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Rolick v. Collins Pine Co.

filed: February 5, 1991.


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania; D.C. Civil No. 87-00005E.

Becker and Nygaard, Circuit Judges, and Louis H. Pollak, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Nygaard


NYGAARD, Circuit Judge

In this diversity case we must decide whether William Rolick is an independent contractor or a statutory employee within the meaning of the Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act, 77 Pa. Con. Stat. Ann. §§ 1-1603 (Purdon 1987) ("PWCA"). Rolick was a logger. One winter day while cutting timber in the Allegheny National Forest, Rolick was struck by a birch tree which broke his neck. He is now a quadriplegic. At the time of the accident, Rolick was cutting timber for the Nortim Corporation ("Nortim") and Collins Pine Company, Kane Hardwood Division ("Kane") and sued Kane to recover for those injuries. After a nonjury trial, the district court decided that Rolick was a statutory employee of Kane within the meaning of the PWCA and, therefore, dismissed his complaint, limiting Rolick to a remedy from workmen's compensation. We will reverse.


Kane entered into a Timber Sale Contract with the United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, allowing Kane to cut and remove timber from a tract of land in Pennsylvania. Kane then entered into a Logging Services Contract with Nortim, a logging insurance group, to select, hire, schedule, and monitor loggers who would actually cut and haul the timber. Nortim agreed to make workmen's compensation insurance available to the loggers and introduce a mandatory safety awareness program. Nortim in turn hired the Pennsylvania Forestry Association to monitor and instruct the loggers on safety practices. Nortim employees also monitored the loggers to insure that the work was performed in accordance with contract requirements and provided field instructions on what and where to cut.

Rolick entered into a Cutting and Hauling Agreement with Nortim to fell, skid and/or haul the timber. The agreement designated Rolick an independent contractor and outlined his unconditional right to control work methods as well as his workmen. Nortim paid Rolick for the timber he cut, did not withhold social security or income tax from his check, and, because he was a contractor, issued him a 1099 federal tax form instead of an employee's W-2 form at the end of the year. Kane waived any right to control the loggers' methods, and the logging contract referred to them as independent contractors.

On the work site, Rolick performed his contractual obligations. Nortim never told him how to do the job, when to begin and end, how long to work, what tools and equipment to use or how many or which employees to use. Although Rolick understood that he would be considered an employee for workmen's compensation purposes, he actually paid for this coverage. Nortim merely deducted premium payments from Rolick's check.

While working under this agreement, Rolick suffered neck and back injuries from the falling tree and filed this suit. Following a bench trial on the specific issue of Rolick's employee/independent contractor status, the court directed the parties to file memoranda on the applicability of sections 302(a) and 302(b) of the PWCA, 77 Pa. Con. Stat. Ann. §§ 461, 462. The district court then dismissed Rolick's claim, concluding Rolick was an employee of subcontractor Nortim within the meaning of the PWCA, a statutory employee of Kane, and limited by Pennsylvania law to his workmen's compensation remedy. 708 F. Supp. 111.


The sole issue on appeal is whether the district court properly concluded that Kane was Rolick's statutory employer and entitled to tort immunity. The material facts are not at issue. The district court's decision depends upon interpretation and application of Pennsylvania law. Thus, our review is plenary. Dent v. Cunningham, 786 F.2d 173, 175 (3d Cir. 1986).


The PWCA provides benefits to injured employees regardless of fault. See 77 Pa. Con. Stat. Ann. § 1-1603 (Purdon 1987). Employers bear the cost of these benefits and the PWCA protects them from other tort liability for work-related accidents. 77 Pa. Con. Stat. Ann. § 481(a). Kohler v. United ...

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