Stuart v. Co. Interstate Gas Co.

Decision Date27 November 2001
Docket NumberNo. 01-8006,01-8006
Parties(10th Cir. 2001) GERALD SHANE STUART, an individual, Plaintiff - Appellant, v. COLORADO INTERSTATE GAS COMPANY, a Delaware corporation, Defendant-Appellee
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF WYOMING. (D.C. No. 00-CV-131-D)

[Copyrighted Material Omitted] Kent Wilson Spence, (J. Douglas McCalla and Larissa A. Ferullo, with him on the briefs), Spence, Moriarity & Schuster, L.L.C., Jackson, Wyoming, for Plaintiff - Appellant.

Steven G. Greenlee (and Kevin F. Amatuzio, with him on the brief), Montgomery, Kolodny, Amatuzio, Dusbabek & Parker L.L.P., Denver, Colorado, for Defendant - Appellee.

Before KELLY and MCKAY, Circuit Judges and BROWN*, District Judge.

PAUL KELLY, Jr., Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff-Appellant Gerald Shane Stuart appeals from the district court's dismissal of his negligence claim against Defendant-Appellee Colorado Interstate Gas Company (CIG). The district court's jurisdiction was based on 28 U.S.C. 1332. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1291 and we affirm.

Background

CIG, a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Colorado, owns property in Weld County, Colorado, used for the production and development of natural gas. CIG contracted with Northwinds of Wyoming, Inc. (Northwinds), a construction company based in Wyoming, to install pulsation bottles on natural gas pipelines at the Weld County Facility ("the Facility"). Although a Wyoming resident, Mr. Stuart went directly to the Facility in Colorado and sought employment. The Project Superintendent, a Northwinds employee, hired Mr. Stuart just for the work to be performed at the Facility in Colorado, but Northwinds issued Mr. Stuart's paychecks from its office in Wyoming. The contract with CIG required Northwinds to carry workers' compensation insurance for all of its employees. As part of this contractual requirement, Northwinds named CIG as an insured on its workers' compensation policy which covered all of its employees, including Mr. Stuart.

An explosion occurred at the Facility, resulting in second and third degree burns to Mr. Stuart, as well as a broken hip and pelvis. After applying for and receiving workers' compensation benefits from Wyoming, Mr. Stuart filed this cause of action, alleging negligence and gross negligence on the part of CIG.

CIG responded with a motion to dismiss Mr. Stuart's claim under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1), providing affidavits to support its argument that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to entertain Mr. Stuart's complaint. CIG argued that Colorado law applied in this case, under which CIG qualified as a statutory employer. Under Colorado law, the exclusive remedy against statutory employers is workers' compensation insurance. See Colo. Rev. Stat. 8-41-102, 401 (2001). Mr. Stuart argued that Wyoming law applied under which there exists no exclusive workers' compensation remedy to a third party non-employer such as CIG. See Wyo. Stat. Ann. 27-14-104(a) (Michie 2001). The district court granted CIG's motion, determining that Colorado law applied and, as a result, that CIG was immune from the common-law action brought by Mr. Stuart. Stuarte v. Colo. Interstate Gas Co., 130 F. Supp. 2d 1263 (D. Wyo. 2000).

Appropriateness of 12(b)(1) Dismissal and Standard of Review

The district court dismissed the case under Rule 12(b)(1), concluding that the immunity afforded CIG under the Colorado Workers' Compensation Act ("Colorado Act") removed the court's power to hear the case. Generally, a federal court has subject matter jurisdiction when the minimal requirements of diversity are met, viz., diversity of citizenship and a good faith claim for the requisite amount in controversy. See St. Paul Mercury Indem Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 288-89 (1938). "The essence of diversity jurisdiction," however, " is that a federal court enforces State law and State policy." Angel v. Bullington, 330 U.S. 183, 191 (1947) (federal court sitting in diversity case could not grant deficiency judgment barred by North Carolina statute). Thus, there are cases where, even if diversity of citizenship exists, a federal court "will not take jurisdiction [ ] unless the plaintiff has asserted a claim cognizable in the state courts." 13B Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure 3602, at 375 (2d ed. 1984); see also Proctor & Schwartz, Inc. v. Rollins, 634 F.2d 738, 740 (4th Cir. 1980) (finding that South Carolina "door-closing" statute deprived federal court of jurisdiction). In this case, both parties concede that if Colorado's exclusive remedy provision applies, Mr. Stuart has no cause of action. Aplt. Br. at 9; Aplee. Br. at 9. As such, the district court properly treated the issue as one falling under the province of a 12(b)(1) dismissal, rather than a dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

Rule 12(b)(1) motions generally take one of two forms. First, a moving party may make a facial attack on the complaint's allegations as to the existence of subject matter jurisdiction. Holt v. United States, 46 F.3d 1000, 1002 (10th Cir. 1995) (internal citation omitted). In reviewing a facial attack, the district court must accept the allegations in the complaint as true. Id. Second, a party may go beyond allegations contained in the complaint and challenge the facts upon which subject matter jurisdiction is based. Id. at 1003. CIG chose the second form of attack, offering affidavits in support of its factual attack to subject matter jurisdiction. Stuarte, 130 F. Supp. 2d at 1265. In reviewing a factual attack, a court has "wide discretion to allow affidavits, other documents, and a limited evidentiary hearing to resolve disputed jurisdictional facts." Holt, 46 F.3d at 1003. In the course of a factual attack under Rule 12(b)(1), a court's reference to evidence outside the pleadings does not convert the motion into a Rule 56 motion. Id. We review de novo the district court's dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), and review findings of jurisdictional facts for clear error. Id.

Discussion

The primary issue in this case is the proper choice of applicable law. A federal court sitting in diversity must apply the choice of law rules of the forum in which it sits. Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Elec. Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496 (1941). Although Mr. Stuart's cause of action is facially one sounding in tort, the fact that his injuries implicate the workers' compensation acts of two different states changes the nature of the choice of law decision. We are thus presented with the problem of discerning if a Wyoming court would apply Wyoming law, Colorado law, or perhaps a combination of the two. See Garcia v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 12 F.3d 308, 310 (1st Cir. 1993) (stating that "more than one workers' compensation statute can apply to a single [ ] injury, so long as each state has a 'more-than-casual' interest in the case") (citing 4 Arthur Larson, Workmen's Compensation Law 86.00, at 16-48 (1992)).

Extraterritorial Application of the Wyoming Act

The district court rested its decision that the Colorado Act applied in this case, and therefore its exclusive remedy provision, largely on its analysis of 27-14-301 of the Wyoming Workers' Compensation Act (the "Wyoming Act"). See Stuarte, 130 F. Supp. 2d at 126768. Section 27-14-301, in pertinent part, provides:

(a) [The Wyoming Act] applies to all injuries and deaths occurring in Wyoming . . . if the employment is principally localized in Wyoming and to all injuries and deaths occurring outside of Wyoming . . . under the following conditions:

(i) The employment is principally localized in Wyoming

. . .

(b) For purposes of this section, employment is principally localized where:

(i) The employer has a principal place of business within the state established for legitimate business-related purposes; and

(ii) The employee regularly works at or from that place of business.

Wyo. Stat. Ann. 27-14-301 (Michie 2001). Finding that Mr. Stuart was hired in Colorado and worked only in that state, the district court concluded that Mr. Stuart's employment with Northwinds did not qualify as "principally localized." Stuarte, 130 F. Supp. 2d at 1267. As a result, the district court determined that any conflict between the Colorado Act and the Wyoming Act was "illusory," because 27-14-301 "evince[d] a strong legislative presumption against extraterritoriality" as to the facts of this case. Id. Mr. Stuart challenges the district court's application of the facts of this case to the statute in question, while, of course, CIG asserts the district court properly interpreted the statute.

Although there may be a question as to whether the Wyoming Legislature intended 27-14-301 to determine the applicability of the Wyoming Act to a non-employer such as CIG, see Wyo. Sess. Laws Ch. 177, 1 (amending terminology of 27-14-301 relating to nonresident employers), it does express clearly the extraterritorial reach of the Wyoming Act. The plain language of 27-14-301 demonstrates that the Wyoming Act reaches those claims where either the parties effected the employment contract in Wyoming, see Wyo. Stat. Ann. 27-14-301(a)(ii), (iii) (Michie 2001), or where the employment itself is "principally localized" in Wyoming. See id. 27-14-301(a)(i). In this case, the parties effected the employment contract in Colorado, so the only question is whether Mr. Stuart's employment was "principally localized" in Wyoming. To make that determination, we look to the definition: "[E]mployment is principally localized where: (i) The employer has a principal place of business within the state established for legitimate business purposes; and (ii) The employee regularly works at or from that place of business." Id. 27-14-301(b) (emphasis added).

Mr. Stuart asserts that because...

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