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Gomez v. Crookham Company

Supreme Court of Idaho

December 19, 2018

BALTAZAR GOMEZ, JR., ESTELLA GRIMALDO, ELENA GOMEZ, ELIZABETH FREEMAN, VERONICA FERRO, ZANDRA PEDROZA, ALICIA GOMEZ, YESENIA GOMEZ, and BALTAZAR GOMEZ, III, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
CROOKHAM COMPANY, an Idaho corporation, Defendant-Respondent.

          Appeal from the District Court of the Third Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Canyon County, Hon. Thomas J. Ryan, District Judge.

         The judgment of the district court is affirmed.

          Skaug Law, PC, Nampa and Dinius & Associates, PLLC, Nampa, for Appellants. Nathan T. Gamel argued.

          Elam & Burke, PA, Boise, for Respondent. James A. Ford argued.

          HORTON, Justice.

         The family of Mrs. Francisca Gomez (the Gomezes) appeals a decision of the district court granting Crookham Company's (Crookham) motion for summary judgment on all claims relating to Mrs. Gomez's death. The district court held that Mrs. Gomez was working in the scope of her employment at the time of the accident, that all of the Gomezes' claims are barred by the exclusive remedy rule of Idaho worker's compensation law, that the exception to the exclusive remedy rule provided by Idaho Code section 72-209(3) does not apply, and that the Gomezes' product liability claims fail as a matter of law because Crookham is not a "manufacturer." We affirm.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         This case arises from the horrific death of Mrs. Gomez during a shift at Crookham on January 20, 2016. Crookham is a wholesale seed distributor located in Caldwell, Idaho. Mrs. Gomez was an employee of Crookham for more than thirty years before her death.

         In early 2015, Crookham decided that a new picking table was necessary to sort seeds more efficiently. A Crookham employee fabricated the new table and it was installed in the company's "Scancore" room in late 2015. Although OSHA had previously cited Crookham for violating machine guard safety standards and lockout-tagout protocol with its former picking tables, the new picking table's drive shaft was not fully guarded and Crookham did not perform the required lockout-tagout procedures while employees cleaned the table.[1]

         On January 20, 2016, Mrs. Gomez was assigned to work in the Scancore room. The employees' duties in that room included cleaning the picking table between batches of different varieties of seeds. To clean the picking table, employees use an air wand to blow seeds upward from beneath the table. During her shift, Mrs. Gomez was under the picking table attempting to clean it when the table's exposed drive shaft caught her hair and pulled her into the machine. She died as a result of her injuries. OSHA subsequently investigated Crookham and issued "serious" violations to the company because it exposed its employees to the unguarded drive shaft without implementing lockout-tagout procedures.

         In July 2016, the Gomezes filed their Complaint and Demand for Jury Trial. The complaint set forth nine causes of action: (1) negligent design; (2) failure to warn; (3) strict liability-defective product; (4) strict liability-failure to warn; (5) breach of implied warranty of fitness and/or merchantability; (6) breach of express warranty; (7) strict liability-abnormally dangerous activity; (8) negligence/negligence per se; and (9) wrongful death.

         Crookham moved for summary judgment. The district court issued a memorandum decision explaining its grant of summary judgment to Crookham. The district court held all of the Gomezes' claims were barred by the exclusive remedy rule of worker's compensation law, that the unprovoked physical aggression exception to the exclusive remedy rule did not apply, that Mrs. Gomez was working in the scope of her employment when the accident occurred, and that the Gomezes' product liability claims failed because Crookham was not a manufacturer of the picking table for product liability purposes. The district court entered a final judgment dismissing all of the Gomezes' claims on October 3, 2017. The Gomezes timely appealed.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "This Court's review of a trial court's ruling on a motion for summary judgment is the same standard used by the trial court in originally ruling on the motion." Robison v. Bateman-Hall, Inc., 139 Idaho 207, 209, 76 P.3d 951, 953 (2003). "Summary judgment is appropriate 'if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Taylor v. Taylor, 163 Idaho 910, 916, 422 P.3d 1116, 1122 (2018) (citing I.R.C.P. 56(a)). "A genuine issue of material fact exists when the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Marek v. Hecla, Ltd., 161 Idaho 211, 220, 384 P.3d 975, 984 (2016); see also Houpt v. Wells Fargo Bank, Nat. Ass'n, 160 Idaho 181, 186, 370 P.3d 384, 389 (2016) ("If reasonable people could reach different conclusions or inferences from the evidence, summary judgment is inappropriate."). "This Court liberally construes the record in favor of the party opposing the motion for summary judgment and draws any reasonable inferences and conclusions in that party's favor." Robison, 139 Idaho at 209, 76 P.3d at 953.

The interpretation of a statute is a question of law over which this Court exercises de novo review. The objective of statutory interpretation is to derive legislative intent. Legislative intent begins with the literal language of the statute. To determine the meaning of a statute, the Court applies the plain and ordinary meaning of the terms and, where possible, every word, clause and sentence should be given effect.

Id. at 210, 76 P.3d at 954 (internal citations omitted). "Statutes which relate to the same subject are in pari materia and they should be construed together to effectuate legislative intent." Deweyv. Merrill, 124 Idaho 201, ...


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