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Martinez v. Pilgrim's Pride Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

December 13, 2017

AMPARO MARTINEZ, Plaintiff-counter defendant,
v.
PILGRIM'S PRIDE CORPORATION, Defendant-counter plaintiff.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SIDNEY A. FITZWATER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In this lawsuit arising from injuries that plaintiff-counterdefendant Amparo Martinez (“Martinez”) sustained while working at defendant-counterplaintiff Pilgrim's Pride Corporation's (“Pilgrim's Pride's”) chicken processing facility, the court must determine whether Martinez is bound by the terms of a Partner Protection Plan Agreement (“Protection Agreement”) that waived her right to bring a lawsuit for damages relating to the incident in exchange for enhanced medical coverage and wage replacement benefits. Concluding that she is, the court grants Pilgrim's Pride's motion for summary judgment on its breach of contract counterclaim and dismisses this lawsuit with prejudice by judgment filed today.

         I

         Pilgrim's Pride, a non-subscriber to the Texas Worker's Compensation system, maintains the Pilgrim's Pride Corporation Partner Protection Plan (“Plan”), [1] an ERISA[2]- governed employee benefits plan. Under the Plan, all covered employees are entitled to “Basic Benefits, ” which provides for the payment of a certain amount of medical expenses and wage replacement benefits. After a workplace incident, employees are provided with the opportunity to select “Premium Benefits, ” which provides additional medical coverage and wage replacement benefits in exchange for a full waiver and release relating to the workplace incident. Appendix B to the Plan-the Protection Agreement-provides for the election between Basic and Premium Benefits. Under the rubric “OPPORTUNITY FOR INCREASED BENEFITS - Waiver and Release, ” D. App. 69 (bold font omitted), in bold font and within a textual box, the Protection Agreement states, in pertinent part:

If I have indicated below that I choose “Premium Benefits” under the Plan, then I understand and agree that I release and forever waive my rights under all statutes and common law to bring a lawsuit or other action against Pilgrim's and/or its officers, directors, owners, employees, representatives, agents, subsidiaries, affiliates, successors, or assigns, for any and all damages, death or other harm relating to the Incident. I AGREE THAT THIS WAIVER AND RELEASE WILL APPLY EVEN WHERE THE ONLY CAUSE OR A CONTRIBUTING CAUSE OF ANY SUCH INJURY WAS AN ACT OF NEGLIGENCE, GROSS NEGLIGENCE AND/OR NEGLIGENT FAILURE TO ACT BY PILGRIM'S OR OTHER ABOVE-NAMED PARTIES. My only remedy will be the Premium Benefits that I am eligible to receive under the Plan.

Id. (bold font omitted).

         Martinez was employed as a processor at Pilgrim's Pride's chicken-processing facility in Nacogdoches, Texas when on December 6, 2014 she slipped and fell while walking across the Pilgrim's Pride processing floor, shattering her left femur. Martinez was admitted to the Nacogdoches Memorial Hospital (“Memorial”) the following day, and on December 8, 2014 underwent an open reduction and internal fixation surgery. After her surgery, Martinez was admitted to Memorial's rehabilitation facility, where she remained until her discharge on January 9, 2015.

         After Martinez's surgery, Debra K. Frazier, LVN (“Frazier”), a licensed vocational nurse employed by Pilgrim's Pride as an Occupational Health Manager for its Nacogdoches facility, traveled to Memorial to meet with Martinez on at least three occasions.[3] Martinez and Pilgrim's Pride dispute what Frazier and Martinez discussed during these visits. It is undisputed, however, that on December 29, 2014 Martinez signed the signature page of the Protection Agreement, indicating that she was choosing eligibility for Premium Benefits under the Plan.

         Pursuant to her election under the Protection Agreement, Martinez received a total of 67 full weeks and one partial week of wage replacement benefits at $418.88 per week, through April 4, 2016. On October 31, 2016 she brought this lawsuit against Pilgrim's Pride.

         In her second amended complaint, Martinez alleges claims for non-subscriber negligence and for a declaration “determining asserted affirmative defenses of release, waiver, and election of remedies.” 2d Am. Compl. ¶ 5.10. Pilgrim's Pride counterclaims for breach of contract, alleging, inter alia, that it fully performed its obligations to provide Premium Benefits under the terms of the Protection Agreement, and that, by filing suit and making a jury demand, Martinez breached her agreement with Pilgrim's Pride. In connection with its counterclaim, Pilgrim's Pride seeks, inter alia, “specific performance in the form of enforcement of the [Protection Agreement] to dismiss Plaintiff's claims with prejudice as a matter of law[.]” Am. Counterclaim ¶ 11. Pilgrim's Pride now moves for summary judgment on Martinez's declaratory judgment claim and on its breach of contract counterclaim and seeks enforcement of the Plan through a dismissal of Martinez's lawsuit with prejudice. Martinez opposes the motion.

         II

         When a summary judgment movant will not have the burden of proof on a claim at trial, it can obtain summary judgment by pointing the court to the absence of evidence on any essential element of the nonmovant's claim. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once it does so, the nonmovant must go beyond her pleadings and designate specific facts demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Id. at 324; Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc) (per curiam). An issue is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmovant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The nonmovant's failure to produce proof as to any essential element renders all other facts immaterial. See TruGreen Landcare, L.L.C. v. Scott, 512 F.Supp.2d 613, 623 (N.D. Tex. 2007) (Fitzwater, J.). Summary judgment is mandatory where the nonmovant fails to meet this burden. Little, 37 F.3d at 1076.

         To be entitled to summary judgment on a claim for which a party will have the burden of proof at trial, the party “must establish ‘beyond peradventure all of the essential elements of the claim or defense.'” Bank One, Tex., N.A. v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 878 F.Supp. 943, 962 (N.D. Tex. 1995) (Fitzwater, J.) (quoting Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780 F.2d 1190, 1194 (5th Cir. 1986)). This means that the moving party must demonstrate that there are no genuine and material fact disputes and that it is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. See Martin v. Alamo Cmty. Coll. Dist., 353 F.3d 409, 412 (5th Cir. 2003). “The court has noted that the ‘beyond peradventure' standard is ‘heavy.'” Carolina Cas. Ins. Co. v. Sowell, 603 F.Supp.2d 914, 923-24 (N.D. Tex. 2009) (Fitzwater, C.J.) (quoting Cont'l Cas. Co. v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 2007 WL 2403656, at *10 (N.D. Tex. Aug. 23, 2007) (Fitzwater, J.)).

         III

         Pilgrim's Pride contends that the Protection Agreement is a “settlement agreement between the parties which covers the legal dispute at issue in this case, ” D. Br. 1, and it seeks to enforce the Protection Agreement through its breach of contract counterclaim ...


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