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Lewis v. Axens North America, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division

October 15, 2014

BRIAN D. LEWIS AND STEPHANIE LEWIS, Plaintiffs,
v.
AXENS NORTH AMERICA, INC., BASF CATALYSTS, LLC, BASF CORPORATION, and NATIONAL BULK EQUIPMENT, Defendants.

ORDER

B. AVANT EDENFIELD, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Before the Court are Motions for Summary Judgment filed by both BASF Catalysts, LLC ("BASF Catalysts"), and BASF Corporation ("BASF Corp."). ECF Nos. 41, 44. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS both motions.

II. BACKGROUND

BASF Catalysts owned real property in Savannah. ECF No. 53 at 4. BASF Corp. operated a plant on that property, id. at 4-5, and it contracted with Axens North America, Inc. ("Axens"), to manufacture alumina gel at the plant, ECF No. 39-1 at 2-14. BASF Corp. separately contracted with Austin Maintenance & Construction, Inc. ("Austin"), to provide the labor, services, materials, and transportation necessary to fulfill BASF Corp.'s contract with Axens. ECF No. 39-1 at 35-68. Austin also agreed to purchase and maintain workers' compensation insurance. Id. at 53.

On November 4, 2011, Brian Lewis was employed by Austin. ECF No. 53 at 6. He was not employed by BASF Catalysts, BASF Corp., or Axens. Id. While operating a newly installed bagging machine, Lewis was injured when a bag of alumina gel fell on him. Id. at 9.

After his injury, Lewis received workers' compensation. ECF No. 41-4 at 3-6. He received this benefit from an insurance company because he was employed by Austin. Id. at 5.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

"The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In ruling on summary judgment, the Court views the facts and inferences from the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Reese v. Herbert, 527 F.3d 1253, 1271 (11th Cir. 2008). Courts, moreover, may consider all materials in the record, not just those cited by the parties. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3).

Because the jurisdiction of this case is based upon diversity, the Court applies the substantive law of Georgia. See, e.g., Horowitch v. Diamond Aircraft Indus., Inc., 645 F.3d 1254, 1257 (11th Cir. 2011).

IV. BASF CORP.'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

BASF Corp. argues that summary judgment is appropriate because it is entitled to immunity as Lewis's statutory employer. ECF No. 43 at 2. The Court agrees.

The Workers' Compensation Act ("The Act") provides a framework for the relief of injured Georgia workers. See O.C.G.A. § 34-9-1 et seq. Because the Act provides relief, it bars tort actions against an injured worker's employer. O. C.G.A. § 34-9-11(a) ("The rights and remedies granted to an employee by this chapter shall exclude all other rights and remedies of such employee...."). The Act bars tort actions even when the injury results from an employer's intentional misconduct. Kellogg Co. v. Pinkston, 558 S.E.2d 423, 424 (Ga.Ct.App. 2001). Acceptance of workers' compensation benefits triggers this immunity "because such benefits are provided by an employer to the employee." Kaplan v. Pulte Home Corp., 537 S.E.2d 727, 729 (Ga.Ct.App. 2000) (citing Mann v. Workman, 351 S.E.2d 680 (Ga.Ct.App. 1986)).

Under the Act, "[a] principal, intermediate, or subcontractor shall be liable for compensation to any employee injured while in the employ of any of his subcontractors engaged upon the subject matter of the contract to the same extent as the immediate employer." O.C.G.A. § 34-9-8(a). This provision "makes principal or intermediate contractors secondarily liable for workers' compensation benefits for injured employees of a subcontractor." Carr v. FedEx Ground Package Sys., Inc., 733 S.E.2d 1, 3 (Ga.Ct.App. 2012). This doctrine-the statutory employer doctrine- "permits liability for workers' compensation benefits to attach vicariously against someone other than an injured employee's employer. In return, the vicariously liable party is immune from tort liability for the injury suffered." Manning v. Ga. Power Co., 314 S.E.2d 432, 433 (Ga. 1984). "The quid pro quo for the statutory employer's potential liability is immunity from tort liability." Wright Assocs., Inc. v. Rieder, 277 S.E.2d 41, 44 (Ga. 1981). A statutory employer need not actually pay workers' compensation benefits, but it must be liable to pay such benefits. See Vratsinas Constr. Co. v. Chitwood, 723 S.E.2d 740, 742-43 (Ga.Ct.App. 2012). An owner or entity merely in possession of the ...


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