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Littleton v. Ridley USA Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

March 16, 2018




         Billy Littleton got hurt on the job. Placed at Defendant Ridley USA, Inc. (“Ridley”) through a temporary placement agency, Littleton suffered an injury to his arm and hand while working on the production line. He collected workers' compensation through the temporary agency, as he is entitled under Kentucky law. He then filed this lawsuit against Ridley alleging negligence based on his injuries. But because the Kentucky Workers' Compensation Act immunizes employers from common law tort liability, Littleton cannot collect from Ridley. As such, his claim fails as a matter of law, and Ridley's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.


         Plaintiff was employed through a temporary staffing agency, Nesco Resource, LLC (“Nesco”) and assigned to work at Ridley's facility in Flemingsburg, Kentucky. [DE 1');">1');">1');">1-1');">1');">1');">1, p. 2]. Ridley, which manufacturers various agricultural and farm feed products, had Littleton working on a “clamshell, ” which is used as part of the pre-packaging process. [DE 1');">1');">1');">1-2, 2');">p. 2]. Plaintiff alleges that Ridley instructed employees, including Littleton, to scrape molasses material from the clamshell to keep it working properly. [Id.]. While Plaintiff was doing so, the clamshell closed and crushed Plaintiff's arm. [Id.]. Coworkers freed Littleton who was taken to Fleming County Hospital before being flown to UK Hospital for trauma care. [Id.]. Littleton sustained injuries to his left arm and had his left thumb amputated. [Id. at p. 3');">p. 3].

         Littleton sued Ridley in Fleming County Circuit Court in November 201');">1');">1');">17 alleging negligence per se against Ridley based on alleged violations of federal law. [DE 1');">1');">1');">1]. In particular, Littleton argued that Ridley violated 29 C.F.R. § 1');">1');">1');">191');">1');">1');">10.21');">1');">1');">12(a)(1');">1');">1');">1). [Id.]. The Kentucky Labor Cabinet investigated and found Ridley violated the regulation by failing to provide adequate guard measures on the clamshell. [DE 1');">1');">1');">1-1');">1');">1');">1, p. 3');">p. 3].

         Littleton's lawsuit seeks damages under KRS 446.070, which allows recovery of damages sustained by violation of a statute. In particular, Littleton claims that because the Kentucky Labor Cabinet determined Ridley violated 29 C.F.R. § 1');">1');">1');">191');">1');">1');">10.21');">1');">1');">12, Littleton is entitled to damages under the Kentucky statute. [DE 1');">1');">1');">1-1');">1');">1');">1, pp. 3');">p. 3-4]. Littleton seeks damages for medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, as well as costs, and attorney's fees. [DE 1');">1');">1');">1-1');">1');">1');">1, 5');">p. 5].

         Defendants removed this action on the basis of diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1');">1');">1');">1441');">1');">1');">1 in December 201');">1');">1');">17. [DE 1');">1');">1');">1]. Among its various defenses, Ridley claims it is entitled to “up-the-ladder” immunity under the Kentucky Workers' Compensation Act. [DE 5, 2');">p. 2]. Based on that defense, Ridley filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings or, in the alternative, Summary Judgment. [DE 1');">1');">1');">14]. Ridley argues that the Workers' Compensation Act is the exclusive remedy for Littleton and thus Plaintiff may not recover against Ridley. [Id.].

         Specifically, Defendant argues that Littleton was covered by a policy of workers' compensation through Nesco, Littleton's immediate employer. [DE 1');">1');">1');">14-1');">1');">1');">1, 2');">p. 2]. Littleton, Ridley argues, received the workers' compensation benefits. [Id.]. Ridley argues this immunizes it from any liability. Ridley filed its Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings or, in the alternative, Summary Judgment in January. [DE 1');">1');">1');">14]. Plaintiff responded [DE 20], and Ridley replied [21');">1');">1');">1], making the matter ripe for review.


         Plaintiff moves under Rule 1');">1');">1');">12(c) for judgment on the pleadings or, in the alternative, under Rule 56 for summary judgment.

         (i) Judgment on the Pleadings

         “After the pleadings are closed . . . a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 1');">1');">1');">12(c). Under such a motion “all well-pleaded material allegations of the opposing party must be taken as true, and the motion may be granted only if the moving party is nevertheless clearly entitled to judgment.” Tucker v. Middleburg-Legacy Place, 539 F.3d 545');">539 F.3d 545, 549 (6th Cir. 2008) (quoting JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. v. Winget, 51');">1');">1');">10 F.3d 577');">51');">1');">1');">10 F.3d 577, 581');">1');">1');">1 (6th Cir. 2007)). A motion for judgment on the pleadings requires the same “standard of review employed for a motion to dismiss under Rule 1');">1');">1');">12(b)(6).” Florida Power Corp. v. FirstEnergy Corp., 1');">1');">1');">10 F.3d 996');">81');">1');">1');">10 F.3d 996, 999 (6th Cir. 201');">1');">1');">15) (quoting Tucker, 539 F.3d at 549).

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 1');">1');">1');">12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the plaintiff's complaint. A complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The Court views the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations contained within it. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662');">556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544');">550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Although a court must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations, they need not accept legal conclusions as true. Id.

         (ii) ...

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