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Tracy v. Buena Vista Theatrical Group

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

February 4, 2015



MARY M. LISI, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendant's, Buena Vista Theatrical Group d/b/a Disney Theatrical Group ("Defendant"), motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated herein, Defendant's motion is granted.

I. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). An issue is "genuine" if the pertinent evidence is such that a rational factfinder could resolve the issue in favor of either party, and a fact is "material" if it "has the capacity to sway the outcome of the litigation under the applicable law." National Amusements, Inc. v. Town of Dedham, 43 F.3d 731, 735 (1st Cir. 1995).

The moving party bears the burden of showing the Court that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Id . Once the movant has made the requisite showing, the nonmoving party must point to specific facts demonstrating a trial worthy issue. Id . The Court views all facts and draws all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Continental Casualty Co. v. Canadian Universal Insurance Co., 924 F.2d 370 (1st Cir. 1991).

II. Background[1]

In early 2011, Defendant presented a production of the Lion King at the Providence Performing Arts Center ("PPAC"). It is Defendant's regular business to present live theater productions using labor provided to it by theaters such as PPAC. Defendant's presentation of the Lion King was governed by an agreement ("Agreement") with PPAC. PPAC provided "production labor" for the performance. The Agreement defined production labor as stagehands, wardrobe personnel, loaders, and musicians. The Agreement provided that PPAC was the employer of production labor. The Agreement noted, however, that PPAC was the "general employer" of production labor while Defendant was the "special employer" of production labor. Buchanan Affidavit at ¶ 4; Docket #13. Defendant was responsible for reimbursing PPAC for "all salaries related to... [p]roduction [l]abor" as well as "all required applicable, documented and actually paid FICA, unemployment insurance and workers' compensation insurance premiums...." Buchanan Affidavit, Exhibit A at § 9.1; Docket #13-1 (emphasis added).

On February 20, 2011, Plaintiff, Kenneth Tracy ("Plaintiff"), was working as part of the production labor on the Lion King production. Defendant directed Plaintiff's work. Defendant had the right to "require that [PPAC] not engage or terminate" Plaintiff's employment if he "did not meet [Defendant's] standards, in [Defendant's] sole discretion...." Buchanan Affidavit, Exhibit A at pg. 31 ¶ 14; Docket #13-1. Pursuant to the Agreement, Defendant paid PPAC for Plaintiff's services, including the premium for workers' compensation insurance. Plaintiff was injured when he was forced to jump into a set trailer to avoid being struck by it as it fell toward him.

On or about February 2, 2012, Plaintiff filed a complaint against PPAC in Rhode Island Worker's Compensation Court. Plaintiff received $68, 394.92 in indemnity and $8, 740.09 in medical workers' compensation benefits as a result of his injury. On or about February 13, 2014, Plaintiff instituted this action against Defendant in Rhode Island Superior Court. The action was subsequently removed to this Court. In the complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant provided negligent direction to him and was negligent in failing to supply sufficient equipment and personnel.

Defendant contends that the Rhode Island Workers' Compensation Act bars Plaintiff's claim. Specifically, Defendant argues that, as the special employer, Defendant is immune from suit. Defendant also argues that double recovery is contrary to the intent of the Workers' Compensation Act.

Plaintiff argues that his claim is not barred by the Workers' Compensation Act. Plaintiff contends that he must have had actual or constructive knowledge that Defendant was his employer in order for Defendant to be immune from suit. Plaintiff argues that without this knowledge, he was unable to make a decision with regard to his right to opt out of workers' compensation coverage. Plaintiff also argues that double recovery is not an issue because PPAC voluntarily agreed to waive any third party lien.

III. Analysis

R.I. Gen. Laws § 28-29-20 provides, in part, that an individual's right to compensation under the Workers' Compensation Act is "in lieu of all rights and remedies as to that injury... either at common law or otherwise against an employer...." R.I. Gen. Laws § 28-29-20. "The practical effect of this provision is that an employer is immune from suit when an injured employee is entitled to recovery under the Workers' Compensation Act." Urena v. Theta Products, Inc., 899 A.2d 449, 452 (R.I. 2006). An injured employee who has received workers' compensation benefits may, however, seek further recovery from an entity that has not been granted immunity under § 28-29-20. Id.

The Agreement identified PPAC as Plaintiff's general employer and Defendant as Plaintiff's special employer. According to the Workers' Compensation Act, the term "[g]eneral employer' includes but is not limited to temporary help companies and employee leasing companies and means a person who for consideration and as the regular course of its business supplies an employee... to another person." R.I. Gen. Laws § 28-29-2(6)(i). A "special employer' means a person who contracts for services with a general employer for the use of an employee...." Id. at (ii). Special employers enjoy immunity from suit. Sorenson v. Colibri Corp., 650 A.2d 125, 132 (R.I. 1994) ...

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