PETITION FOR WRIT OF PROHIBITION.
Wright, Lindsey & Jennings, LLP, by: Kyle R. Wilson, Gary D. Marts, Baxter D. Drennon, and Michael A. Thompson, for petitioners.
David A. Hodges, for the Estate of Mason Mauldin.
PAUL E. DANIELSON, Associate Justice.
Petitioners Central Flying Service, Inc., and Cal Freeney petition this court for a writ of prohibition directed at Respondent Pulaski County Circuit Court to prohibit the circuit court from continuing to exercise jurisdiction over a wrongful-death complaint filed against them by Janet Mauldin, Administratrix and Personal Representative of the Estate of Mason Mauldin (" the Estate" ). In support, Petitioners contend that the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission (" the Commission" ) has exclusive jurisdiction over the Estate's claim. We grant the petition for writ of prohibition.
Mauldin, a pilot, was an employee of Central Flying Service, Inc. (" CFS" ). Freeney was his supervisor. On January 24, 2013, Freeney assigned Mauldin to pilot a 1998 fixed-wing single-engine Beechcraft " Bonanza" A-36 airplane, FAA Regulation No. N980SS. Mauldin was to fly the aircraft from Little Rock to pick up passengers in Monroe, Louisiana, whom he would then fly to Beaumont, Texas. On the return flight from Beaumont to Monroe the plane crashed, resulting in the deaths of Mauldin and all three passengers.
On January 22, 2014, the Estate filed a wrongful-death complaint against CFS and Freeney, alleging that Freeney compelled Mauldin to pilot the aircraft despite the fact that Mauldin did not possess the proper certification to pilot that particular aircraft. The Estate alleged counts of intentional conduct, respondeat superior, wrongful death, and survival. It sought both compensatory and punitive damages. CFS and Freeney each filed answers and, in addition to denying each of the allegations in the complaint, alleged that the circuit court did not have jurisdiction over the complaint because the Estate's exclusive remedy was provided by the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Act (" the Act" ).
Thereafter, on April 23, 2014, the Estate filed an " Amended and Substituted Complaint" against CFS and Freeney, and added certain State defendants in relation to claims asserting that the entire workers' compensation scheme is unconstitutional. Therein, the Estate alleged that the Act was not the exclusive remedy because of the alleged intentional acts pled in the complaint. But, the Estate further pled that in the event the circuit court found no intentional act, then the entire Workers' Compensation Act is unconstitutional, as it violates separation of powers and due process under the United States and Arkansas Constitutions. The Estate alleged that the Act was both facially unconstitutional and as applied to the facts of this case. In addition to adding the constitutional challenge, the Estate added a claim for negligence, asserting that CFS and Freeney knew or should have known that Mauldin did not have the required number of FAA hours to pilot the aircraft and that by requiring him to pilot it, it was likely to cause harm to Mauldin. CFS and Freeney each filed answers denying the allegations of the complaint but further asserting that the Estate's exclusive remedy is provided by the Act.
On August 7, 2014, CFS and Freeney filed a motion, pursuant to Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (6), to dismiss the Estate's complaint because of a
lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. CFS and Freeney argued that because the Estate failed to plead that CFS and Freeney acted with an intent to injure Mauldin, they were entitled to immunity from tort liability for the Estate's claims against them and that the Commission had exclusive, original jurisdiction to determine the issues of whether a person or entity enjoys immunity as an employer under the Act.
The circuit court entered an order on September 26, 2014, denying CFS's and Freeney's motion to dismiss. CFS and Freeney then filed the instant petition for writ of prohibition, asserting that the circuit court was wholly without jurisdiction to determine the applicability of the Act or to determine its constitutionality. This court ordered briefing, and we now consider the merits of the petition.
This court recently addressed the propriety of a writ of prohibition in Entergy Arkansas, Inc. v. Pope County Circuit Court, 2014 Ark. 509, at 5-6, ...