United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
TERENCE KERN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment
Travis Barnett (“Barnett”) is a Kansas resident
employed by Danlin Industries Corporation
(“Danlin”), a Kansas corporation, as a field data
technician. Defendant Coe Production Company
(“Coe”) is an Oklahoma corporation in the
business of exploring for, drilling for, and producing oil at
wells in Oklahoma. Prior to April 9, 2014, Coe entered into
an oral agreement with Danlin whereby Danlin supplied Coe
with chemicals for one of its seven wells on a tract of land
in Oklahoma known as Curl's Lease. In addition to
supplying chemicals, Danlin provided services associated with
the chemicals, including pumping the chemicals into the well
and testing water onsite.
April 9, 2014, Barnett was working at Curl's Lease. After
collecting a water sample from a water tower, he fell from
the top step of a wooden staircase. According to Coe, Barnett
sought and recovered benefits from Danlin under the Oklahoma
Administrative Workers' Compensation Act, Okla. Stat.
tit. 85A, § 1, et seq. (Supp. 2013)
(“OAWCA”). Coe did not cite any evidence in
support of this contention, and it is not part of his
statement of material facts. Barnett contends he received
benefits from Danlin under the workers' compensation laws
of Kansas, but he also does not cite any evidence in support
of that assertion. For purposes of this motion and because
Coe bears the burden of proof, the Court assumes Barnett
recovered from Danlin under the workers' compensation
laws of Kansas.
April 8, 2016, Barnett filed suit in this Court against Coe
alleging that Coe was negligent in creating and failing to
warn regarding an unreasonably dangerous condition, failing
to maintain its business premises, and failing to inspect its
business premises. Barnett sued Coe “for the benefit of
[Danlin] or [Danlin's] worker's compensation insurer
as their interests appear.” (Compl. ¶ 16.) Coe
moved for summary judgment on all claims.
Summary Judgment Standard
judgment is proper only if “there is no genuine issue
as to any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56©.
The moving party bears the burden of showing that no genuine
issue of material fact exists. See Zamora v. Elite
Logistics, Inc., 449 F.3d 1106, 1112 (10th Cir. 2006).
The Court resolves all factual disputes and draws all
reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party.
Id. However, the party seeking to overcome a motion
for summary judgment may not “rest on mere
allegations” in its complaint but must “set forth
specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for
trial.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). The party seeking to
overcome a motion for summary judgment must also make a
showing sufficient to establish the existence of those
elements essential to that party's case. See Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-33 (1986).
Motion for Summary Judgment
argues that it enjoys immunity from Barnett's tort claims
as Danlin's “principal employer, ” as that
term is used in § 5(A) and § 5(E) of the OAWCA. In
response, Barnett argues: (1) the OAWCA does not apply
because Barnett never sought benefits under the OAWCA; (2)
questions of fact preclude summary judgment as to the
availability of § 5(E) immunity; and (3) the immunity
extended to oil and gas well owners/operators under §
5(A) violates the Oklahoma Constitution.
Application of OAWCA
OAWCA's “Exclusive Liability/Immunity”
provision states that “[t]he rights and remedies
granted to an employee subject to the provisions of the
[OAWCA] shall be exclusive of all other rights and remedies
of the employee . . . .” Okla. Stat. tit. 85A, §
5(A). Barnett contends that, because he “never claimed
benefits for an injury pursuant to the provisions of the
[OAWCA], ” he was “never subject to the
[OAWCA].” (Resp. to Mot. for Summ. J. 4-5.) Coe relies
upon § 3 of the OAWCA, which provides that
“[e]very employer and every employee, unless otherwise
specifically provided in this act, shall be subject and bound
to the provisions of the [OAWCA].” Okla. Stat. tit.
85A, § 3(A). Neither party cited any case law or devoted
significant briefing to this threshold argument.
on a common-sense understanding of the OAWCA, the Court
concludes that Barnett is an employee subject to the OAWCA,
despite the fact that he did not seek benefits from Coe or
Danlin thereunder. First, Barnett filed suit in Oklahoma
district court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, and
the Court must apply Oklahoma law regardless of where Barnett
originally collected workers' compensation proceeds from
Danlin. Second, if immunity was only triggered after an
injured worker sought benefits under the OAWCA, it would
cease to serve any purpose in providing employers immunity
from tort claims. Third, the Court finds nothing in case law
or statutes to suggest that a “principal
employer” in Oklahoma loses statutory immunity because
the injured employee received workers' compensation
benefits from the “immediate employer” in another
state. Finally, the OAWCA governs the precise situation
presented - namely, whether and under what circumstances a
secondary employer enjoys immunity from suit in tort. Were
the Court to accept Barnett's argument, the Court would
be effectively side-stepping Oklahoma statutes and case law
intended to govern Coe's immunity or non-immunity from
Barnett's tort claims.
“Principal Employer” ...