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USA Waste of Maryland, Inc. v. Love

August 21, 2008

USA WASTE OF MARYLAND, INC., APPELLANT,
v.
ISAAC ANTHONY LOVE, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (No. CA 9344-02) (Hon. Melvin R. Wright, Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Glickman, Associate Judge

Argued November 7, 2006

Before GLICKMAN and BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY, Associate Judges, and STEADMAN, Senior Judge.

The dispositive issue in this appeal is whether an employee of a temporary labor services company is also an employee, for purposes of workers' compensation law, of the business entity to which he is assigned to work. Appellee Isaac Anthony Love was detailed by Ready Staffing, Inc. ("Ready Staffing") to work as a truck driver's assistant for appellant USA Waste of Maryland, Inc. ("USA Waste"), a Maryland trash collection company. Love was seriously injured on the job and brought a personal injury action against USA Waste in Superior Court. In pretrial motions and at trial, USA Waste contended that, as one of Love's employers, it was immune from tort liability to him. The trial judge rejected this defense, ultimately ruling as a legal matter that USA Waste was not Love's employer under District of Columbia law. At trial, the jury returned a verdict in Love's favor and awarded him damages of $1,335,938.56. USA Waste has appealed.

We hold that Love was USA Waste's employee within the meaning of workers' compensation law.*fn1 USA Waste therefore is immune from tort liability to Love, and is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

I.

There is no dispute as to the material facts. At the time of his accident, Isaac Love had been employed for approximately ten years by Ready Staffing, a temporary labor supply company located in the District of Columbia. To obtain work, Love reported to Ready Staffing's employee lounge early each morning and waited to be assigned a job that day with one of Ready Staffing's clients. Ready Staffing decided where to assign him and transported him by van to and from the job site. As a general unskilled laborer, Love was available to perform construction and trash-hauling jobs throughout the metropolitan area.

USA Waste was one of Ready Staffing's trash-hauling clients to which Love often was detailed to work. At trial, Love estimated he had worked for USA Waste in Maryland on seventy-five to one hundred occasions prior to the date of his accident. He acknowledged that he "chose" to work for USA Waste of his "own free will."*fn2 While on such assignments, Love was supervised solely by USA Waste. The agreement between the two companies, which was set forth on the back of Love's time sheet, stated explicitly that "Ready Staffing does not provide supervision of Ready Staffing employees while on Customer's premises or job-site." USA Waste also decided how many hours Love worked. Love was subject to USA Waste's rules and discipline, and the company was free to refuse his services.

The companies' agreement specified that Ready Staffing assigned Love to USA Waste "to render temporary service" only. USA Waste agreed that it would not "hire" him or otherwise "interfere with" his employment relationship with Ready Staffing. USA Waste also agreed not to pay Love directly.*fn3 Instead, USA Waste paid Ready Staffing a fixed hourly rate for Love's services, and Ready Staffing in turn paid Love. Ready Staffing compensated him, at minimum wage, only for the hours he worked for USA Waste (or another customer), and not for the hours he spent waiting at Ready Staffing or in transit between Ready Staffing and the job. The difference between what USA Waste paid Ready Staffing and what Ready Staffing paid Love covered payroll taxes, workers' compensation insurance coverage and other benefits, overhead costs, and Ready Staffing's profit.*fn4 While Love was covered by Ready Staffing's workers' compensation insurance policy, he was covered by USA Waste's policy as well, even though USA Waste's agreement with Ready Staffing did not require it to furnish such coverage.

In accordance with the foregoing arrangements, Ready Staffing assigned Love to work for USA Waste on January 11, 2002. Love accepted the assignment. The Ready Staffing van transported him and several other temporary employees to USA Waste's facility in Gaithersburg, Maryland, where a USA Waste supervisor assigned Love to work as a driver's helper on a residential trash collection route in Bethesda, Maryland. The driver of the garbage truck, a USA Waste employee named Adisa Harkless, was responsible for Love's performance and safety on the route.

Harkless and Love had been collecting trash for approximately an hour when the accident happened. According to Love's account, he was attempting to climb aboard the truck when Harkless unexpectedly released the emergency brake and stepped on the accelerator. The truck lurched forward. Love lost his footing and fell to the pavement. Before he could recover, the truck's left front tire rolled over his right leg. The severely damaged limb could not be saved and was amputated above the knee.

Pursuant to the District of Columbia Workers' Compensation Act, Love applied for and received benefits covering lost wages, medical expenses and vocational rehabilitation from Ready Staffing and its insurer. He did not seek any such benefits from USA Waste. Instead, he sued USA Waste for negligence in Superior Court.

II.

As a threshold matter, the parties disagree over whether USA Waste's claimed immunity from tort liability is governed by the workers' compensation law of Maryland or the District of Columbia. The parties focus their disagreement on the choice of law principles we have adopted in the District of Columbia for tort cases in general. In such cases, we have held, the choice of law turns on which jurisdiction has "the most significant relationship to the dispute,"*fn5 and "which jurisdiction's policy would be more advanced" by applying its law.*fn6 The trial court agreed with Love that those metrics call for application of D.C. law to the instant dispute,*fn7 while USA Waste argues for the application of Maryland law.*fn8

However, a special choice-of-law rule applies in this jurisdiction to claims of immunity under workers' compensation laws.*fn9 The essence of the rule is set forth in the ...


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