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Barrett v. Hecla Mining Co.

Supreme Court of Idaho

November 18, 2016

RONNEL E. BARRETT, an individual; GREGG HAMMERBERG, an individual; ERIC J. TESTER, an individual; and MATTHEW WILLIAMS, an individual, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
HECLA MINING COMPANY, a Delaware Corporation; JOHN JORDAN, an individual; DOUG BAYER, an individual; and SCOTT HOGAMIER, an individual, Defendants-Respondents, and DOES 1-X, unknown parties, Defendants.

         2016 Opinion No. 133

         Appeal from the District Court of the First Judicial District, State of Idaho, Kootenai County. Hon. Lansing L. Haynes, District Judge.

         District court order granting summary judgment, affirmed.

          Rossman Law Group, PLLC, Boise, for appellants. Eric S. Rossman argued.

          Ramsden, Marfice, Ealy & Harris, LLP, Coeur d'Alene, for respondents. Michael E. Ramsden argued.

          OPINION

          BURDICK, Justice

         Ronnel E. Barrett, Gregg Hammerberg, Eric J Tester, and Matthew Williams (Appellants) appeal the Kootenai County District Court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Hecla Mining Company, et al. (Hecla). Appellants were injured in a rock burst that occurred on December 14, 2011, at the Lucky Friday Mine, which is owned and operated by Hecla. Appellants contend that Hecla knew the mine was unsafe and knowingly placed Appellants in danger of harm. Appellants claim that such behavior constituted an act of "willful[1] or unprovoked physical aggression" that is not exclusively covered by the Idaho Worker's Compensation Act (IWCA). On cross motions for summary judgment, the district court ruled that because there was no evidence that Hecla specifically intended to harm Appellants the claims were controlled exclusively by the IWCA. On appeal, Appellants argue that the district court erred in its determination that the IWCA exclusively governed their claims. We affirm.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On November 16, 2011, a rock burst occurred at the 5900 level of the Gold Hunter Vein of the Lucky Friday Mine. Immediately following the rock burst, Hecla notified the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) of the event and halted all mining activities in the entire mine. That same day, Hecla managers and MSHA representatives entered the mine to assess the damage and began development of a rehabilitation plan for the affected area. Hecla also hired Wilson Blake, PhD, an expert in rock mechanics, to evaluate the cause of the rock burst, assess the stability of the 5900 level pillar, assist in designing a rehabilitation plan, and develop a safety protocol for the implementation of that plan.

         After inspecting the affected area, Blake prepared a memorandum dated November 25, 2011, stating that the vertical and horizontal stress on the pillar leading up to the November 16, 2011, rock burst was very near the pillar's maximum unconfined strength; that a rehabilitation plan would contain damage from any further rock bursts; that another large rock burst along the 5900 level pillar was unlikely; and that a rehabilitation plan would have adequate safety measures for miners conducting the repairs. Blake's memo was sent to MSHA, and MSHA approved Hecla's rehabilitation plan.

         The rehabilitation plan consisted of two phases. The first phase consisted of reinforcing the ceiling and walls of the tunnel with bolts, chain-link mesh, and "shotcrete, " a specialized concrete applied with compressed air at high velocity. The second phase was the installation of a steel tunnel liner. After completion of the first phase on December 1, 2011, MSHA permitted Hecla to resume normal mining activity while awaiting the arrival of the steel liners. The liners arrived on December 12, 2011, all mining activity was halted on December 13, 2011, and installation of the liners began on December 14, 2011. Doug Bayer, the Superintendent of the Luck Friday Mine, oversaw and participated in the installation of the tunnel liner and spent several hours on site at the 5900 pillar inspecting and assisting in the installation of the liner. Appellants were part of the team assigned to help with the installation of the liner. At approximately 7:40 p.m. on December 14, 2011, a rock burst occurred in the 5900 pillar injuring Appellants and other workers.

         Appellants filed a complaint on December 11, 2013, alleging "knowing, intentional, willful and wanton injury to [Appellants], respondeat superior liability against Hecla, and intentional infliction of emotional distress." Appellants alleged that Hecla committed an act of "willful or unprovoked physical aggression" by assigning them to work in an area that was extremely dangerous without informing Appellants of the dangerous conditions. On May 29, 2015, Hecla filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that Appellants' claims were barred by the exclusivity provision of the IWCA. On June 15, 2015, Appellants filed a motion for partial summary judgment seeking a ruling that Hecla's actions satisfied the exception to exclusivity provision of the IWCA. On August 28, 2015, the district court entered an order granting Hecla's motion for summary judgment. In its decision the district court found that while Hecla's actions supported a claim of negligence, they "do not constitute an act of willful physical aggression." Appellants timely appeal.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         We review a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, and apply the same standard used by the district court in ruling on the motion. Grazer v. Jones, 154 Idaho 58, 64, 294 P.3d 184, 190 (2013). Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, depositions, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." I.R.C.P. 56(c). All reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the record are to be drawn in favor of the nonmoving party, and ...


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