Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Fourth Division
from the Circuit Court of Vernon County, Missouri Honorable
James R. Bickel, Judge
Mark D. Pfeiffer, Chief Judge Presiding, Thomas H. Newton,
and Anthony Rex Gabbert, Judges
H. Newton, Judge.
Sarah Channel appeals an order of summary judgment deeming
Mr. Channel's death an accident under Workers
Compensation case law and finding that Ms. Channel's
lawsuit was barred by the exclusivity doctrine. We reverse
and remand for further proceedings consistent with our ruling
today, including our instruction that the circuit court shall
stay the proceedings below until such time as the issue of
"accidental injury" has been finally adjudicated by
the Labor and Industrial Commission and any appeal therefrom.
Thomas Channel was employed as a route delivery driver for
Cintas Corporation (Cintas). Mr. Stephen Walker was Mr.
Channel's co-employee supervisor. Cintas implemented
"Heat Stress Safety Training" that all employees at
Cintas attended to teach them how to deal with heat-related
issues. Essentially, the claim underlying this lawsuit is
that Mr. Walker purposefully set upon a course of creating an
adverse work environment that ignored the heat-safety
protocol and would result in Mr. Channel terminating his
employment with Cintas. The lawsuit alleges that Mr.
Walker's scheme included placing Mr. Channel, the oldest
delivery person, in the only delivery truck not equipped with
air conditioning on a day when temperatures exceeded 100
degrees. Indeed, Mr. Channel succumbed to heat stroke on this
occasion and died.
2014, Ms. Channel filed her second amended wrongful death
petition alleging that Mr. Walker was personally liable to
the Appellants because he breached a personal duty of care
owed to Mr. Channel and Cintas was vicariously liable for Mr.
Walker's negligence. In November 2015, Cintas and Mr.
Walker filed their motion for summary judgment. Cintas argued
that Ms. Channel's exclusive remedy was under
Missouri's Workers' Compensation Act and Mr. Walker
argued that the undisputed facts were insufficient to find
that he breached any duty other than that of the
employer's nondelegable duty to keep its employees safe.
Ms. Channel filed her response in January 2016. Cintas and
Mr. Walker filed their reply in February 2016. The circuit
court heard argument in March 2016 and entered summary
judgment in favor of Cintas and Mr. Walker. Specifically, the
circuit court concluded that Mr. Channel's death was the
result of an "accidental injury" caused by
workplace activities and that the exclusive forum for the
recovery of damages was via a workers' compensation
claim. This appeal follows.
grant of summary judgment is an issue of law that an
appellate court determines de novo." Brehm
v. Bacon Twp., 426 S.W.3d 1, 3 (Mo. banc 2014). We
"will review the record in the light most favorable to
the party against whom judgment was entered" and
"accord the non-movant the benefit of all reasonable
inferences from the record." ITT Commercial Fin.
Corp. v. Mid-Am. Marine Supply Corp., 854 S.W.2d 371,
376 (Mo. banc 1993). "Summary judgment will be upheld on
appeal only if this court finds that there is no genuine
dispute of material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law." Topps v. City of
Country Club Hills, 236 S.W.3d 660 (Mo. App. E.D. 2007).
second point, Ms. Channel asserts that the trial court erred
in granting summary judgment for Cintas because, under the
primary jurisdiction doctrine, the circuit court did not have
authority to determine if there was an accidental injury
within the definitions of the workers' compensation law
while a workers' compensation claim is still pending.
Because the jurisdictional determination of this point will
govern the Court's ability to rule on the liability issue
raised by point one, we will only address point two.
Missouri Supreme Court ruled "that the Labor and
Industrial Relations Commission has exclusive jurisdiction to
determine whether an employee's injuries resulted from an
accident." Killian v. J & J Installers,
Inc., 802 S.W.2d 158, 160 (Mo. banc 1991). "The
Court reasoned that recognition of the concurrent
jurisdiction in the circuit court to determine that question
would nullify the legislative intent to place exclusive
jurisdiction in the Commission." Id. Therefore,
workers' compensation law is "the exclusive remedy
only for those 'injuries' that come within the
definition of the term 'accident' under the
act." Cooper v. Chrysler Group, LLC,
361 S.W.3d 60, 63 (Mo. App. E.D. 2011)
primary jurisdiction doctrine provides that 'courts will
not decide a controversy involving a question within the
jurisdiction of an administrative tribunal until after that
tribunal has rendered its decision.'" Id.
(quoting Killian, 802 S.W.2d at 160). Under this
doctrine, "the Commission has original jurisdiction to
determine the fact issues that establish whether or not a
claim is subject to the jurisdiction of the Commission."
Cooper, 361 S.W.3d at 63. This doctrine applies to
issues "involving 'administrative expertise,
technical factual situations and regulatory systems in which
uniformity of administration is essential.'"
Id. (quoting Jones v. Jay Truck Driver Training
ctr., 709 S.W.2d 114, 115 (Mo. banc 1986)). Included in
these issues are "determinations of whether there was an
accident arising out of and in the course of employment, and
whether an employee's injury resulted from an accident or
an intentional act." Id. at 64 (internal
citations omitted). See Killian, 802 S.W.2d at 161
("[W]e hold that the question whether [the
employee's] injuries were the product of an
accident…lies within the exclusive jurisdiction of the
Labor and Industrial Relations Commission."); see
also State ex rel. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Ryan, 745
S.W.2d 152, 154 (Mo. banc 1988) (The sole issue before the
court was if the decedent's death constituted an accident
under the Workers' Compensation Act. The court ruled that
"[t]he Labor and Industrial Relations Commission has
sole jurisdiction to determine whether decedent's death
was an 'accident.' Neither the trial court nor this
Court can make that determination."), overruled on other
grounds by McCracken v. Wal-Mart Stores East,
LP, 298 S.W.3d 473 (Mo. banc 2009).
determined that defendants seeking a pretrial dismissal based
on workers' compensation exclusivity must file a motion
for summary judgment unless relief is allowed under Rule
55.27(a)(6) or (b). Cooper, 361 S.W.3d at 65.
[T]he exclusivity defense is based on the existence of
accidental injury, which is an issue of fact for the
Commission, not the circuit court, to decide. In this
situation, it would be inappropriate for a court to enter
summary judgment on the exclusivity defense before
the Commission decides the question of accidental injury
because summary judgment would bar the refiling of the
lawsuit if the Commission does not find an accidental injury.
Accordingly, the entry of summary judgment is premature until
the Commission has decided the question of accidental injury.
If the Commission determines there was an accidental injury,
then the exclusivity provisions of the workers compensation
law would require termination of the civil lawsuit. If the
Commission, however, determines that there was no ...