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Trusdale v. Mountain Productions, Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

November 22, 2017

MOUNTAIN PRODUCTIONS, INC., et al., Defendants
CONDER, INC., Third-Party Defendant



         This case concerns the death of a man who fell while helping to construct a concert stage at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. Plaintiff, the decedent's daughter, has brought this lawsuit alleging that several of the businesses involved in the construction of that stage were negligent in failing to provide the proper protective equipment to prevent her father's fall. Two of the Defendants, Mountain Productions, Inc. (“Mountain”) and It's My Party, Inc. (“IMP”), have filed third-party complaints against the decedent's employer, Conder, Inc. (otherwise known as Charm City Crewing Company). Presently before the Court are Conder's motions to dismiss those third-party complaints. Upon consideration of the pleadings, [1] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court will GRANT Conder's [29] Motion to Dismiss the Third-Party Complaint by Mountain, but DENY Conder's [30] Motion to Dismiss the Third-Party Complaint by IMP.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed this action against Defendants Mountain, IMP and Washington Convention and Sports Authority in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Compl., ECF No. 1-2. Plaintiff alleged that on June 30, 2015, her father, James L. Truesdale, was working to construct a concert stage at the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium at a jobsite controlled by one or more of the Defendants. Id. ¶ 11. Mr. Truesdale was a day laborer employed by Conder, a company that was not named as a Defendant in Plaintiff's lawsuit. Id. ¶ 12. He fell from a platform while working and died eight days later. Id. ¶¶ 13, 15. Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants failed to ensure that the platform from which her father fell had “appropriate fall protection equipment and/or other necessary systems in place to prevent the employees of subcontractors from falling off of heights greater than six feet, which is required, inter alia, by federal OSHA regulations.” Id. ¶ 14. Plaintiff asserted two counts against the Defendants: one for “negligence; wrongful death” and another for “negligence; Survival Act.” Id. ¶¶ 16-24. Defendant IMP removed Plaintiff's lawsuit to this Court. See Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1.

         Defendants IMP and Mountain then filed third-party complaints against the decedent's employer, Conder. See Def. It's My Party, Inc.'s Third-Party Compl. Against Conder Inc., ECF No. 17 (“IMP Compl.”); Def. Mountain Production, Inc.'s Third-Party Compl. Against Conder Inc., ECF No. 19 (“Mountain Compl.”). In its third-party complaint, IMP alleges that Conder entered into an agreement with IMP “to provide employees and/or agents to build the concert stage . . . and to provide vetting, training, instruction, supervision and oversight, including but not limited to onsite supervision of these employees and/or agents.” IMP Compl. ¶¶ 4, 14. IMP also states that “[p]ursuant to the terms of the Agreement, [Conder] agreed to indemnify IMP for any negligence by [Conder] occurring during [Conder's] operations pertaining to the Concert, and to add IMP as an additional insured to [Conder's] commercial general liability insurance policy.” Id. ¶ 15. IMP alleges that it had an ongoing relationship with Conder and that the two businesses had entered into numerous similar agreements in the past. Id. ¶ 17. IMP claims that it was Conder's duty and responsibility to provide fall protection equipment or other necessary systems to prevent falling-not IMP's. Id. ¶ 22. IMP asserts causes of action against Conder for breach of contract and implied indemnity. Id. ¶¶ 25-34.

         Defendant Mountain has also asserted causes of action against Conder for breach of contract and implied indemnity. Mountain Compl. ¶¶ 22-32. However, the factual allegations underlying those claims are different than IMP's. Mountain alleges that it “entered into a contract with IMP and/or one of its affiliates to provide staging for a pending concert, whereby IMP would provide local labor for work to be done at RFK from on or about June 28 to July 7, 2015.” Id. ¶ 12. Mountain does not claim that it contracted with Conder. Instead, Mountain alleges that “[u]pon information and belief, on or before June 25, 2015, IMP contracted with [Conder] to provide vetting, training, instruction, supervision, oversight, and employees to perform work at RFK from on or about June 28 to July 7, 2015, whereby Mountain was an intended beneficiary of this contract.” Id. ¶ 13. Mountain also states that “[b]y providing employees to work at RFK from June 28 to July 7, 2015, Mountain had a special relationship with [Conder] by virtue of the day-to-day interaction and decision-making between the parties regarding the work at RFK.” Id. ¶ 15.

         Conder has moved to dismiss both of these third-party complaints under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).


         Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a party may move to dismiss a complaint (including a third-party complaint) on the grounds that it “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint contain “‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). “[A] complaint [does not] suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Rather, a complaint must contain sufficient factual allegations that, if true, “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and accept as true all reasonable factual inferences drawn from well-pleaded factual allegations. See In re United Mine Workers of Am. Employee Benefit Plans Litig., 854 F.Supp. 914, 915 (D.D.C. 1994).


         A. The D.C. Workers' Compensation Act and Myco, Inc. v. Super Concrete Co.

         The main legal principle underlying Conder's motions to dismiss is that as the decedent's employer, Conder was liable for his fall regardless of fault pursuant to the District of Columbia's Workers' Compensation Act (“WCA”). The remedies provided for by the WCA are exclusive. The WCA states that “[t]he liability of an employer prescribed in § 32-1503 [i.e., for compensation for injury or death without regard to fault] shall be exclusive and in place of all liability of such employer to the employee, his legal representative, spouse or domestic partner, parents, dependents, next of kin, and anyone otherwise entitled to recover damages from such employer at law on account of such injury or death.” D.C. Code § 32-1504(a). No party in this case disputes that this exclusivity would bar Plaintiff herself from suing Conder, which she has not done. However, Conder claims that this exclusivity goes a step further, and also prevents Third-Party Defendants from recovering against it. Third-Party Defendants disagree.

         The foundational case on this topic is Myco, Inc. v. Super Concrete Co.. In Myco, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals addressed “the effect of the District of Columbia's Workers' Compensation Act on the right of a third party to indemnity from the employer of an injured worker seeking recovery in tort from that third party.” 565 A.2d 293, 294 (D.C. 1989). In that case, Super Concrete Co. had contracted with Myco, Inc. for Myco to work on a power washer on Super Concrete's premises. Id. Later, an employee of Super Concrete was killed while using the washer. Id. The deceased employee's wife filed a workers compensation claim, and Super Concrete's insurer paid death benefits to his estate. Id. The wife later filed a wrongful death action against Myco claiming that Myco's negligence had caused her husband's death. Id. Myco filed a third-party complaint against Super Concrete seeking indemnification. Id. at 294-95. The trial court dismissed the third-party complaint and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Id.

         The Myco court acknowledged that although “nothing precludes [an] employee from seeking injury-related damages from [a] third-party tortfeasor[, ] . . . when the third party, to protect against an adverse monetary judgment, seeks indemnity from the employer for having contributed to or caused the injury for which the employee seeks damages, that cause of action runs head-on into the exclusivity provision of the [WCA].” Id. at 296-97. That being said, the Myco court noted two circumstances where indemnification is allowed despite the exclusivity of the WCA. First, with respect to claims based on express indemnification agreements-which were not actually at issue in Myco-the court noted that “[i]t is well settled in most jurisdictions that when the third party's claim against the employer is for indemnity pursuant to an express contractual provision, the exclusivity provisions of workers' compensation laws do not bar the indemnification.” Id. at 297. Second, the Court determined that “implied indemnification” is also available, despite the exclusivity of the WCA, in situations where the third party and the employer “‘stand in a special legal relationship that carries with it the obligation . . . to indemnify the third party.'” Id. at 299 (quoting Larson, Third-Party Action Over Against Workers' Compensation Employer, 1982 Duke L. J. 483, 505-06). “In order to establish the right to this particular type of implied indemnity, the obligation must arise out of a specific duty of defined nature-separate from the injury to the employee-owed to the third party by the employer.” Id. In other words, “when the indemnity is based on a special legal relationship existing separate and apart from any liability which the employer might have had to the injured employee, indemnity is allowed.” Id. Examples of such relationships include bailors and bailees, lessors and lessees and principals and agents. Id. The Myco court held that the relationship between Myco and Super Concrete was not sufficient and that Myco's claim was accordingly barred.

         Based on the preceding law, the viability of the third-party complaints in this case depends on whether the Third-Party Defendants have plausibly pled the existence of an express indemnification agreement or the type of “special relationship” that could support a claim for implied indemnity. The following sections of the Court's Opinion address whether the Third-Party Defendants have done so.

         B. ...

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