Stuarte v. Colorado Interstate Gas Co., 00-CV-131-B.

Decision Date20 December 2000
Docket NumberNo. 00-CV-131-B.,00-CV-131-B.
Citation130 F.Supp.2d 1263
PartiesGerald Shane STUARTE, an individual Plaintiff, v. COLORADO INTERSTATE GAS, COMPANY, a Delaware corporation Defendant
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Wyoming

Kent Spence, Douglas McCalla, Spence, Moriarity & Schuster, Jackson, WY, for Plaintiff.

Todd S. Welch, Michael John Heydt, Colorado Interstate Gas, Colorado Springs, CO, Steven Gregory Greenlee, Montgomery, Kolodny, Amatuzio, Dusbabeck & Parker, Fort Collins, CO, Kevin F. Amatuzio, Montgomery, Kolodny, Amatuzio, Dusbabek & Parker, Denver, CO, for Defendants.

ORDER

BRIMMER, District Judge.

This is a cause of action seeking damages, both compensatory and punitive, for negligence and gross negligence. Now before the Court is Defendant Colorado Interstate Gas Company's Motion to Dismiss, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). After reading the briefs, hearing oral arguments, and being fully advised on the premises, the Court FINDS and ORDERS as follows:

Statement of the Parties

Plaintiff Gerald Shane Stuarte is a resident of Wyoming and former employee of Northwinds of Wyoming, Inc. ("Northwinds"), a construction company incorporated in Wyoming with its principal place of business in Wyoming. Defendant Colorado Interstate Gas Company ("CIG") is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Colorado. CIG is an agent of Wyoming Interstate Company, Ltd. ("WIC"), a Colorado limited liability partnership.

Background

Defendant CIG and WIC own property in Weld County, Colorado which is undergoing development for natural gas production. The development area involved in this claim is the WIC Cheyenne Compressor Station in Weld County, Colorado ("the Facility"). Defendant CIG contracted with Northwinds to install pulsation bottles on natural gas pipelines at the Facility.

Plaintiff was hired in Weld County, Colorado by Northwinds to work at the Facility. Plaintiff's paychecks were issued from the Northwinds office in Douglas, Wyoming. Worker's compensation taxes were deducted from Plaintiff's pay by Northwinds and paid into the Wyoming worker's compensation fund.

On May 18, 1999 an explosion occurred at the Facility, injuring Plaintiff. He is receiving benefits through the Wyoming worker's compensation fund.

Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) is proper where a plaintiff has failed to exhaust administrative remedies. 5A Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1350 (2d ed.1990). There are two types of motions to dismiss based on Rule 12(b)(1): a facial attack questioning the sufficiency of the complaint or, as here, a challenge to the facts upon which subject matter jurisdiction depends. Holt v. U.S., 46 F.3d 1000, 1002 (10th Cir.1995). In both cases, the plaintiff has the burden to prove that the court has jurisdiction over the subject matter. Wright & Miller, supra, § 1363.

A district court does not defer to the plaintiff's allegations when the factual basis for subject matter jurisdiction is under attack, but may use affidavits or other sources outside the pleadings to resolve disputed jurisdictional facts. Holt, 46 F.3d at 1003. A jurisdictional question may be "intertwined with the merits of the case if subject matter jurisdiction is dependent on the same statute which provides the substantive claim in the case." Id. However, "subject matter jurisdiction deals with the power of the court to hear the plaintiff's claims in the first place," so a 12(b)(1) inquiry must precede an adjudication on the merits. 5A Wright and Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure, § 1350 (Supp. 2000).

Legal Background

Both Wyoming and Colorado have worker's compensation regimes designed to provide an efficient and predictable method for dispensing with claims of injury in the workplace. See Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 27-14-101, et seq. (Lexis, 2000); and Colo. Rev.Stat. § 8-41-101, et seq. (2000). Both systems provide compensation to injured workers without regard to fault. Wyo. Stat. § 27-14-101, 102; Colo.Rev.Stat. § 8-41-101. These no-fault provisions take the place of traditional remedies at law so that employers are immunized. Wyo. Stat. § 27-14-101, 104; Colo.Rev. Stat. § 8-41-102.

The Wyoming Worker's Compensation Act ("the Wyoming Act") states that it is the exclusive remedy as to covered employers. Wyo. Stat. § 27-14-104. Likewise, the Colorado Worker's Compensation Act ("the Colorado Act") provides that covered employers cannot "be subject to any other liability for the death of or personal injury to any employee, except as provided in [these] articles; and all causes of action ... are abolished except as provided." Colo.Rev.Stat. § 8-41-102.

The two compensation systems are different in the extent of employer coverage. In addition to traditional employers, the Colorado Act confers immunity to statutory employers: persons or companies who lease or contract out their regular business activities, Colo.Rev.Stat. § 8-41-401, and owners of real property who hire or contract out for labor to be done on that property, Colo.Rev.Stat. § 8-41-402. There is no provision analogous to Colorado's statutory protection for owners of real property.

Therefore, if Colorado law applies in this case, Defendant CIG is immune from suit, and this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. Accordingly, the Court must decide whether Wyoming or Colorado law applies.

Analysis
1. Which law applies?

In a diversity case a federal court must apply the choice of law rules of the forum state. Klaxon v. Stentor Electric Mfg., 313 U.S. 487, 496, 61 S.Ct. 1020, 85 L.Ed. 1477 (1941); Tucker v. R.A. Hanson Co., Inc., 956 F.2d 215, 217 (10th Cir.1992). For the purposes of this motion, a key point of contention between the parties is what the applicable choice of law rules are in Wyoming.

Defendants argue that the general rule of lex loci delicti in Wyoming mandates the application of the Colorado's worker's compensation statute. Indeed, Wyoming has a nearly uninterrupted history of using the situs of the injury to determine the proper substantive law in tort actions. "It is thoroughly established as a general rule that the lex loci delicti, or the law of the place where the tort or wrong has been committed, is the law that governs and is to be applied with respect to the substantive phases of torts or the actions therefor, and determines the question of whether or not an act or omission gives rise to a right of action or civil liability for tort...." Jack v. Enterprise Rent-A-Car Co., 899 P.2d 891, 894 (Wyo.1995), quoting Ball v. Ball, 73 Wyo. 29, 269 P.2d 302 (1954).

In response, Plaintiff points to the case of Wessel v. Mapco, Inc., 752 P.2d 1363 (Wyo.1988), for the proposition that, at least with regards to worker's compensation cases, lex loci delecti no longer controls. In Wessel, the Wyoming Supreme Court allowed a cause of action for culpable negligence to proceed against the plaintiff's coworkers for injuries sustained in Colorado, notwithstanding provisions of the Colorado Worker's Compensation Act which conferred immunity to coworkers. Id. at 1369. The Wessel court found lex loci determinants to be improper in worker's compensation controversies:

Originally, when worker's compensation laws were first passed, many courts applied tort conflict principles and lex loci delecti. However, currently it is recognized worker's compensation laws present unique policy questions since the process is neither tort nor contract, but a statutory hybrid, so the traditional conflict theories are inept.

Id. at 1364 (citations omitted).

Instead, the court in Wessel held that the Wyoming Worker's Compensation Act applied to the plaintiff's Colorado employment, citing the extraterritorial provisions of the Act. Id. at 1369. The court held that this section of the Act allowed for an employee working out of state to claim coverage if the employment was principally localized in Wyoming. Id. at 1370 (citing Wyo. Stat. § 27-12-208(a) (1977)).

The Wyoming Act in force at the time of the Wessel decision did not define "principally localized." As a result, the Wyoming Supreme Court relied on the definition contained in the Model Worker's Compensation Act:

A person's employment is principally localized in this or another State when (1) his employer has a place of business in this or such other State and he regularly works at or from such place of business, or (2) if clause (1) foregoing is not applicable, he is domiciled and spends a substantial part of his working time in the service of his employer in this or such other state.

Id. at 1370-1 (quoting 4 A. Larson, Workmen's Compensation Law, Appendix H at 629, 649-650 (1987)). Based on this definition, the plaintiff was allowed to sue his coemployees, in direct contravention of lex loci and the bar contained in the Colorado statute. Id. at 1373.

Unfortunately for the Plaintiff in the present case, his employment with Northwinds would not meet the definition of "principally localized" used in Wessel, nor would it satisfy the definition adopted in the current incarnation of the Wyoming Worker's Compensation Act. Under the current statute, out-of-state injuries or deaths are only covered where

(i) The employment is principally localized in Wyoming;

(ii) The employee at the time of the injury is working under a contract for hire made in Wyoming for employment by an employer who has a principal place of business within the state established for legitimate business-related purposes and the employment is within the United States ... but which is not principally localized in any other state ...; or

(iii) The employee at the time of the injury is working under a contract for hire made in Wyoming for employment principally localized in another state ... the workers' compensation law of which jurisdiction does not require that the employment be covered by a workers' compensation insurance policy issued under the laws of that...

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    ...than the movant, bears "the burden to prove that the court has jurisdiction over the subject matter." Stuarte v. Colo. Interstate Gas Co., 130 F.Supp.2d 1263, 1265 (D.Wyo.2000). Finally, the Court must construe the filings of a pro se litigant liberally. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, ......
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