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PHILLIPS v. BRIDGESTONE/FIRESTONE

March 13, 1991

THOMAS PHILLIPS and wife FAYE PHILLIPS
v.
BRIDGESTONE/FIRESTONE, INC.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: NIXON

 JOHN T. NIXON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 The Court is in receipt of the defendant's motion for summary judgement and its memorandum in support thereof, the plaintiffs' memorandum in opposition, and one reply brief on behalf of each party. The issue before the Court is whether the defendant is a statutory employer for purposes of the Tennessee Worker's Compensation Act. If it is an "employer" under the Act, this negligence action must be dismissed because worker's compensation benefits would be the plaintiff's exclusive remedy. Tenn. Code. Ann. § 50-6-108 (1990).

 I.

 Plaintiff Thomas Phillips was injured on October 5, 1989 while working on the premises of the defendant, Bridgestone Tire Manufacturing, Inc. ["Bridgestone"], in Lavergne, Tennessee. The plaintiff was directly employed by Ogden Allied Plant Maintenance Company, Inc. ["Ogden Allied"], a corporation which supplies maintenance services to Bridgestone. Mr. Phillips was performing maintenance on a tire machine when the accident happened.

 Mr. Phillips alleges that on the date of the accident a Bridgestone employee told him to replace a roller on a tire assembly machine. This task involved climbing into the machine, so the employee assured him that the machine would not be operated while he was working. Complaint, Paragraph 3, Docket Entry No. 1. The machine was activated, however, and Mr. Phillips became caught between two parts and suffered serious injuries to his pelvis. Complaint, Paragraph 3.

 The plaintiff has filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Davidson County, Tennessee, against Ogden Allied for worker's compensation benefits. Exhibit E to Defendant's motion for Summary Judgment, Docket Entry No. 16. Mr. Phillips brought this action against Bridgestone alleging that his injuries were proximatly caused by the negligence of Bridgestone's employee, and Mrs. Phillips brought claims for her loss of services and companionship due to her husband's injuries. Complaint, Paragraphs 4 and 7.

 In its motion for summary judgment, Bridgestone argues that it was a statutory employer of Mr. Phillips within the meaning of the Tennessee Worker's Compensation laws, see Tenn. Code. Ann. § 50-6-113, and therefore this suit is barred under the statute's exclusive remedy provision. Tenn. Code. Ann. § 50-6-108. The plaintiffs contend that Ogden Allied was an independent contractor of Bridgestone, and therefore it is permissable to bring a common law tort action against Bridgestone as a third person under Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-112.

 Since this motion hinges on the nature of the relationship between Mr. Phillips and Bridgestone, it is important to describe in detail the facts surrounding Mr. Phillips' employment. Mr. Phillips is directly employed by Ogden Allied, which provides maintenance services to corporations across the nation. Although Ogden Allied provides maintenance services for many companies, Bridgestone is the only such company within Davidson County, Tennessee. Ogden Allied provides services to Bridgestone pursuant to a contract executed in 1983, which states in relevant part:

 
The scope of the work under this contract will consist of the maintenance operation in whole or in part at Bridgestone's plant at Lavergne, Tennessee, as and only when requested by Bridgestone. In addition, Bridgestone may authorize at its option other work in whole or in part. Allied will perform all work in a workmanlike manner, enforce strict discipline and order among its employees and shall not employ on the work any unfit person or anyone unskilled in the work assigned to him.

 Agreement Between Bridgestone and Ogden Allied, at 1, Exhibit D to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, Docket Entry No. 16 [hereinafter "Agreement"].

 At the time of the accident Mr. Phillips was working an 8 to 4 shift, five days a week, at the Bridgestone plant. Deposition of Thomas Phillips at 12, 15, Exhibit H to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, Docket Entry No. 19 [hereinafter "Phillips Deposition"]. Mr. Phillips and other Odgen Allied employees received their paychecks directly from Ogden Allied.

 At the time of the accident, Mr. Phillips was doing preventive maintenance on the Bridgestone tire machines. Preventive maintenance was done every day pursuant to a weekly schedule set by Bridgestone, but under the immediate supervision of an Ogden Allied employee named Don Bolin. Phillips Deposition, at 14. Ogden Allied was responsible for disciplining its own employees, and Bridgestone disciplined its own employees. Deposition of Mike Seneker, at 17, Exhibit J to Bridgestone's Reply to Plaintiff's Memorandum in opposition to Bridgestone's Summary Judgment Motion, Docket Entry No. 29 [hereinafter "Seneker Deposition"]. Bridgestone did not have the authority to discharge workers employed by Ogden Allied. Seneker Deposition, at 19.

 Mr. Phillips and other Ogden Allied workers are responsible for furnishing their own basic tools, and they can borrow additional tools from a store maintained on the premises by Bridgestone. Phillips Deposition, at 17-18. The employees also receive an allowance from Ogden Allied to help pay for their tools, and Bridgestone reimburses Ogden Allied for the full amount of the allowance. In addition, Ogden Allied employees wear coveralls furnished by Bridgestone; they arrive for work in street clothes, check out the coveralls from the Bridgestone store, and then return them at the end of the work day. Phillips Deposition, at 16.

 II.

 Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment may be granted

 
"if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."

 The Advisory Committee for the Federal Rules has noted that "The very mission of the summary judgment procedure is to pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial." Advisory Committee Notes on Rule 56, Federal Civil Judicial Procedure and Rules (West. Ed. 1990).

 In Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986), the U.S. Supreme Court explained the District Court's function in ruling upon a motion for summary judgment:

 
Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.
 
By its very terms, this standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.
 
As to materiality, the substantive law will identify which facts are material. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.
 
* * *
 
More important for present purposes, summary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact is "genuine," that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.
 
* * *

 477 U.S. at 247-8, 106 S. Ct. at 2509-12. (emphasis in original) (citations omitted).

 The party that opposes the motion has the burden to come forth with sufficient proof to support its claim, particularly when that party has had an opportunity to conduct discovery. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). It is true, however, that "in ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must construe the evidence in its most favorable light in favor of the party opposing the motion and against the movant. Further, the papers supporting the movant are closely scrutinized, whereas the opponent's are indulgently treated. It has been stated that: 'The purpose of the hearing on the motion for such a judgment is not to resolve factual issues. It is to determine whether there is any genuine issue of material fact in dispute . . .'" Bohn Aluminum & Brass Corp. v. Storm King Corp., 303 F.2d 425, 427 (6th Cir. 1962) (citations omitted). As the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals stated recently:

 
Summary judgment may only be granted when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions and affidavits demonstrate that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Rule 56(c), Fed. R. Civ. P. All facts and inferences to be drawn therefrom must be read in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Smith ...

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