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Guevara v. WCA Waste Corp.

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

April 25, 2017

RUBEN GUEVARA, Appellant
v.
WCA WASTE CORPORATION, WASTE CORPORATION OF TEXAS, L.P. AND EROL MAURICIO GONZALEZ, Appellees

          On Appeal from the 270th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 2015-27521

          Panel consists of Chief Justice Radack and Justices Brown and Lloyd.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Harvey Brown Justice

         An employee of a temporary staffing agency, Ruben Guevara, was injured while working for a waste disposal company, Waste Corporation of Texas, L.P., as a helper on a garbage truck driven by Waste Corp.'s employee, Erol Mauricio Gonzales. Guevara sued Waste Corp. and Gonzales for negligence and gross negligence. In response, Waste Corp. and Gonzales filed a plea to the jurisdiction, arguing that Guevara's claims were barred by the exclusive remedy provision of the Texas Workers' Compensation Act.[1] The trial court sustained the plea and dismissed Guevara's claims.

         On appeal, Guevara contends that (1) Waste Corp. and Gonzales failed to meet their burden of proving that Waste Corp. was Guevara's employer and a subscriber of workers' compensation insurance, (2) a plea to the jurisdiction was an improper procedure for determining whether his claims were barred by the TWCA's exclusive remedy provision, and (3) the trial court abused its discretion by implicitly denying his motion for continuance to conduct additional discovery. We affirm.

         Factual Background

         As their names suggest, Waste Corp. is a waste disposal company, and United Staffing Management LLC is a temporary staffing agency. Waste Corp. and United entered into an agreement by which United provided Waste Corp. with "qualified temporary employees . . . to perform waste collection and related services . . . ."

         Under the agreement, United selected the employees, verified workforce eligibility, maintained personnel and payroll records, calculated wages due from information provided by Waste Corp., withheld and remitted necessary taxes, issued checks for wages, and removed the employees at Waste Corp.'s request. United was required to have workers' compensation insurance for the temporary employees and to name Waste Corp. as an insured under the policy.

         The agreement provided that the temporary employees were and would remain United employees and were not entitled to participate in any of Waste Corp.'s employee benefits plans. The agreement further provided that the temporary employees would perform under Waste Corp.'s "direction, supervision, and control" and that Waste Corp. would "undertake to provide all information, instructions, training or supervision customary or necessary to the performance of the duties assigned."

         In his uncontroverted affidavit, Waste Corp.'s Regional Vice President, Matt Graham, stated that workers provided by United reported to Waste Corp.'s site and that Waste Corp. directed and controlled the details of their work, determined their hours and work schedules, set their service routes, and verified their time. Graham further stated that Waste Corp. could, in its discretion, directly hire United workers for permanent positions and terminate them from their temporary assignments.

         Pursuant to the agreement, United assigned Guevara to work for Waste Corp. as a driver's helper, assisting garbage truck drivers on residential collection routes. Graham averred that driver-helpers like Guevara reported to Waste Corp. drivers and received on-the-job training from them. Graham further stated that, while working for Waste Corp., Guevara reported directly to Waste Corp.'s facility at the beginning and end of each work shift and was directed by the drivers whom he assisted. According to Graham, Guevara identified himself as "Carlos Ramirez" and was known to Waste Corp. by that name.

         A few weeks into the job, Guevara was injured while working as a helper for a truck driver on a residential collection route. The truck was owned by Waste Corp. and was driven by a permanent Waste Corp. employee, Erol Mauricio Gonzales.

         Procedural Background

         Guevara sued Waste Corp. and Gonzales in state district court.[2] Guevara asserted claims for negligence and gross negligence. Waste Corp. and Gonzales asserted as an affirmative defense the exclusive remedy provision of the TWCA. They also filed a plea to the jurisdiction, arguing that the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers' Compensation had exclusive jurisdiction over Guevara's claims. The evidence attached to their plea included (1) an affidavit from Graham, and (2) an affidavit of WCA Waste Corporation Director of Risk Management, Melissa Valerio, who explained Waste Corp.'s workers' compensation insurance.

          Before responding to the plea, Guevara filed traditional and no-evidence motions for partial summary judgment on Waste Corp.'s and Gonzales's exclusive remedy defense. Guevara argued that Waste Corp. was not his employer, that Waste Corp. did not provide workers' compensation insurance for United employees, and that Waste Corp. identified him as a United employee when it reported his injuries to its workers' compensation insurer.

         The evidence attached to Guevara's traditional-summary-judgment motion included (1) the agreement between Waste Corp. and United; (2) a workers' compensation injury report on Guevara's injury submitted by Waste Corp. to its workers' compensation insurer; (3) a letter from counsel for a local hospital stating that a Waste Corp. representative had advised the hospital that Guevara (as opposed to "Carlos Ramirez") was not a Waste Corp. employee; (4) a letter from Guevara's counsel to Waste Corp.'s claims adjuster, Emma Williams, requesting a copy of Waste Corp.'s workers' compensation insurance policy; (5) a set of United checks for "Carlos Ramirez"; and (6) a certificate of training issued by United to "Carlos Ramirez." The letter from the hospital, the set of checks, and the certificate of training were never authenticated.

         Guevara also responded to Waste Corp.'s and Gonzales's plea. In his response, Guevara made substantially the same arguments as he did in his summary-judgment motions, and he stated that the trial court's analysis was "guided by" the exclusive remedy provision. He did not object that a plea to the jurisdiction was an improper procedure for determining whether his claims were barred.

         After the parties briefed the merits of the plea and summary-judgment motions, Guevara filed an unverified, one-page motion for a continuance to conduct additional discovery. The motion was filed over four months after Waste Corp. and Gonzales filed their plea and over ...


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