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Entergy Ark., Inc. v. Pope County Circuit Court

Supreme Court of Arkansas

December 11, 2014



Quattlebaum, Grooms, Tull & Burrow PLLC, by: Steven W. Quattleaum, John E. Tull III, and Michael N. Shannon; Davis, Clark, Butt, Carithers & Taylor, PLC, by: Constance G. Clark, Colin M. Johnson, and Kelly Carithers; and Munson, Rowlett, Moore and Boone, P.A., by: Bruce E. Munson, Elizabeth A. Fletcher, and Beverly D. Rowlett; and Kane Russell Coleman & Logan PC, by: Lawrence T. Bowman and Sanjay K. Minocha, for petitioners.

Brian G. Brooks, Attorney at Law, PLLC, by: Brian G. Brooks; Walas Law Firm, PLLC, by: Breean Walas; and Bailey & Oliver Law Firm, by: Sach D. Oliver, Frank H. Bailey, and T. Ryan Scott, for respondents.

JIM HANNAH, Chief Justice. BAKER and HART, JJ., dissent.

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JIM HANNAH, Chief Justice

Petitioners Entergy Arkansas, Inc. (" Entergy Arkansas" ); Entergy Operations, Inc. (" Entergy Operations" ) (collectively " Entergy" ); and DP Engineering, Ltd. Co. (" DP" ) seek an extraordinary writ of prohibition against the Pope County Circuit Court and Susan Allen, individually, and as administratrix of the estate of Wade Walters, deceased.[1] Petitioners argue that the circuit court acted wholly without jurisdiction to determine whether they are immune from tort liability, pursuant to the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Act (" the Act" ), because that decision is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission (" the Commission" ). We grant the petitions for writ of prohibition.

In the underlying case, Entergy Arkansas owns the Arkansas Nuclear One plant (" ANO" ) near Russellville. Entergy Operations, an agent of Entergy Arkansas, operated the plant and contracted with Precision Surveillance Company (" PSC" ) to provide civil engineers for a project at the ANO to lift and to remove a generator stator from ANO's turbine building and then to replace it with a newly refurbished generator stator. On March 31, 2013, during the course of the project, a steel beam fell from a collapsed crane onto twenty-four-year-old Wade Walters, a journeyman iron worker and PSC employee, who died as a result of multiple crushing injuries. Eight other workers suffered injuries during the accident.

On July 2, 2013, Susan Allen, individually and as the administratrix of Walters's estate, filed a personal-injury action in the Pope County Circuit Court, naming multiple defendants, including Entergy, DP, and others. In the amended complaint filed July 30, 2013, Allen alleged counts of wrongful death, ordinary negligence, negligent hiring, negligent training, negligent supervision, negligent retention, and negligent hiring of an independent contractor. Allen further sought declaratory judgment, punitive damages, and a jury trial. No claim was filed with the Commission.

Entergy filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, asserting immunity under the exclusive-remedy

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provisions of the Act, or, alternatively, a motion to stay the action pending a review by the Commission. Specifically, in its motion to dismiss, Entergy asserted that, because Walters was a statutory employee of Entergy at the time of his death, the exclusive-remedy provisions of the Act applied, and Entergy was immune from suit. Entergy further asserted that, if the circuit court determined that a factual question existed on the employer issue, then the Commission had exclusive, primary jurisdiction to decide its status as a statutory or special employer. In its motion to dismiss, DP asserted that its employee, John Scroggins, was a special employee of Entergy and thus was entitled to immunity as Walters's special co-employee. DP maintained that if Scroggins was immune, then DP was not vicariously liable for Walters's death. In its answer, DP also pled the affirmative defense of the exclusive-remedy provision under the Act.

On December 19, 2013, the circuit court held a hearing on three cases arising from the ANO incident, including Walters's case, Jess Clayton v. Bigge Power Constructors, CV-2013-269, and Entergy Arkansas and Entergy Operations, Inc. v. Bigge Crane and Rigging Co., CV-2013-176. Subsequently, on March 12, 2014, the circuit court entered an order denying Entergy's and DP's motions to dismiss, finding, inter alia, that the direct cause of Walters's death was the collapse of the crane structure; that Walters was an employee of PSC at the time of his death; that Entergy Arkansas owned ANO; that Entergy Operations operated ANO as an agent of Entergy Arkansas; that Walters was covered by workers' compensation insurance provided by PSC as a named insured; that Jess Clayton and Ronnie Francis, Walters's co-workers, were also injured in the accident and were covered by similar workers' compensation insurance provided by PSC; and that Entergy and DP were not Walters's primary employers. The circuit court also ruled on the following conclusions of law. With regard to Entergy's motion to dismiss, the circuit court ruled that Entergy did not satisfy the requirements of a statutory or special employer of Walters. Specifically, the circuit court found (1) that no contract for hire existed between Walters and Entergy; (2) that Walters performed work at ANO for PSC under the PSC-Entergy contract; and (3) that PSC, instead of Entergy, had the right to control Walters. With regard to DP's motion to dismiss, the circuit court ruled that Scroggins did not have a contract for hire with Entergy; that Scroggins performed work at ANO for DP under the Entergy Operations-DP contract; and that DP had the right to control Scroggins's work. Further, the circuit court ruled that the referral of Allen's claims against DP to the Commission would violate Walters's constitutional right to a jury trial pursuant to the Arkansas Constitution.

On May 7, 2014, Entergy filed a petition for writ of prohibition or certiorari with this court, arguing that the Pope County Circuit Court improperly exercised its jurisdiction over an issue that was within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Commission. Specifically, Entergy asserted that the issue to be determined by the Commission was whether a party was a statutory or a special employer under the Act. Subsequently, on June 5, 2014, DP filed a petition for writ of prohibition, arguing that any issues regarding statutory or special employment and immunity defenses should be decided by the Commission and that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to decide those issues. DP further ...

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