruct Bell and supervise him in his job while he worked for the Township.9 See R.R. at 906a.

On October 18, 2010, in response to the Township's request for a laborer, Labor Ready selected Bell and instructed Bell to report to work for the Township. Labor Ready supplied Bell with gloves for the Township assignment. See R.R. at 377a. The Township assigned Bell to work on its trash truck, and told Bell how to perform the assigned job. Bell sustained his fatal injuries when he fell from the moving trash truck. Labor Ready paid Bell's workers' compensation benefits without the Township's involvement. Clearly, there are no genuine issues of material fact that would preclude summary judgment in this matter. Rather, the parties dispute the legal consequences of the undisputed facts.

Judgment as a Matter of Law
In order to promote certainty in the legal affairs of Pennsylvania's industrial base, while protecting employees and their families from economic devastation arising from work-related injuries, our legislature formulated [the Act] ... to assure quick, fair, and certain compensation for employment-related injuries without requiring the complainants to resort to the courts for recovery.

Alston v. St. Paul Ins. Cos. , 567 A.2d 663, 665–66 (Pa. Super. 1989), aff'd, 612 A.2d 421 (Pa. 1992) ; see also Tooey v. AK Steel Corp. , 81 A.3d 851 (Pa. 2013). To that end, Section 301(a) of the Act requires that [e]very employer shall be liable for compensation for personal injury to, or for the death of each employe, by an injury in the course of his employment, and such compensation shall be paid in all cases by the employer, without regard to negligence[.] 77 P.S. § 431.

However, [i]n exchange for greatly eased burdens of proof and the abolition of various common-law affirmative defenses, the Act ... deprives workers of some rights in return for greater certainty in the receipt of benefits.” Danese v. Morrison Knudsen/Slattery , 784 F.Supp. 228, 229 (E.D. Pa.), aff'd, 975 F.2d 1549 (3d Cir. 1992) ...

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