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Robles v. Mount Franklin Food, L.L.C.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Eighth District, El Paso

August 14, 2019

JESSE ROBLES, Appellant,
v.
MOUNT FRANKLIN FOOD, L.L.C., D/B/A AZAR NUT COMPANY, Appellee.

          Appeal from County Court at Law No. 3 of El Paso County, Texas (TC # 2016-DCV-2248)

          Before McClure, C.J., Rodriguez, and Palafox, JJ.

          OPINION

          ANN CRAWFORD McCLURE, CHIEF JUSTICE

         A mishap in an industrial workplace injured Jesse Robles. His regular employer, Southwest Staffing, had sent him as a temporary worker to Mount Franklin Food, LLC, that does business as Azar Nut Company (hereinafter "Azar Nut"). It was an Azar Nut employee that allegedly caused the industrial accident resulting in Robles's injury. Southwest Staffing's workers' compensation carrier accepted Robles's claim and paid him medical and indemnity benefits. Robles then sued Azar Nut, who prevailed on the trial court to dismiss the suit based on the exclusive remedy provisions of the Texas Workers' Compensation Act. We affirm that decision.

         BACKGROUND

         Azar Nut runs a food processing plant. It has its own employees, but apparently needs temporary help. So, it turned to Southwest Staffing who provides temporary workers under a contract that specifies the terms of that arrangement. Robles was such a temporary worker. While performing his job on April 2, 2015, he was injured when a regular Azar Nut employee, Alejandro Galvez, misloaded a large bag of nuts using a forklift. A hook apparatus fell on Robles injuring him. He pursued two avenues of relief. First, he filed a workers' compensation claim with Texas Mutual Insurance Company under an insurance policy secured by Southwest Staffing. Second, he filed a lawsuit against both Azar Nut and Galvez. That suit alleges that Galvez was negligent in operating the forklift. It also alleged the Azar Nut, through its employees, agents, contractors and representative was negligent in various ways, some specific to the use of the forklift, and some more general, such as failures to warn, inspect, train, supervise, and enforce safety regulations. The suit also alleged Azar Nut was negligent in hiring Galvez, and in entrusting a forklift to him.

         Azar Nut and Galvez answered, asserting as an affirmative defense that Robles's claim was barred by the exclusive remedy provision in the Texas Workers' Compensation Act ("TWCA"). Tex.Lab.Code Ann. § 408.001(a). Through an amended petition, Robles dropped Galvez as a party and asserted claims solely against Azar Nut.

         Azar Nut then filed the pleading that leads to this appeal. In what was labeled its "Plea to the Jurisdiction and Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative Motion to Abate" Azar Nut argued that Robles's sole remedy was the recovery of benefits under Southwest Staffing's workers' compensation policy. The motion was premised on Section 406.034 of the Labor Code that provides:

For workers' compensation insurance purposes, if a temporary employment service elects to obtain workers' compensation insurance, the client of the temporary employment service and the temporary employment service are subject to Sections 406.034 and 408.001.

Tex. Lab.Code Ann. § 93.004(b). In turn, Section 408.001 provides that workers' compensation benefits are an employee's exclusive remedy:

Recovery of workers' compensation benefits is the exclusive remedy of an employee covered by workers' compensation insurance coverage or a legal beneficiary against the employer or an agent or employee of the employer for the death of or a work-related injury sustained by the employee.

Id. at § 408.001(a).[1]

         Azar Nut's motion was supported by the affidavit of its human resource officer who swore that Southwest Staffing assigns "temporary employees to work temporary employment positions" at Azar Nut per an agreement between the two. Further, Jesse Robles was such a temporary employee on the date he was injured. The motion was also supported by an affidavit of a senior manager from Texas Mutual Insurance Company who provides workers' compensation coverage to Southwest Staffing. That affidavit proved up and attached the Southwest Staffing's workers' compensation insurance policy in effect on the date of the accident. That policy also included "Alternate Employer Endorsement" that named Azar Nut as an insured.[2] The affidavit also documents that Robles actually filed a claim under the workers' compensation policy and successfully collected medical and income benefits. Robles filed a response raising several issues that we discuss below. The trial court granted Azar Nut's motion and dismissed the case.

         PLEA TO THE JURISDICTION ...


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