Sierra v. Associated Marine Institutes, Inc., No. 2D01-2406.

CourtCourt of Appeal of Florida (US)
Writing for the CourtNORTHCUTT.
Citation850 So.2d 582
PartiesMarysol SIERRA, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Michael Carlos Sierra, as Wife of Michael Carlos Sierra, and as Parent and Legal Guardian of Miguel Sierra and William Sierra, Appellant, v. ASSOCIATED MARINE INSTITUTES, INC., a Florida corporation, Department of Juvenile Justice, an agency of the State of Florida, and Big Cypress Wilderness Institute, Inc., a Florida corporation, Appellees.
Docket NumberNo. 2D01-2406.
Decision Date18 June 2003

850 So.2d 582

Marysol SIERRA, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Michael Carlos Sierra, as Wife of Michael Carlos Sierra, and as Parent and Legal Guardian of Miguel Sierra and William Sierra, Appellant,
v.
ASSOCIATED MARINE INSTITUTES, INC., a Florida corporation, Department of Juvenile Justice, an agency of the State of Florida, and Big Cypress Wilderness Institute, Inc., a Florida corporation, Appellees

No. 2D01-2406.

District Court of Appeal of Florida, Second District.

June 18, 2003.

Rehearing Denied July 23, 2003.


850 So.2d 584
James L. O'Leary, II, of JLOESQ, LLC, Bonita Springs, for appellant

Hinda Klein of Conroy, Simberg, Ganon, Krevans & Abel, P.A., Hollywood, for appellees Associated Marine Institutes, Inc. and Big Cypress Wilderness Institute, Inc.

Esther E. Galicia of George, Hartz, Lundeen, Fulmer, Johnstone, King & Stevens,

850 So.2d 585
Fort Lauderdale, for appellee Department of Juvenile Justice

NORTHCUTT, Judge.

The week after Michael Sierra began working as a counselor at a residential juvenile detention camp, two of the camp's residents murdered him. His widow, Marysol Sierra, filed a wrongful death suit against the Department of Juvenile Justice and against her husband's employers, who operated the camp under contract with the Department. On motions by the three defendants, the circuit court dismissed Mrs. Sierra's action with prejudice. The court ruled that the employers were entitled to workers' compensation immunity and, further, that all defendants were shielded from liability by sovereign immunity. We conclude that Mrs. Sierra alleged facts sufficient to except her suit from the employers' workers' compensation immunity. Also, the second amended complaint did not demonstrate that sovereign immunity shielded the defendants from liability for the acts alleged. Accordingly, we reverse the dismissal of Mrs. Sierra's suit and remand for further proceedings.

FACTS

For these purposes we must treat the material factual allegations of Mrs. Sierra's pleadings as true. See Curtis v. Henderson, 777 So.2d 1017 (Fla. 2d DCA 2000). They reflect that Big Cypress Wilderness Institute was a "level 8" high-risk residential juvenile detention facility commonly known as a "boot camp," housing felons aged fourteen to eighteen. It was located on federal land in the Big Cypress National Preserve by virtue of an agreement between the National Park Service and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. The boot camp was operated by Big Cypress Wilderness Institute, Inc., pursuant to a contract between DJJ and BCWI's parent, Associated Marine Institutes, Inc.

That contract acknowledged that a high-risk residential placement required "close supervision in a standard residential setting that provides 24-hour secure custody, care, and supervision." Juveniles with a history of "serious felony offenses" were placed in such facilities out of "concern for public safety that outweighs placement in lower risk programs."

Commensurate with this risk level, AMI's contract and an amalgam of DJJ rules and procedural manuals imposed stringent security requirements. Thus, for example, high risk facilities such as Big Cypress were to have twelve-foot fences topped by razor wire. Staff members were required to undergo a rigorous orientation that included training in verbal and physical use of force, familiarization with policies and procedures, and "job shadowing" of experienced staffers. Until this training was completed, a new staff member was not to have direct contact with youths except under the direct supervision of a certified drill instructor or camp commander.

The DJJ Residential Commitment Service Manual, applicable to Big Cypress pursuant to the DJJ/AMI contract, called for continual assessment of each youth in the program to monitor his level of risk. The program was to devise and maintain an "alert system," whereby all members of the staff would be apprised of specific developments affecting an individual youth's level of risk. These included, for example, such things as an escape attempt or an assault or threat against another resident within the previous 30 days. The manual warned that youths assessed as risks should not be allowed off-campus or to participate in work projects in which they had access to work tools that could be used

850 So.2d 586
as weapons or means of escape. Moreover, all off-site work projects were to be supervised by at least two trained staff members

The two youths who murdered Michael Sierra had been assessed as risks for escape. Jermaine Jones had a record of offenses including aggravated assault, cocaine possession, battery, resisting arrest, and a prior escape. He had attacked a staff member in the past and had made threatening remarks on three separate occasions. Mazer Jean's record included burglary and possession of a short-barreled rifle, and he had made threatening remarks twice.

On the Sunday before Sierra's death, Jones and Jean had a verbal confrontation, culminating in Jones's threat to "split Jean's head to the white meat." On learning of the altercation, supervisor Erroll Denson placed them both on "contract," a form of punishment requiring the offender to "pay off" the contract with heavy manual labor. Jones in particular expressed anger about this, prompting one staffer to warn that he feared Jones would try to escape and that he should be closely watched.

At 7:19 p.m. on the second day after the altercation between Jones and Jean, Denson instructed Sierra to accompany them and a third youth named Sal Beatty to a work site next to a pond roughly 100 yards outside the Big Cypress compound, where the youths were to fell trees as part of their "contract" punishments. Denson ordered Sierra to oversee the work project until 9:00 p.m., when the group was to return to the compound.

Sierra had been employed as a youth counselor at Big Cypress only eight days. According to Mrs. Sierra's second amended complaint, BCWI had failed to provide Sierra with the required new staff orientation or a copy of the employee handbook. It had never given him the DJJ-required written test on the policies and procedures governing Florida juvenile boot camps, nor had it given him the mandated video training about the boot camp's policies and procedures. Further, Sierra was never warned of the violent threats by Jones or that his fellow staff member thought Jones might try to escape.

Sierra retrieved his car keys from a locked box located in the administrative office, and took his jacket from the trunk of his car. But he did not return the keys to the office as required by policy. Instead, he placed them in his pocket. Sierra next took the three youths to select tools for the work project. Jean and Beatty chose machetes, and Jones took a pickaxe. The four then walked out to the work site.

During a water break at approximately 8:25 p.m., Jones and Jean killed Sierra by repeatedly striking him about the head with their work tools. They took Sierra's car keys, rolled him into the pond, returned to the Big Cypress compound, and escaped in Sierra's car.

WORKERS' COMPENSATION IMMUNITY

Workers' compensation immunity, like other affirmative defenses, may justify dismissing a suit at the pleadings stage only if the plaintiff's complaint affirmatively and clearly demonstrates the conclusive applicability of the defense. Vause v. Bay Med. Ctr., 687 So.2d 258, 261 (Fla. 1st DCA 1996). We conclude that Mrs. Sierra's second amended complaint did not conclusively demonstrate that Florida's Workers' Compensation Law immunized AMI and BCWI from liability.

Section 440.11, Florida Statutes (1997), protects employers from tort liability for injuries to their employees except in limited situations identified in the statute.

850 So.2d 587
In addition, Florida courts recognize an exception for intentional torts where an employer has either exhibited a deliberate intent to injure or engaged in conduct that is substantially certain to result in injury or death. See Eller v. Shova, 630 So.2d 537, 539 (Fla.1993); Fisher v. Shenandoah Gen. Constr. Co., 498 So.2d 882, 883 (Fla. 1986).

In Turner v. PCR, Inc., 754 So.2d 683 (Fla.2000), the Florida Supreme Court reaffirmed the existence of an intentional tort exception to workers' compensation immunity. When doing so, the court clarified the law in some important respects. First, the court disavowed suggestions in Fisher, 498 So.2d 882, and Lawton v. Alpine Engineered Products, Inc., 498 So.2d 879 (Fla.1986), that the "substantial certainty of injury" standard for avoiding workers' compensation immunity requires a showing that the employer's conduct created a "virtual certainty" of injury. Turner, 754 So.2d at 687 n. 4; see also EAC USA, Inc. v. Kawa, 805 So.2d 1 (Fla. 2d DCA 2001).

The Turner court also held that when applying the "substantial certainty of injury" standard, the employer's conduct must be evaluated under an objective test, as opposed to a subjective one. In other words, the plaintiff need not show that the employer actually knew that its conduct was substantially certain to cause an injury. Rather, the employer may be held liable if it "should have known ... that the conduct complained of was `substantially certain to result in injury or death.'" Id. at 688-89. Therefore, "[u]nder an objective test for the substantial certainty standard, an analysis of the circumstances in a case would be required to determine whether a reasonable person would understand that the employer's conduct was `substantially certain' to result in injury or death to the employee." Turner, 754 So.2d at 688.

Turner involved an explosion at a chemical plant that killed the plaintiff's decedent, a worker at the plant. The plaintiff alleged that the employer knowingly used a highly unsafe processing method that was substantially certain to result in injury or death. The supreme court reversed a summary judgment granted to the employer on its...

To continue reading

Request your trial
34 practice notes
  • Diaz v. Miami-Dade Cnty., Case Number: 18-24919-CIV-MORENO
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
    • 19 Diciembre 2019
    ...intentional conduct.’ " Barnett v. MacArthur , 715 F. App'x 894, 904 n.9 (11th Cir. 2017) (quoting Sierra v. Assoc. Marine Insts., Inc. , 850 So. 2d 582, 593 (Fla. 2d DCA 2003) and Richardson v. City of Pompano Beach , 511 So. 2d 1121, 1123 (Fla. 4th DCA 1987) ). The Eleventh Circuit has st......
  • Eiras v. Florida, Case No. 3:16–cv–231–J–34PDB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
    • 7 Marzo 2017
    ...Conduct meeting the wanton and willful standard is defined as "worse than gross negligence," Sierra v. Associated Marine Insts., Inc. , 850 So.2d 582, 593 (Fla. 2d DCA 2003), and "more reprehensible and unacceptable than mere intentional conduct," Richardson v. City of Pompano Beach , 511 S......
  • Shands Teaching Hosp. & Clinics, Inc. v. Estate of Lawson, No. 1D14–4675.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • 28 Agosto 2015
    ...keys allegation and whether Shands appropriately handled Ms. Lawson's security. Cf., Sierra v. Associated Marine Insts., Inc., 850 So.2d 582, 586 (Fla. 2d DCA 2003) (recognizing a policy at a residential juvenile detention camp not to keep keys on one's person, but to leave them in a locked......
  • Kastritis v. City of Daytona Beach Shores, Case Nos. 6:09–cv–2105–Orl–35GJK, 6:10–cv–941–Orl–35GJK.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
    • 18 Mayo 2011
    ...and willful” standard in the context of § 768.28(9)(a), must be “worse than gross negligence,” Sierra v. Associated Marine Insts., Inc., 850 So.2d 582, 593 (Fla. 5th DCA 2003), and “more reprehensible and unacceptable than mere intentional conduct.” Richardson v. City of Pompano Beach, 511 ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
34 cases
  • Diaz v. Miami-Dade Cnty., Case Number: 18-24919-CIV-MORENO
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
    • 19 Diciembre 2019
    ...intentional conduct.’ " Barnett v. MacArthur , 715 F. App'x 894, 904 n.9 (11th Cir. 2017) (quoting Sierra v. Assoc. Marine Insts., Inc. , 850 So. 2d 582, 593 (Fla. 2d DCA 2003) and Richardson v. City of Pompano Beach , 511 So. 2d 1121, 1123 (Fla. 4th DCA 1987) ). The Eleventh Circuit has st......
  • Eiras v. Florida, Case No. 3:16–cv–231–J–34PDB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
    • 7 Marzo 2017
    ...Conduct meeting the wanton and willful standard is defined as "worse than gross negligence," Sierra v. Associated Marine Insts., Inc. , 850 So.2d 582, 593 (Fla. 2d DCA 2003), and "more reprehensible and unacceptable than mere intentional conduct," Richardson v. City of Pompano Beach , 511 S......
  • Shands Teaching Hosp. & Clinics, Inc. v. Estate of Lawson, No. 1D14–4675.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • 28 Agosto 2015
    ...keys allegation and whether Shands appropriately handled Ms. Lawson's security. Cf., Sierra v. Associated Marine Insts., Inc., 850 So.2d 582, 586 (Fla. 2d DCA 2003) (recognizing a policy at a residential juvenile detention camp not to keep keys on one's person, but to leave them in a locked......
  • Kastritis v. City of Daytona Beach Shores, Case Nos. 6:09–cv–2105–Orl–35GJK, 6:10–cv–941–Orl–35GJK.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
    • 18 Mayo 2011
    ...and willful” standard in the context of § 768.28(9)(a), must be “worse than gross negligence,” Sierra v. Associated Marine Insts., Inc., 850 So.2d 582, 593 (Fla. 5th DCA 2003), and “more reprehensible and unacceptable than mere intentional conduct.” Richardson v. City of Pompano Beach, 511 ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT