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Binger v. Alpont Transportation

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

July 25, 2019

ALPONT TRANSPORTATION, et al, Defendants-Third-Party Plaintiffs,
SELECT SIRES, INC., Third-Party Defendant.

          Kimberly A. Jolson Magistrate Judge.

          OPINION & ORDER


         This matter comes before the Court on Third-Party Defendant Select Sires, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 91). This Court heard oral argument on July 23, 2019. For the reasons below, Select Sires' Motion is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On June 10, 2016, Plaintiff Robert Binger was a pedestrian on U.S. Route 42 when Defendant Randall E. Miller, driving a tractor trailer, hit him. (ECF No. 19 at ¶8). At the time, Miller was employed by Alpont (here, Defendant/Third-Party Plaintiffs), and Binger was employed by Select Sires (here, Third-Party Defendant). (ECF No. 19 at ¶3). Binger sued Alpont, alleging negligence. In response, Alpont sued Select Sires (ECF No. 20), alleging indemnity/contribution and respondeat superior.

         At their campus in Union County, Ohio, Select Sires has facilities on either side of U.S. Route 42. Jeremiah Dingledine, colleague of Plaintiff and employee of Select Sires, left his gloves in the facility across the road from the facility in which he was working that day.[1]Because Dingledine was not insured on the company trucks, he asked Binger if Binger would drive him across the road for his gloves. (ECF No. 57 at 22:10-15) (hereafter “Dingledine deposition”). Dingledine got permission from their supervisor, Joel Boysel, and the two men set off. (Dingledine deposition at 21:7-12). Binger drove Dingledine across the road, from the east side of Rt. 42 to the west side. There, Dingledine collected his gloves, and Binger drove them back to the facility on the east side of Rt. 42, where they had started. (Dingledine deposition at 21-25).

         The specifics of the subsequent events are disputed, but not materially. At some point on the return trip, from the west side to the east side, the hatch in the pickup fell down and the cargo in the back fell onto Rt. 42. (Dingledine deposition at 24-30). Binger stopped driving and the two men saw that the hatch was down and that the cargo - rollers for trash cans used by Select Sires - had fallen out. (Dingledine deposition at 34:11-23). The 55-gallon drums are used by Select Sires employees to distribute lime. (ECF No. 98, Ex. 1 at 257:8; ECF No. 97, Ex. 1 at 33:4-5; ECF No. 95, Ex. 1 at 64:5). As Dingledine observed in the rearview mirror, Binger got out of the truck and ran back toward Rt. 42 (Dingledine deposition at 34:11-23) where he was hit by Defendant Miller, driving a tractor-trailer in the north-bound lane of Rt. 42. Binger sustained “serious, permanent injuries including but not limited to a sever traumatic brain injury, facial disfigurement and scaring, functional loss of use of both arms and additional injuries [described in ¶16 of the Amended Complaint].” (ECF No. 19 at ¶9). Binger subsequently filed this lawsuit against Alpont, alleging negligence.

         Alpont impleaded Select Sires as Third-Party Defendant. (ECF No. 20). This Court earlier issued an Opinion & Order denying Select Sires' Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 104). Now before this Court is Select Sires' Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 91). Alpont has filed a memorandum in opposition (ECF No. 99) and Select Sires has filed a reply. (ECF No. 102). This Motion is ripe for review.

         At issue is whether Ohio's workers' compensation scheme immunizes Select Sires from Alpont's request for contribution. Select Sires argues that, as a complying employer, it is immune. O. R. C. § 4123.74. Alpont argues that workers' compensation is a scheme that governs the relationship of employees and their employers and does not speak to the employers' liability to third-parties. In the alternative, Alpont argues that Sires' interpretation of the workers' compensation scheme is unconstitutional as applied to third parties like Alpont.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides, in relevant part, that summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” A fact is deemed material only if it “might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under the governing substantive law.” Wiley v. United States, 20 F.3d 222, 224 (6th Cir. 1994) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). The nonmoving party must then present “significant probative evidence” to show that “there is [more than] some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Moore v. Philip Morris Cos., Inc., 8 F.3d 335, 340 (6th Cir. 1993). The mere possibility of a factual dispute is insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. See Mitchell v. Toledo Hospital, 964 F.2d 577, 582 (6th Cir. 1992). Summary judgment is inappropriate, however, “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.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         The necessary inquiry for this Court is “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.'” Patton v. Bearden, 8 F.3d 343, 346 (6th Cir. 1993) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52). The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the opposing party's position will be insufficient to survive the motion; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the opposing party. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251; Copeland v. Machulis, 57 F.3d 476, 479 (6th Cir. 1995). It is proper to enter summary judgment against a party “who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Where the nonmoving party has “failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof, ” the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322 (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250).

         In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. S.E.C. v. Sierra Brokerage Servs., Inc., 712 F.3d 321, 327 (6th Cir. 2013).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Immunity / Contribution

         At issue in this case is whether, under Ohio law, a third-party may demand contribution from an employer who is a complying employer under Ohio's workers' compensation laws. Generally, such a third-party may not so demand and such an employer would be immune. See e.g., Williams v. Ashland Chemical Co., 52 Ohio App.2d 81, 89 (1976). This immunity, however, is conditioned on the employees' actions being in the scope of ...

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