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Figured v. Carrizo (Marcellus), LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

December 8, 2017




         Pending before the court is the defendant's motion for summary judgment with respect to the plaintiff's negligence claim against it. (Doc. 25). Based upon the court's review of the motion and related materials, the defendant's motion will be GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following are the undisputed facts material to resolving the defendant's motion for summary judgment.[1] At the time of the alleged incident, the plaintiff, William Figured, worked as a “water hauler” for Holcombe Energy Resources, LLC (“Holcombe”). (Doc. 26-2). Figured's occupation involved delivering water via truck to and from oil and natural gas drilling sites for the purpose of assisting various companies with their fracking operations. (Id.). One of those companies was the defendant, Carrizo (Marcellus), LLC (“Carrizo”), which owned the “Shaskas Well Pad” premises where the incident occurred. (Doc. 1). Carrizo originally contracted with Rural Wastewater Management, Inc. (“Rural”) to have Rural remove and transport water from its natural gas wells and into storage tanks; Rural, in turn, enlisted Holcombe as a subcontractor for the same purpose. (Doc. 26). It is undisputed that Figured was working in the course and scope of his employment with Holcombe at the time when the incident occurred. (Id.).

         Figured testified that he had visited the Shaskas Well Pad for work-related purposes at least thirty times prior to the incident. (Doc. 26-2). The entrance to the site was ordinarily chained shut with a padlock. (Id.). Figured testified further that wide variations existed in the applicable safety and work protocols at the Shaskas Well Pad. (Id.). For instance, there was no uniformity to the manner in which water haulers were instructed to load and unload their water, the permissibility of using Carrizo-owned equipment to assist with the loading or unloading processes, or even the presence and availability of Carrizo employees on-site. (Id.).

         On the evening of December 29, 2013, Figured was in the process of completing a work assignment to deliver water to a holding tank at the Shaskas Well Pad. (Id.). It had recently snowed there, and no Carrizo employees were on-site at the time. (Id.). Specifically, Figured's job was to unload water from his truck and into one of several holding tanks by connecting a hose to either side and operating certain release valves. (Id.). The ground surrounding each of these on-site holding tanks formed a “containment area” consisting of tarps and barriers intended to catch and contain any dirty water that happened to spill out from the hose during the water transfer process or from over the top of the tanks themselves. (Id.). One of those containment areas was filled up with standing water to a level that exceeded the top of Figured's boots. (Id.). The hose was lying partially submerged inside the flooded containment area, so Figured had to step one foot into the pooled water to be able to pick up and attach the hose. (Id.).

         Next, Figured climbed up onto a ladder to ascertain whether the holding tanks had enough room inside them to proceed with pumping water into them. (Id.). This was a necessary maneuver for Figured to be able to complete his job. (Id.). Upon descending and dismounting from the ladder, however, Figured stepped backwards with his wet left foot onto the barrier that separates the containment area from the surrounding ground. (Id.). As he attempted to move his right foot from the ladder and back onto the barrier as well, his left foot slipped off the barrier and jammed into the ground, causing him to sustain injuries to his foot. (Id.).

         Figured filed the instant action against Carrizo, alleging that Carrizo negligently maintained the premises at the Shaskas Well Pad and caused Figured's injuries. (Doc. 1). Carrizo disputes this, arguing that it is exempt from liability due to Figured's status as an employee of an independent contractor. (Doc. 8). After the parties engaged in fact discovery, Carrizo moved for summary judgment. (Doc. 25). This matter has been fully briefed and is now ripe for summary judgment.


         “The court shall grant summary judgment 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). A factual dispute is “genuine” if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party, and it is “material” if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect the outcome of the trial under the governing substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-57 (1986); Gray v. York Newspapers, Inc., 957 F.2d 1070, 1078 (3d Cir. 1992). “[T]his 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.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48.

         To determine whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists, the court should consider the “pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986); Turner v. Schering-Plough Corp., 901 F.2d 335, 340 (3d Cir. 1990). In doing so, the court must view all the evidence and any inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Andreoli v. Gates, 482 F.3d 641, 647 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing Farrell v. Planters Lifesavers Co., 206 F.3d 271, 278 (3d Cir. 2000)). However, the court's function at the summary judgment stage “is not . . . to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. See also Marino v. Indus. Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004) (noting that the court may neither weigh the evidence nor make credibility determinations).

         Parties seeking to establish that a fact is or is not genuinely disputed may not rely on unsubstantiated allegations; rather, they must support such assertions by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record” to demonstrate that the adverse party's factual assertion either lacks support from cited materials or is unsupported by admissible evidence. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). See also Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324 (requiring evidentiary support for factual assertions made during summary judgment). A party's failure to properly support or contest an assertion of fact may result in that fact being considered undisputed for purposes of the summary judgment motion, although the court may also grant parties an opportunity to properly provide support for an asserted fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

         To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must affirmatively identify those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323-24. The moving party can satisfy this burden by showing that “on all the essential elements of its case on which it bears the burden of proof at trial, no reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party.” In re Bressman, 327 F.3d 229, 238 (3d Cir. 2003). See also Id. at 325.

         If the moving party meets this initial burden, the non-moving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to material facts” to avoid summary judgment. Boyle v. County of Allegheny, 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. ZenithRadio, 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)). Rather, the non-moving party must provide “sufficient evidence” for a jury to return a verdict in its favor. Id. “[I]f the [non-movant's] evidence is merely colorable or not ...

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