Walker v. Martin

Decision Date30 May 2008
Docket NumberNo. 34A02-0711-CV-959.,34A02-0711-CV-959.
Citation887 N.E.2d 125
PartiesJulie Moore WALKER and Scot Moore, Individually and as Co-Personal Representatives of the Estate of Christopher Scot Moore, Deceased, Appellants-Plaintiffs, v. James Thad MARTIN, Individually and d/b/a JTM Express,<SMALL><SUP>1</SUP></SMALL> and Timothy LaFountaine, Individually and d/b/a LaFountaine Logging, Appellees-Defendants.
CourtIndiana Appellate Court

Landyn K. Harmon, Richard S. Eynon, Eynon Law Group, P.C., Columbus, IN, Attorneys for Appellants.

Mark A. Metzger, Theodore G. Hammond, Due Doyle Fanning & Metzger, LLP, Indianapolis, IN, Attorneys for Appellee, LaFountaine.

OPINION

KIRSCH, Judge.

Julie Moore Walker and Scot Moore, individually and as co-representatives of the Estate of Christopher Scot Moore, Deceased ("Christopher") (collectively "the Moores") appeal the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Timothy LaFountaine, individually and d/b/a LaFountaine Logging ("LaFountaine"). The Moores raise the following restated issues:

I. Whether the trial court erred in determining as a matter of law that truck driver, James Thad Martin ("Martin"), was an independent contractor rather than an employee of LaFountaine;

II. Whether LaFountaine owed a non-delegable duty to Christopher and was thus vicariously liable under one of the exceptions to the general rule that a principal is not liable for the negligence of an independent contractor; and

III. Whether a joint venture existed between LaFountaine and Martin.

We affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On December 9, 2003, Martin was driving a tractor-trailer southbound on U.S. Highway 31 at the intersection with State Road 26 in Howard County when he disregarded a red traffic signal. This caused the tractor-trailer to collide with the car in which Christopher was a passenger and resulted in his death. At the time of the collision, Martin was hauling logs, which had been purchased by G.R. Wood, Inc., a/k/a American Timbex ("Wood") from LaFountaine, to Wood's plant in Mooresville, Indiana.

At the time of the collision, LaFountaine was a company that was in the business of procuring and selling timber logs. Wood was in the business of producing veneer wood, which it sold to manufacturers of furniture and other products.2 Martin was a truck driver who had operated under the business name of JTM Express since 1994. On September 16, 2003, LaFountaine and Wood entered into an agreement in which Wood agreed to purchase forty-eight walnut logs and eight oak logs from LaFountaine for $31,500.00. On December 9, 2003, Martin loaded the logs onto his trailer at LaFountaine's site in Silver Lake, Indiana.

Starting in 1999 or 2000, Martin hauled logs for LaFountaine "on and off for three, three-and-a-half years," but began to work more frequently for him in March 2003, and Martin was LaFountaine's primary log hauler in 2003. Appellant's App. at 166-67. During 2003, Martin also had hauled logs for Wood and other parties. Although Martin considered himself to be an independent contractor, he had painted LaFountaine's company logo on the side of his truck cab. Martin owned both the semi-tractor and trailer used to haul the logs, as well as the straps used to secure the logs and all of the tools on the truck. Additionally, he paid for his own fuel, insurance, and maintenance. Martin determined the route taken to transport the logs and the manner in which the logs were loaded and secured on the trailer.

At the time of the accident, Martin had a commercial driver's license and had procured a log farm exemption license plate for his semi-tractor and trailer. This license plate did not require that he purchase the $750,000.00 minimum interstate trucking insurance that the federal government required. Martin set his own rate for hauling logs and was paid by the load rather than by the hour. When he hauled logs previously for Wood, he was either paid directly by Wood or by LaFountaine.

As a result of the accident, the Moores filed a wrongful death suit against Martin, LaFountaine, and Wood on September 9, 2004. On January 9, 2007, LaFountaine filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming that it was not an employer of Martin or involved in a joint venture with him. Additionally, it contended that Martin was an independent contractor and that LaFountaine could not be held liable for his acts. The trial court granted LaFountaine's summary judgment motion on July 30, 2007. The Moores now appeal. Additional facts will be added as necessary.

DISCUSSION AND DECISION
I. Standard of Review

When reviewing a grant or denial of summary judgment, we apply the same standard as the trial court: summary judgment is only appropriate when the designated evidence shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Ind. Trial Rule 56(C); Jacobs v. Hilliard, 829 N.E.2d 629, 632 (Ind. Ct.App.2005), trans. denied. On appeal, we consider all of the designated evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Walton v. First Am. Title Ins. Co., 844 N.E.2d 143, 146 (Ind.Ct.App. 2006), trans. denied. The trial court's order granting a motion for summary judgment is cloaked with a presumption of validity, and a party appealing from a summary judgment decision has the burden of persuading the court that the grant or denial of summary judgment was erroneous. Am. Home Assurance Co. v. Allen, 814 N.E.2d 662, 666 (Ind.Ct.App.2004), trans. dismissed (2005). The entry of specific findings and conclusions offer insight into the reasons for the trial court's decision and facilitate appellate review, but are not binding on this court. Troxel Equip. Co. v. Limberlost Bancshares, 833 N.E.2d 36, 40 (Ind.Ct.App.2005), trans. denied.

II. Independent Contractor

The Moores argue that the trial court erred when it granted summary judgment in favor of LaFountaine and determined that Martin was an independent contractor and not an employee of LaFountaine. They specifically contend that the trial court erred because it resolved disputed issues of fact in its grant of summary judgment and determination of this issue. Additionally, the Moores assert that the trial court improperly weighed the evidence when it determined that Martin was an independent contractor.

Martin's employment status is the focal point of our analysis because of Indiana's "long-standing general rule ... that a principal is not liable for the negligence of an independent contractor." Bagley v. Insight Commc'n Co., L.P., 658 N.E.2d 584, 586 (Ind.1995). Whether one acts as an employee or an independent contractor is generally a question for the finder of fact. Mortgage Consultants, Inc. v. Mahaney, 655 N.E.2d 493, 496 (Ind. 1995). However, if the significant underlying facts are undisputed, the court may properly determine a worker's classification as a matter of law. Moberly v. Day, 757 N.E.2d 1007, 1009 (Ind.2001).

Our Supreme Court has stated that when determining whether one is an employee or an independent contractor, we apply the following ten-factor analysis described in the Restatement (Second) of Agency § 220 (1958) to distinguish employees from independent contractors:

(a) the extent of control which, by the agreement, the master may exercise over the details of the work;

(b) whether or not the one employed is engaged in a distinct occupation or business;

(c) the kind of occupation, with reference to whether, in the locality, the work is usually done under the direction of the employer or by a specialist without supervision;

(d) the skill required in the particular occupation;

(e) whether the employer or the workman supplies the instrumentalities, tools, and the place of work for the person doing the work;

(f) the length of time for which the person is employed;

(g) the method of payment, whether by the time or by the job;

(h) whether or not the work is a part of the regular business of the employer;

(i) whether or not the parties believe they are creating the relation of master and servant; and

(j) whether the principal is or is not in business.

Moberly, 757 N.E.2d at 1010 (quoting Restatement (Second) of Agency § 220(2)). All of the above circumstances are considered in our analysis, and no single factor is dispositive. Id. However, although not dispositive, "extent of control" is the single most important factor in determining the existence of an employer-employee relationship. Wishard Mem'l Hosp. v. Kerr, 846 N.E.2d 1083, 1090 (Ind.Ct.App.2006).

A. Extent of Control

An employee/servant is one "employed to perform services in the affairs of another and who with respect to the physical conduct in the performance of the services is subject to the other's control or right to control." Restatement (Second) of Agency § 220(1). Conversely, an independent contractor generally controls the method and details of his task and is answerable to the principal as to results only. Wishard Mem'l Hosp., 846 N.E.2d at 1090.

Here, the undisputed evidence shows that Martin alone controlled the loading and driving of his semi-tractor and trailer. Appellant's App. at 97. He testified in his deposition that he was in charge of loading his trailer and decided how it was to be loaded. Id. He also decided what route to take when delivering logs, and there were no restrictions on how he was to get to the location. Id. Additionally, LaFountaine stated that Martin picked his own routes when he hauled logs for LaFountaine. Id. at 174. The designated evidence establishes that, except for being told where to pick up and where to deliver the logs, all of the details of how the job was to be done were left to Martin's discretion. LaFountaine did not control either the method or the means of how Martin conducted his deliveries.

B. Occupation or Business of Employee

The second factor considers whether or not the one employed is engaged in a distinct business or occupation. Moberly, 757 N.E.2d at 1010. The evidence...

To continue reading

Request your trial
38 cases
  • Elayyan v. Sol Melia, Sa
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Indiana
    • 24 Julio 2008
    ... ... Independent sales representatives are not under the control or supervision of the party whose products they are promoting. See Walker v. Martin, 887 N.E.2d 125, 131 (Ind.Ct.App.2008). For example, sales "representatives work for any number of companies at the same time, are paid ... ...
  • Lockhart v. Examone World Wide, Inc.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Indiana
    • 5 Diciembre 2012
    ... ... iv. Skill Required Unskilled labor is usually performed by employees, while skilled labor is often performed by independent contractors. Walker v. Martin, 887 N.E.2d 125, 132 (Ind.Ct.App.2008). Ms. Price was a registered nurse, although she did not have an up-to-date license or certification ... ...
  • Apex Compounding Pharmacy LLC v. Best Transp. Servs., Inc.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Indiana
    • 18 Marzo 2021
    ... ... Tr. v.2, p. 312-15, 340-42. Therefore, this factor weighs in the Defendant's favor. See Walker v ... Martin , 887 N.E.2d 125, 132 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008) ("The evidence demonstrated that Martin was engaged in his own hauling business and did not ... ...
  • Walker v. U.S.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Indiana
    • 15 Diciembre 2010
    ... ... Restatement (Second) of Agency 220(1) cmt. d (1958). An employee/servant is one employed to perform services in the affairs of another and who with respect to the physical conduct in the performance of the services is subject to the other's control or right to control. Walker v. Martin, 887 N.E.2d 125, 131 (Ind.Ct.App.2008) (quoting Restatement (Second) of Agency 220(1) (1958)). Conversely, an independent contractor generally controls the method and details of his task and is answerable to the principal as to results only. Id. In the instant case the Instructors were ... ...
  • 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