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Tentative Ruling
Judge James F. Rigali
Department 2 SM-Cook
312-C East Cook Street P.O. Box 5369 Santa Maria, CA 93456-5369


Rodriguez et al. v. Premier Scaffold, Inc.

Case No: 16CV01671
Hearing Date: Tue Mar 13, 2018 8:30

Nature of Proceedings: Motion: Summary Judgment

     This case arises from a traffic collision that occurred on January 18, 2016. Decedent Simon Ruiz was driving a Ford Ranger truck on Highway 154 in Santa Barbara County near Zaca Road Station. His truck collided with a Ford vehicle owned by the Chumash Casino Resort. Ruiz was killed. This case was filed on April 19, 2016, by the wife (Maria Rosario Rodriguez) and children (Armando De Jesus Ruiz, Claudia Lisbet Ruiz, David Ruiz Rodriguez, and Jorge Ruiz Rodriguez) of Simon Ruiz for his wrongful death against Premier Scaffold, Inc. (“Premier”) and Champion Construction Concrete. Plaintiffs allege that defendants’ negligence
in owning and maintaining the vehicle caused decedent Ruiz to operate the vehicle under hazardous conditions, causing it to collide with another vehicle. At the time of the accident, Ruiz was a worker supplied to Premier by Ameri-Force Craft Services, Inc. (“Ameri-Force Craft
Services, Inc.).

     Defendant Premier Scaffold, Inc. (“Premier”) moves for summary judgment on the basis that the wrongful death claim is barred under the worker’s compensation exclusive remedy doctrine, an affirmative defense.

     A defendant moving for summary judgment must show either (1) that one or more elements of the plaintiff's cause of action cannot be established, or (2) that there is a complete defense to that cause of action. (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (c).) The burden on a defendant
moving for summary judgment based upon the assertion of an affirmative defense is heavier than the burden to show one or more elements of the plaintiff's cause of action cannot be established.
Instead of merely submitting evidence to negate a single element of the plaintiff's cause of action, or offering evidence such as vague or insufficient discovery responses that the plaintiff does not have evidence to create an issue of fact as to one or more elements of his or her case,
the defendant has the initial burden to show that undisputed facts support each element of the affirmative defense. The defendant must demonstrate that under no hypothesis is there a material factual issue requiring trial. If the defendant does not meet this burden, the motion must be denied. Only if the defendant meets this burden does the burden shift to plaintiff to show an issue of fact concerning at least one element of the defense. (Anderson v. Metalclad Insulation Corp.
(1999) 72 Cal.App.4th 284, 289–290; Melendrez v. Ameron Internat. Corp. (2015) 240 Cal.App.4th 632, 637-638 [plaintiff’s wrongful death cause of action barred by worker’s compensation exclusivity].)

     “California's Workers' Compensation Act (Lab.Code, § 3600 et seq.) provides an employee's exclusive remedy against his or her employer for injuries arising out of and in the course of employment.” (Wright v. State of California (2015) 233 Cal.App.4th 1218, 1229.) The exclusive remedy provision of the act provides, in part, that “ ‘[w]here the conditions of compensation set forth in Section 3600 concur, the right to recover compensation is ... the sole and exclusive remedy of the employee or his or her dependents against the employer’ (Lab.Code,
§ 3602, subd. (a)), and that ‘[i]n all cases where the conditions of compensation set forth in Section 3600 do not concur, the liability of the employer shall be the same as if this division had not been enacted’ (Lab.Code, § 3602, subd. (c)). The legal theory supporting this exclusive
remedy provision ‘is a presumed “compensation bargain,” pursuant to which the employer assumes liability for industrial personal injury or death without regard to fault in exchange for limitations on the amount of that liability. The employee is afforded relatively swift and certain
payment of benefits to cure or relieve the effects of industrial injury without having to prove fault but, in exchange, gives up the wider range of damages potentially available in tort.’ [Citation.]” (Wilson v. Southern California Edison Co. (2015) 234 Cal.App.4th 123, 141–142.)

     The requirement of Labor Code section 3600 is twofold. On the one hand, the injury must occur in the course of the employment. This concept ordinarily refers to the time, place, and circumstances under which the injury occurs. Thus an employee is in the course of his
employment when he does those reasonable things which his contract with his employment expressly or impliedly permits him to do. And, ipso facto, an employee acts within the course of his employment when performing a duty imposed upon him by his employer and one necessary
to perform before the terms of the contract are mutually satisfied. On the other hand, the statute requires that an injury arise out of the employment.... It has long been settled that for an injury to arise out of the employment it must occur by reason of a condition or incident of the
employment.... That is, the employment and the injury must be linked in some causal fashion. (Melendrez, supra, at 638-639 [citations omitted].)

     Put another way, to succeed on its motion Premier must present admissible evidence of each of the following essential element of the defense:

1. That plaintiff was defendant’s employee;

2. That defendant had workers’ compensation insurance covering plaintiff at the time of injury; and

3. That plaintiff’s injury occurred while he was performing a task for or related to the work defendant hired him to do. (CACI 2800.)

     Ordinarily, the court would address the elements in serial fashion. Here, however, Premier provided no evidence that shows Simon Ruiz’s death occurred while he was performing a task for or related to the work he was hired to do, or stated differently, in the course of employment. This element is addressed in a sole footnote, which states: “Moving party Premier notes that the legal determination of Ruiz’s course and scope is not at issue in this motion, and, based on facts not relevant here, may remain an ultimate issue in the case. Only for purposes of this motion, Ruiz’s course and scope is not disputed.” (Mtn. for Summary Judgment of Defendant Premier Scaffold, Inc., p. 3, fn. 2.) This is insufficient. The defendant has the initial burden to show that undisputed facts support each element of the affirmative defense.
(Melendrez, supra, at 638.)

     Premier has in fact submitted disputed evidence that a worker’s compensation benefit has been paid to plaintiffs by Ameri Force. Even if the evidence were undisputed, payment of a worker’s compensation benefit does not by itself show the conditions of employment were met.
(Lee v. West Kern Water Dist. (2016) 5 Cal.App.4th 606, 632 [“[T]hese contentions overlook the obvious possibility that it was the workers’ compensation award, not the jury’s finding (or counsel’s argument) that the injury fell outside the compensation bargain, that was in error.”].)

     Premier observes that it is counterproductive for plaintiffs to argue that Ruiz was not in the course of employment at the time of the accident because, if true, “this may negate coverage under Premier’s insurance policy, the proceeds of which plaintiffs seek for their wrongful death claim.” (Reply to Plaintiff’s Opposition, p. 3.) This is irrelevant to the court’s analysis.

     Premier failed to meet its burden of proof on this element. (Anderson v. Metaclad Insulation Corp., supra; Allyson v. Department of Transp., supra.) Consequently, the motion for summary judgment must be denied. The remaining arguments raised by the motion—e.g., whether a special relationship existed between Simon Ruiz and Premier and whether a worker’s compensation coverage existed at the time of the accident—need not be addressed. Objections to evidence likewise need not be addressed.

     The parties are ordered to appear at the hearing.

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