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Reddell v. Gammill

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

June 28, 2019

CHAD REDDELL, Plaintiff,
v.
JERRY GAMMILL, Individually and in his Official Capacity as District Manager of Rural Water District No. 3, Washington County, Oklahoma, and DOUG STICKLES, Individually and in his Official Capacity as Field Supervisor of Rural Water District No. 3, Washington County, Oklahoma Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN E. DOWDELL, CHIEF JUDGE

         I. Background [1]

         On July 9, 2010, Plaintiff was injured when he fell while working on the roof of an old water filter building owned by Rural Water District No. 3, Washington County (RWD3). At all pertinent times, Plaintiff was employed as a meter reader with RWD3. Plaintiff was directly supervised by Defendant Doug Stickles, a field supervisor. Defendant Jerry Gammill is the district manager and head of RWD3.

         In approximately July 2010, Gammill determined that some old water filter structures owned by RWD3 in rural Washington County should be torn down because they were out of use and had become an “eyesore.” (Stickles Dep. at 29:9-12, Doc. 96-2). Gammill conveyed this decision to Stickles, who assigned the task to a crew consisting of Plaintiff, Tim Dunagan, and Justin Newman. The structures to be removed included a water filter building that was approximately thirty feet tall, with walls made from concrete and metal and a roof made of metal or tin on an iron framework, and several other structures surrounding the building.

         In addition to reading water meters, Plaintiff and other meter readers were sometimes asked to do simple tasks related to upkeep, such as fixing water leaks, painting or oiling fire hydrants, and weed-eating. However, this was the first time any of the crew members for this assignment had been asked to take down a building. Plaintiff contends that he and the other crew members complained to Stickles that they were not trained to tear down buildings and that they were concerned about safety. The crew began the assignment by using a cutting torch to tear down various structures surrounding the filter building. As the crew began removing these structures, Plaintiff requested a lift for safety but was provided only with a backhoe. When Plaintiff advised Stickles that the backhoe was unsafe and a lift was needed, Stickles said, “it's there, use it.” (Reddell Dep. at 47:14-20, Doc. 96-1). The crew requested and was provided with safety glasses and respiratory masks, and gloves and ladders were available for their use.

         Plaintiff asked Stickles on several occasions about obtaining a lift to safely reach the highest parts of the filter building. Plaintiff asserts that Stickles told Plaintiff that he would try to borrow a lift but that Plaintiff needed to continue the work with the equipment available. (Doc. 96 at 13). One morning before the crew began tearing down the water filter building, Plaintiff asked about the status of the lift in the presence of both Stickles and Gammill, explaining that “it would be safer if we used a lift.” (Reddell Dep. at 53:16-54:11, Doc. 86-1). Stickles told Plaintiff that he was “working on it.” (Id.) Plaintiff also spoke directly to Gammill on one occasion about obtaining a lift and other safety equipment, but Plaintiff did not specifically complain to Gammill about the deconstruction project. (Doc. 96 at 6). Gammill understood that a lift was needed for removal of the roof due to the potential dangers posed by the height of the roof. (Doc. 103 at 6).

         After the other structures on the site had been torn down with the cutting torch, the crew had to move on to tearing down the filter building. (Doc. 96 at 12-13). Plaintiff was not provided with any training or instructions on how to deconstruct the filter building. Stickles testified that he believed it was “common sense” and “pretty self-explanatory how to take screws out of a building.” (Stickles Dep. at 57:23-58:4, Doc. 96-2). Prior to starting deconstruction of the building, Plaintiff again asked for a lift. (Id. at 13). Gammill and Stickles both testified that they believed the equipment provided was sufficient for removing the sides of the building but that a lift was needed to remove the roof safely.

         Plaintiff, Dunagan, and Newman began deconstructing the building by removing the tin on the sides. Dunagan and Newman took turns holding a ladder while Plaintiff removed the screws holding the tin sides to the metal frame. Plaintiff testified that he asked Dunagan and Newman to get onto the roof but that they refused, both because they were afraid of heights and did not think the roof would support their weight. (Reddell Dep. at 61:16-21, Doc. 86-1; id. at 69:11-18).

         One day when Stickles visited the site, Plaintiff was on the roof and the crew had removed the tin from one side of the building. Plaintiff told Stickles that the crew could not remove one side of the building because the top row of screws was underneath the roof. Stickles responded, “Well, remove it how you need to.” (Reddell Dep. at 59:11-16, Doc. 96-1). Plaintiff told Stickles, “Well, that means we have to remove the roof, ” and Stickles responded, “Okay.” (Id. at 59:17-20). As Stickles was walking off, he commented, “Don't fall.” (Id.). Plaintiff testified that he had asked Stickles about the status of the lift earlier that morning and was told that Stickles “was waiting to borrow one.” (Reddell Dep. at 60:4-8, Doc. 96-1). Plaintiff testified that he had “asked [Stickles] at the beginning of that day what he wanted us to do, knowing the task at hand, and [Stickles] said, Go out there and do the job. And he knew what we were getting ready to do.” (Reddell Dep. at 62:20-25, Doc. 96-1).

         On July 9, 2010, Plaintiff fell from the building's roof to the concrete slab thirty feet below, causing serious and permanent injuries. Plaintiff was put in an induced coma and remained in the hospital for several weeks after his fall. (Doc. 96 at 13). Plaintiff returned to work for RWD3 after recovering from his initial injuries but testified that he had to resign shortly thereafter because Gammill and Stickles treated him rudely and unfairly and forced him to do jobs that caused him severe pain and discomfort due to his injuries. (Id. at 13-14).

         In his investigation of the incident, Gammill learned that Stickles knew, before the accident, that Plaintiff was on the roof without a lift or safety harness. (Gammill Dep. at 17:22-24, Doc. 96-3; id. at 28:5-11). Stickles was not written up or disciplined by RWD3 despite having Reddell work on the roof without the proper safety equipment. (Id. at 28:5-15). Gammill testified that he is not critical of anything Stickles did or did not do relating to tearing down the water facility. (Id. at 40:21-41:7).

         On July 9, 2012, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of his constitutional rights against Gammill and Stickles in their individual and official capacities, and for municipal liability pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Gammill in his official capacity. Gammill and Stickles move for summary judgment. (Docs. 86, 87). RWD3 is a Rural Water District governed by the Rural Water, Sewer, Gas and Solid Waste Management Districts Act, 82 Okla. Stat. § 1324.1 et seq., and is therefore a political subdivision of the State of Oklahoma. Gammill and Stickles each assert entitlement to the defense of qualified immunity.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate “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); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). “[S]ummary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact is ‘genuine,' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. at 248. The courts thus determine “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Id. at 251-52. The non-movant's evidence is taken as true, and all justifiable and reasonable inferences are to be drawn in the non-movant's favor. Id. at 255.

         III. ...


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