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Latham v. Weyerhaeuser Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 3, 2019

WEYERHAEUSER COMPANY, et al., Defendants.


          GERALD J. PAPPERT, J.

         Tobias Latham was hired by Aerotek, Inc., which provides temporary staffing services to companies in various industries. Aerotek sent Latham to work at Weyerhaeuser Company's Easton, Pennsylvania Facility, where Latham was struck by lumber that fell off a forklift. He now brings this personal injury suit against Weyerhaeuser and its employee, Phillip Rissmiller. Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that they are immune from suit under the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act. The Court, after reviewing the record and holding a hearing, grants the Motion for the reasons that follow.


         On September 21, 2009, Aerotek contracted with Weyerhaeuser to provide temporary staffing services. (Weyerhaeuser-Aerotek Agreement 2, ECF No. 27-8.)[1]The Agreement between the companies set forth the terms and conditions for those services; namely, Aerotek maintained responsibility for “all employment matters, ” including, inter alia, daily check-ins, hiring, firing, discipline, payroll processing, candidate interviews and other issues raised by assigned personnel. (Id. at 11.) Moreover, the Agreement defined Aerotek as the “sole Employer for personnel” that would cover expenses related to “payroll, insurance, benefits and associate taxes.” (Id.) For its part, Weyerhaeuser would control the “daily management and supervision of all [Aerotek] assigned personnel.” (Id.)

         In August of 2017, Aerotek recruiter Zachary Long assigned Latham to work as a groundskeeper at Weyerhaeuser's Easton Facility. (Latham Dep. 13:4-11; 14:15-17, ECF No. 26-1.) Before starting, Latham met with Weyerhaeuser's Site Operations Manager Derek Roche to discuss job-site expectations, dress-code requirements and general protocol. (Latham Dep. 14:4-9.)

         When Latham arrived at the Easton Facility for his first day of work, he was trained by other Weyerhaeuser employees and watched safety videos on Weyerhaeuser's computers. (Latham Dep. 6:23-24; 19:7-20; 23:9-17.) At the beginning of every shift, Roche assigned Latham tasks to complete. (Id. at 18:5-16.) Mike Miller, a Weyerhaeuser day-shift supervisor, reassigned Latham to other projects as needed. (Id. at 20:5-10; Roche Dep. 94:10-13, ECF No. 26-1.) Aerotek did not maintain an on-site supervisor to oversee Latham. (Roche Dep. 94:19-22.) Before and after his shifts, Latham clocked in and out of work. (Latham Dep. 33:10-18.) Roche verified the hours and input the data into a website provided by Aerotek so that Aerotek could pay temporary workers like Latham. (Roche Dep. at 36:6-14.)

         The Weyerhaeuser-Aerotek Agreement gave Aerotek the responsibility to “provide necessary and adequate personal protective equipment (“PPE”) for its employees/subcontractors.” (Weyerhaeuser-Aerotek Agreement 6.) In actuality, however, Weyerhaeuser provided Latham with tools such as lumber-wrapping equipment, a chainsaw, a tape measure, a speed square and a two-way radio. (Latham Dep. 26:9-28:19; Roche Dep. 96:13-18.) He also wore protective clothing provided by Weyerhaeuser, including a Weyerhaeuser-logoed red hard hat, hearing protection and a safety vest. (Latham Dep. 35:14-36; 58:11-22; Roche Dep. 96:13-18.) Additionally, Weyerhaeuser furnished Latham with funds to purchase steel-toed boots. (Latham Dep. 36:7-21; Roche Dep. 96:13-18.) When Latham had any questions about the equipment, he asked Miller. (Latham Dep. 30:20-31:2.)

         On August 28, 2017, while Latham was working a shift, Weyerhaeuser employee Phillip Rissmiller was operating a forklift carrying 48-foot-long pieces of lumber banded together with plastic straps. (Compl. ¶¶ 13-14, ECF No. 1; Am. Answer ¶¶ 13-14, ECF No. 19; Pl.'s Resp. Defs.' Interrogs. 2, ECF No. 26-1.) The forklift struck another piece of lumber, which caused the lumber on the forklift to break free from its bands and hit Latham, injuring his head, shoulder, back and knee. (Compl. ¶¶ 15-16; Am. Answer ¶¶ 15-16; Pl.'s Resp. Defs.' Interrogs. 3.)

         A few weeks after the accident, Roche sent an email to Jim Tersigni, an Aerotek account manager, stating that Latham had failed to follow “safe work place procedures several times in the last two days, and he does not seem to be responding to our coaching.” (October 10, 2017 Email, ECF No. 27-9.) Roche asked Aerotek to make October 10, 2017 Latham's “last day.” (Id.) Tersigni replied a few hours later: “I spoke with Tobias. He knows not to return tomorrow.” (Id.)

         In 2018, Latham filed a workers' compensation claim against Aerotek for the injuries sustained in the August 28, 2017 incident. (Pl.'s Resp. Defs.' Interrogs. 7.) He later settled the claim. (Id.) He subsequently filed this lawsuit. Weyerhaeuser and Rissmiller now argue that, under the borrowed servant doctrine, they are immune from suit under the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act (“PWCA”). See (Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. (“Defs.' Mem.”), ECF No. 26). In the alternative, they contend that Latham contractually waived any and all claims against them. (Id.) Plaintiff opposed Defendants' Motion. (Pl.'s Resp. Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. (“Pl.'s Resp.”), ECF No. 27.) The Court heard oral argument on October 1, 2019. (ECF No. 33.)


         Summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine issue of material fact and if, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Smathers v. Multi-Tool, Inc./Multi-Plastics, Inc. Emp. Health & Welfare Plan, 298 F.3d 191, 194 (3d. Cir. 2002); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A genuine issue of material facts exists where “a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A mere scintilla of evidence in support of the non-moving party will not suffice. Id. at 252. There must be evidence by which a jury could reasonably find for the non-moving party. Id.

         When reviewing the record, a court “must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences in that party's favor.” Prowelv. Wise Bus. Forms, 579 F.3d 285, 286 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Norfolk S. Ry. Co v. Basell USA Inc., 512 F.3d 86, 91 (3d Cir. 2008)). A court may not, however, make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence in considering motions for summary judgment. See Reeves v. Sanderson ...

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