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Smith v. Inland Paperboard & Packaging Inc.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District

December 31, 2008

JEREMY SMITH, Plaintiff,
INLAND PAPERBOARD AND PACKAGING, INC., et al., Defendants-Appellees. QUENTIN A. COTTRELL, Plaintiff-Appellant,

Civil Appeal from the Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 2007 CV 0315.

John R. Liber, II, Liber & Associates, L.L.C., (For Plaintiff-Appellant).

Keith L. Pryatel and Thomas Evan Green, Kastner, Westman & Wilkins, L.L.C., (For Defendants-Appellees, Inland Paperboard and Packaging, Inc., Temple-Inland, Inc., Hayward Gillespie, and Austin Crane).

Eric Bissler, pro se, (Appellee).



{¶1} Quentin A. Cottrell appeals from the grant of summary judgment by the Portage County Court of Common Pleas to Temple-Inland, Inc., d.b.a. Inland Paperboard and Packaging, Inc., Hayward Gillespie, Austin Crane, and Eric Bissler on his employer intentional tort claim. We affirm.

{¶2} September 29, 2003, Mr. Cottrell was working as the assistant operator of a Ward printer/slotter Model 17000 at Inland's facility in Streetsboro. The machine's internal designation at Inland was Machine No. EG-122. The EG-122 cuts, folds, glues and prints paperboard boxes in one operation. Mr. Cottrell had worked at the Streetsboro facility since September 2000. He had been the assistant operator on several machines similar in operation to the EG-122, but had only been assigned to that particular machine recently. He was being trained by the operator, Don Jones, to whose instructions he was subject.

{¶3} For operation of the EG-122, paperboard is stacked into the pre-feeder, which sends individual sheets onto the feeder table, which then moves the sheets through rollers into the machine. The rollers are dangerous, creating what is termed a "nip point"; and, at the time of the accident, were guarded from the feed table by a green metal guard. Affidavit testimony of Mr. Jeffrey Sheldon, a longtime Inland employee, established that the guard between the feed table and rollers had been in place since the machine's delivery from its manufacturer, Ward Equipment, and that no safety device on the machine had ever been removed or altered by Inland.

{¶4} The feeder table of the EG-122 has little holes, to create a vacuum to hold down the paperboard. When different sized paperboard is used, the operators of the EG-122 tape bits of scrap paperboard over exposed holes on the feed table, to help maintain a strong vacuum. This is a normal procedure on the EG-122; Mr. Jones, the operator of the machine the day of Mr. Cottrell's accident had done it many times; and, Mr. Cottrell had performed similar procedures on other Inland machines. Both testified that they did not consider the procedure particularly dangerous.

{¶5} Inland has an extensive safety program for its employees. At the time of his hiring, Mr. Cottrell was shown a series of safety videos. Feed rollers were identified as a danger point on the machinery, and employees were warned to keep their hands well-clear of their "nip points." Mr. Cottrell signed off on a document entitled "Safeguard Procedures, " which stated that whenever an employee was to "perform a routine task in a potentially dangerous location, safeguarding is required, " and that any machine was to be brought to a "complete stop." Inland has periodic safety meetings, and quizzes for its employees. In February 2003, Mr. Cottrell took a quiz on safety procedures, which established he knew machines were to be brought to a stop when performing routine procedures. Inland encourages its employees to report "safety anomalies."

{¶6} September 29, 2003, Mr. Jones and Mr. Cottrell were working the 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. shift on the EG-122. Paperboard covering some of the vacuum holes on the machine's feeder table came loose; and, they stopped the feeder table to re-tape the holes. However, they did not stop the rest of the machine; and the rollers behind the green guard at the end of the table continued to spin. Mr. Cottrell got onto the feeder table to do some of the taping; when he started to climb off, he slipped, and his hand got caught in the "nip point" between the rollers, causing extensive and permanent damage.

{¶7} As operator of the EG-122, Mr. Jones testified by way of deposition that Inland employees frequently cut corners by failing to turn off machines like the EG-122 when performing procedures like re-taping vacuum holes. However, he admitted that no member of Inland's supervisory staff - including defendant-appellee Austin Crane, the shift supervisor, or defendant-appellee Hayward Gillespie, the plant superintendent - had ever encouraged or advised such "cutting corners." He further testified that, if Mr. Crane were nearby, he would have followed safety procedures by shutting down the EG-122.

{¶8} September 25, 2005, Mr. Cottrell filed his action sounding in intentional tort against Inland and several of the Inland supervisors in the Portage County Court of Common Pleas. Extensive discovery was had; and, June 26, 2006, all defendants filed for summary judgment. On June 5, 2005, Mr. Jeremy Smith suffered a hand injury, evidently while working on a different portion of the EG-122. He filed an action in Cuyahoga County October 10, 2005. October 12, 2005, without responding to defendants' summary judgment motion, Mr. Cottrell voluntarily dismissed his Portage County action. Thereafter, by way of amended complaint, he joined Mr. Smith's action in Cuyahoga County. Inland and its defendant supervisors challenged the venue of the Cuyahoga action pursuant to Civ.R. 12(B)(3); and, February 7, 2007, the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas ordered the action transferred to Portage County. Defendants once again filed for summary judgment; Mr. Cottrell opposed. September 28, 2007, the trial court granted summary judgment to all defendants, and against Mr. Cottrell.[1]

{¶9} Mr. Cottrell timely noticed this appeal October 17, 2007. December 13, 2007, Mr. Cottrell moved to file an amended notice of appeal, in order to challenge the Cuyahoga County judgment entry transferring venue. Appellees opposed. By a judgment entry filed December 19, 2007, we granted leave to file the amended notice of appeal. March 19, 2008, Mr. Cottrell moved to stay the proceeding between Mr. Smith and appellees pending ...

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