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Schuler v. Battelle Energy Alliance, LLC

United States District Court, D. Idaho

June 12, 2019

AARON SCHULER and PAMELA SCHULER, husband and wife, Plaintiffs,


          Candy W. Dale U.S. Magistrate Judge


         Pending before the Court is Battelle Energy Alliance, LLC's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. 15.) Also pending before the Court is Aaron and Pamela Schuler's Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint. (Dkt. 22.) The motions are fully briefed, and oral argument was held on the motions on May 30, 2019. For the following reasons, the Court will deny the Motion for Summary Judgment and will grant the Motion for Leave to Amend.


         On June 14, 2017, Aaron Schuler arrived at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) site in Idaho Falls, Idaho, to make a delivery via a long-haul semi-truck. (Dkt. 1 at 2.) Schuler was making the delivery to INL's Advanced Test Reactor Complex (ATR Complex). Id. The ATR Complex is a nuclear reactor designed to test nuclear fuels for the United States Navy. Id. Schuler sustained serious injuries while making the delivery.

         1. Entities involved in the facts of this case

         The contractual relationship between the entities responsible for managing and operating the ATR Complex is relevant to the legal issues before the Court. The United States Department of Energy (DOE) owns the INL. (Dkt. 33 at 12.) The INL, located near Scolville, Idaho, is comprised of several facilities, including the ATR Complex. Id. There are two DOE administrative offices with responsibilities related to the ATR Complex, the Office of the Deputy Administrator for Naval Reactors (Naval Reactors), and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy (Nuclear Energy). Id.

         Defendant Battelle Energy Alliance, LLC (BEA), is a Delaware limited liability company with its principal place of business in Idaho Falls. Id. BEA is a private contractor for the DOE. Id. BEA contracted with the DOE's Nuclear Energy office to carry out the Nuclear Energy office's day-to-day operation and maintenance responsibilities with respect to the ATR Complex. Id. at 13; Dkt. 34 at 4; 8.

         Another entity, Bechtel Marine Propulsion Corporation (Bechtel), contracted with the Naval Reactors office to carry out other responsibilities related to the ATR Complex.[1](Dkt. 33 at 13.) Under its contract with the Naval Reactors office, Bechtel designed experiments and purchased certain supplies for the experiments, including “in-pile tubes” (IPTs), which are used in a pressurized water experiment to test nuclear fuel and materials under various conditions. Id. at 12-13; Dkt. 34 at 4-5. Schuler was delivering one of these IPTs on the day of the incident. Pursuant to a purchase order with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GE Hitachi), Bechtel purchased ten (10) IPTs. (Dkt. 33 at 14.) Under the purchase order, Hitachi, the seller, agreed to supply the IPTs to Bechtel, the buyer, and deliver them to the ATR Complex in exchange for a payment of approximately $4, 500, 000. Id. The IPT Schuler was delivering, number 28 (IPT 28), was valued at $450, 000. Id.

         Hitachi contracted with a third party manufacturer, Vigor Works, LLC, to make the large pipes, including IPT 28. Id. When the manufacture of IPT 28 was complete, Hitachi contracted with Combined Transport Logistics Group, Inc. (CTL), to transport the IPT from the manufacturing plant to the ATR Complex. Id. In turn, CTL contracted with Cardmoore Trucking Limited Partnership (Cardmoore) to provide a driver for the semi-trailer truck used to pick up and deliver IPT 28 to the ATR Complex. Id. Cardmoore assigned its employee, Schuler, to be the driver of the semi-trailer truck. Id. Cardmoore instructed Schuler to deliver IPT 28 to the ATR Complex. Hitachi paid CTL $4, 300 to deliver IPT 28 to the site. Id.

         The contractual relationship between the entities is illustrated in the following chart:

         (Image Omitted.)

         (Dkt. 33 at 15.)

         2. Facts related to the delivery of IPT 28

         The ATR Complex is a high security site. (Dkt. 1 at 2.) The ATR itself is a nuclear reactor. (Dkt. 34 at 2.) The only entrance to the site is through a vehicle inspection bay. All vehicles are subject to an onsite inspection in the bay prior to entering the ATR Complex. (Dkt. 1. At 2.) The security guards who perform onsite inspections of vehicles entering the complex are employed by BEA. Id.; Dkt. 33 at 15. When Schuler arrived at the inspection bay, the BEA security guards instructed him to pull his semi-truck completely into the inspection bay. (Dkt. 1 at 2.) However, the truck Schuler was driving had a 53-foot flatbed and was too long to fit entirely within the bay. Id. BEA guards instructed Schuler to drive the truck forward into the bay as far as possible to fit the majority of the truck into the bay for inspection. Id.

         The entrance to the inspection bay is protected by an in-ground retractable vehicle security barrier that can be raised by the security guards to prevent vehicles from entering the bay. Id. Once Schuler moved the truck into the bay, the security guards ordered Schuler to exit the truck and to open the engine hood, all doors, all tool bins, and all other enclosures on the truck. Schuler complied and was then told to stand near the rear of his trailer while the guards performed an inspection of the truck, including its enclosures. Id. Once the inspection was complete, the guards instructed Schuler to close the previously opened areas, including the engine hood. Id. at 4.

         To close the engine hood, Schuler had to stand directly in the front and in the center of the open hood. Id. Because the semi-truck was pulled as far as possible into the inspection bay, closing the hood required Schuler to stand between the vehicle security barrier and the front of the semi-truck. Id. The space between the security barrier and the semi-truck was approximately 18 inches wide. (Dkt. 37-7 at 10.) While Schuler was working on closing the engine hood, one of the BEA guards lowered the security barrier behind Schuler. Id. at 11. As the security barrier lowered, it crushed Schuler's leg. (Dkt. 1 at 4; Dkt. 37-7 at 11-12.) Schuler cried out, and once the BEA security guard realized what had happened, he raised the barrier and called for medical care. Id.

         3. BEA's investigation of the delivery incident

         On July 17, 2017, BEA issued a Root Cause Analysis Report regarding the delivery incident. (Dkt. 34 at 6; Dkt. 37-7 at 7.) In the report, BEA concluded that the incident was caused by (1) the negligent actions of the BEA security guard; (2) BEA's negligent training and supervision of the security guard; and (3) BEA's negligent failure to maintain and repair the wedge barrier. (Dkt. 34 at 6-7; see Dec. Scott J. Smith, Exhibit G, Root Cause Analysis Report, Dkt. 37-7 at 1-39.)


         As a result of this incident, Schuler filed a complaint against BEA alleging three claims: (1) BEA security guards' negligence resulted in Schuler's severe and permanent physical injuries, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, past and future pain and suffering, past and future medical expenses, lost wages, and reduced wage-earning capacity. (Dkt. 1 at 5); (2) BEA had a duty to entrust the retraction of the wedge barrier to a properly trained, experienced employee capable of lowering the wedge in a manner that would not injure other persons, and BEA breached the duty (Id. at 5-6); (3) BEA breached its duty to properly supervise its employees through negligent supervision; and (4) due to the personal injury of Aaron Schuler, his wife, Pamela, suffered a loss of consortium. (Id. at 6.)

         BEA filed an answer denying each of the Schulers' claims. (Dkt. 5.) BEA's answer also set forth six affirmative defenses, including: contributory and comparative negligence on the part of Aaron Schuler; res judicata and collateral estoppel; Idaho's statutory employer doctrine; Plaintiff's failure to name necessary and indispensable parties, including his employer; lack of subject matter and personal jurisdiction over the claims; and waiver, estoppel, and laches. (Dkt. 5 at 5-7.) BEA then filed the present motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. 15.) In its motion, BEA argues, because Aaron Schuler received worker's compensation benefits, and because BEA is a statutory employer of Aaron Schuler, BEA bears no third-party liability as the worker's compensation benefits were Aaron Schuler's sole and exclusive remedy for the injuries he sustained in the incident. (Dkt. 16 at 1.)

         After BEA filed its motion for summary judgment, the Schulers filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint. (Dkt. 22.) Therein, the Schulers seek permission to add two new causes of action based in negligence and one new factual allegation. Id. at 3. The motion also seeks permission to amend the complaint to remove Pamela Schuler as a plaintiff and to remove the claim for loss of consortium, because Ms. Schuler passed away after the filing of the complaint. Id. In response, BEA does not contest the motion as to the removal of Pamela Schuler, but argues the remainder of the motion is futile as the new causes of action would not save the complaint against BEA's statutory employer defense. In reply, Schuler argues that the statutory employer defense does not defeat the claims in his complaint or in the proposed amended complaint.


         1. Motion for Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, demonstrates “there is no genuine issue of any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Galen v. County of Los Angeles, 477 F.3d 652, 658 (9th Cir. 2007). Evidence includes “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits….” DeVries v. DeLaval, Inc., 2006 WL 1582179, at *5 (D. Idaho June 1, 2006), report and recommendation adopted, 2006 WL 2325176 (D. Idaho Aug. 9, 2006).

         The moving party initially bears the burden to show no material fact is in dispute and a favorable judgment is due as a matter of law. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If the moving party meets this initial burden, the non-moving party must identify facts showing a genuine issue for trial to defeat the motion for summary judgment. Cline v. Indus. Maint. Eng'g & Contracting Co., 200 F.3d 1223, 1229 (9th Cir. 2000). The Court must enter summary judgment if the nonmoving party “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).


         1. Idaho Worker's Compensation Act

         This motion requires the Court to consider the Idaho Workers Compensation Act (Act).[2] In general, the Act provides employees a remedy for injuries sustained in the course of employment. I.C. § 72-201; Robison v. Bateman-Hall, Inc., 76 P.3d 951, 953 (Idaho 2003). While providing relief to injured employees, the Act also limits employer liability. I.C. § 72-209(1); I.C. § 72-211. The Act's remedy for injured employees is referred to as the “exclusive remedy rule.” Robison at 953. Under the rule, worker's compensation payments are provided “to the exclusion of every other remedy, proceeding, or compensation, except as is otherwise provided in the worker's compensation scheme.” Kolar v. Cassia County Idaho, 127 P.3d 962, 967-68 (Idaho 2005).

         However, Idaho Code Section 72-223 provides that an individual who receives workers compensation benefits under the Act is not precluded from brining an action in tort for damages against a third party that is ...

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