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Falk v. Alliance Coal, LLC

Supreme Court of Kentucky

June 11, 2015

CASSANDRA FALK, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF JAMES JEFFREY FALK; JAMES BLAKE FALK AND LAURYN EMILY FALK, BY AND THROUGH THEIR NEXT FRIEND, MOTHER, AND CUSTODIAN CASSANDRA FALK; SANDY TRAVIS, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF JUSTIN TRAVIS; MELISSA CARTER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF MICHAEL W. CARTER; AND HAYDEN CARTER, BY AND THROUGH HIS NEXT FRIEND, MOTHER, AND CUSTODIAN MELISSA CARTER, APPELLANTS
v.
ALLIANCE COAL, LLC, APPELLEE

Released for Publication July 2, 2015.

Page 761

ON REVIEW FROM COURT OF APPEALS. NOS. 2012-CA-000624 AND 2012-CA-000625. FAYETTE CIRCUIT COURT. NOS. 11-CI-02155 AND 11-CI-05433.

COUNSEL FOR APPELLANTS: Roger Newman Braden, Braden Humfleet & Devine, PLC; John C. Whitfield, Whitfield Bryson & Mason LLP.

COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Philip Douglas Barr, Dana Rashay Howard, Stoll Keenon Ogden PLLC.

COUNSEL FOR AMICUS CURIAE ARCH COAL, INC.: Grahmn New Morgan, David James Treacy, Timothy Reed Wiseman, Dinsmore & Shohl LLP.

OPINION

Page 762

KELLER, JUSTICE

This appeal arises from two summary judgments in favor of Alliance Coal, LLC (Alliance). The Court of Appeals affirmed those judgments, and we granted discretionary review. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

I. BACKGROUND.

The underlying facts necessary for resolution of this appeal are not in dispute. At all relevant times, River View Coal, LLC (River View)[1] and Webster County Coal, LLC (Webster County) were wholly owned subsidiaries of Alliance. As the parent company, Alliance exercised some direct control over its subsidiaries; for example, Alliance chose the subsidiaries' general managers, and it provided technical and other services to its subsidiaries.

Alliance, as parent company, submitted to the Department of Workers' Claims (the DWC) an " Employers [sic] Application for Permission to Carry His Own Risk Without Insurance" (Form SI-02), listing itself as the applicant and Webster and River View, among others, as subsidiaries. In conjunction with the Form SI-02, Alliance also submitted a " Self-Insurers' Guarantee Agreement" (Form SI-01) whereby Alliance guaranteed payment of benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act (the Act) in the event its subsidiaries failed to pay benefits. The DWC accepted and approved the application.

On April 28, 2010, Justin Travis and Michael Carter died in a mining accident while employed by Webster County, and on October 27, 2010, James J. Falk died in a mining accident while employed by River View. Webster County and River View accepted the workers' compensation claims made on behalf of the surviving widows and children of the deceased miners. Benefit checks bearing the names of Webster County and River View respectively have been and continue to be issued to the Appellants. The Appellants argue that, because the checks bear the names of Webster County and River View, those entities are the issuers. However, it is clear that the benefits are paid from the same account, an account that belongs to Alliance. Therefore, regardless of which name is printed on the checks, Alliance is paying the benefits.

The Appellants filed law suits against Alliance alleging that it had liability for the miners' deaths, and Alliance moved for summary judgment arguing that it had immunity under the Act. The trial court agreed with Alliance and dismissed the Appellants' claims. The Court of Appeals ...


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