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Harbison v. Rich Gullet and Sons, Inc.

United States District Court, Eastern District of Missouri, Eastern Division

March 4, 2015

RICH GULLET AND SONS, INC., et al, Defendants.



Plaintiff Fred Harbison (“Plaintiff”) has filed motions asking this Court to strike, dismiss, or order a separate trial of all cross claims and/or third party claims asserted by other parties against his employer, McCann Concrete Products (“McCann”). (Docs. 122-1, 122-2, and 126-1). Plaintiff contends the third party claims against McCann should be stricken, dismissed, or separately tried because they are barred by Missouri’s workers’ compensation law and because their inclusion in this case will unnecessarily complicate and delay the disposition of Plaintiff’s claims. For the following reasons, Plaintiff’s motions will be denied.

I. Background

Plaintiff is a citizen of Illinois and is employed by McCann, also a citizen of Illinois. On October 20, 2011, Plaintiff was delivering a heavy piece of concrete vault to a substation owned by Union Electric Company (“Ameren UE”) in St. Louis County, Missouri, when the concrete vault section fell on his truck during the unloading process, causing him injury. Plaintiff has asserted claims of negligence against Rich Gullet and Sons, Inc. (“Gullet”), the company responsible for unloading the vault, and McGrath & Associates, Inc. (“McGrath”), the general contractor for Ameren UE. Plaintiff also filed a workers’ compensation claim against McCann under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, 820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (Doc. 109, ¶ 29); that claim is not a part of this suit.[1]

With leave of court, Defendants Gullet and McGrath asserted third party claims for contribution and indemnity against McCann and McDonough-Whitlow, P.C. (“McDonough”), the company that produced engineering drawings and instructions for use in lifting of the vault. McDonough, with leave of court, asserted claims for contribution and indemnity against Gullet, McGrath, McCann, and Ameren UE. Although Gullet, McDonough, and McGrath had already been granted leave to assert their respective third party claims, on January 13, 2015, Plaintiff filed a written objection to Gullet’s and McDonough’s third party claims. See Doc. Nos. 122-1 and 122-2. In the alternative, Plaintiff moved for an order striking, dismissing, or ordering a separate trial of Gullet’s and McDonough’s third party claims against McCann. See Id . On January 16, 2015, Plaintiff filed a similar objection and similar motions to strike, dismiss, or separately try McGrath’s third party claims against McCann. See Doc. No. 126-1. The Court will construe Plaintiff’s objections and motions as a motion to strike and/or dismiss or, in the alternative, to sever and separately try the third party claims of Gullet, McGrath, and McDonough against McCann.

II. Discussion

A. Motions to Strike and Dismiss

Plaintiff argues that the Court should (1) dismiss the third party claims against McCann under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and (2) strike the claims under Rule 12(f), because Missouri’s Workers’ Compensation Law immunizes McCann from liability for third-party contribution and indemnity. In response, Gullet, McGrath and McDonough argue that Illinois law governs the question of whether such immunity applies, and that the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, 820 ILCS 305/11, does not immunize employers like McCann from such claims. Thus, a threshold issue is whether Missouri or Illinois workers’ compensation law applies.

1. Choice of Law

In this diversity action, this Court must follow Missouri’s choice of law rules to determine which state’s law applies. Wolfley v. Solectron USA, Inc., 541 F.3d 819, 823 (8th Cir. 2008). Before applying the Missouri’s choice of law rules, the Court “must first determine whether a conflict exists.” Prudential Ins. Co. of. Am. v. Kamrath, 475 F.3d 920, 924 (8th Cir. 2007). Here, there appears to be no real dispute that there is a conflict. The relevant provision of the Missouri Workers’ Compensation Law provides, “Every employer subject to the provisions of this chapter shall be liable, irrespective of negligence, to furnish compensation under the provisions of this chapter for personal injury or death of the employee by accident arising out of and in the course of the employee’s employment, and shall be released from all other liability whatsoever, whether to the employee or any other person.” Mo. Rev. Stat. § 287.120.1 (2010).[2]The Missouri Supreme Court has held that this statute “immunizes” the employer from liability for contribution claims brought by third parties who are liable to the injured plaintiff-employee. State ex rel. Maryland Heights Concrete Contractors, Inc. v. Ferriss, 588 S.W.2d 489, 490 (Mo. 1979).

In contrast, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, 820 ILCS 305/1 et seq., limits an employer’s liability to an employee but does not bar third-party contribution claims against the employer. When an employee sues a third party, the third party “may file a third-party suit against the employer for ‘contribution’ toward the employee’s damages.” Virginia Sur. Co. v. Northern Ins. Co. of New York, 866 N.E.2d 149, 154 (Ill. 2007) (citing 740 ILCS 100/1 et seq.). The Illinois courts have “attempted to balance the competing interests of the employer, as a participant in the workers’ compensation system, and the equitable interests of the third-party defendant in not being forced to pay more than its established fault, ” by permitting contribution claims but holding that the employer’s maximum liability in a third-party contribution suit is limited to its liability to its employee under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Id. at 154-55 (citing Kotecki v. Cyclops Welding Corp., 585 N.E.2d 1023, 1028 (Ill. 1991)).[3] Because Missouri law immunizes employers from third-party contribution claims and Illinois law does not, there is a conflict, and the Court must decide which state’s law applies.

When addressing choice-of-law issues, Missouri courts apply the “most significant relationship test” established by the Restatement (Second) of Conflicts of Law (the “Restatement”). Wolfley, 541 F.3d at 823; Kennedy v. Dixon, 439 S.W.2d 173, 184 (Mo. 1969). “Under this test, the identity of the state having the most significant relationship will depend upon the nature of the cause of action and upon the particular legal issue in dispute.” Wolfley, 541 F.3d at 823. For personal injury actions, the rights and liabilities of the parties are determined by the local law of the state where the injury occurred “unless, with respect to the particular issue, some other state has a more significant relationship under the principles stated in [Restatement] § 6 to the occurrence and the parties.’” Wolfley, 541 F.3d at 823 (quoting Dorman v. Emerson Elec. Co., 23 F.3d 1354, 1358 (8th Cir.1994)); see also Restatement (Second) of Conflicts of Law, §145(1).

The principles stated in Restatement ...

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