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Zendejas v. Val Energy, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Kansas

March 31, 2014

JESUS ZENDEJAS, Plaintiff,
v.
VAL ENERGY, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

K. GARY SEBELIUS, Magistrate Judge.

This matter comes before the court upon Defendant Val Energy's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 13). In this case, Plaintiff Jesus Zendejas brings a Kansas common-law negligence claim against Defendant Val Energy. Val Energy argues the court should grant summary judgment because Zendejas was a statutory employee of Val Energy at the time of his injuries and is therefore barred from bringing a negligence claim under the exclusive-remedy provision of the Kansas Workers Compensation Act. For the reasons explained below, the court agrees and grants summary judgment in favor of Val Energy.

I. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."[1] A fact is "material" if it is "essential to the proper disposition of the claim."[2] An issue of fact is "genuine" "if there is sufficient evidence on each side so that a rational trier of fact could resolve the issue either way."[3] The court views the evidence and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.[4]

The movant bears the initial burden of establishing the lack of a genuine issue of material fact and the entitlement to a judgment as a matter of law.[5] To meet this standard, a movant that does not bear the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial need not negate the claims of the opposing party; instead, the moving party can simply point out the absence of evidence for the other party on an essential element of that party's claim.[6]

If the movant carries this initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial."[7] The nonmovant may not rest on mere allegations or denials of its pleading.[8] Rather, the nonmovant must give "specific facts that would be admissible in evidence in the event of trial from which a rational trier of fact could find for the nonmovant."[9] "Conclusory and self-serving affidavits are not sufficient" to show disputed material facts.[10] In addition, the nonmovant cannot rely "on ignorance of facts, on speculation, or on suspicion, and may not escape summary judgment in the mere hope that something will turn up at trial."[11]

II. Facts

Val Energy is a contract driller of oil and gas wells. The nature of Val Energy's business requires its drilling rigs to be moved from one site to the next every eight to twelve days. Despite this fact, Val Energy has never moved its own rigs and it lacks the specialized equipment to do so. To accomplish this, Val Energy relies on Rainbow Trucking to transport and set up its rigs. Val Energy does not provide Rainbow Trucking with the tools or employees it would need to transport or set up a drilling rig.

On March 4, 2011, Zendejas was injured while working within the scope of his employment as a laborer with Rainbow Trucking, LLC. Zendejas was "working to level"[12] Val Energy's rig, which Rainbow Trucking was transporting to advance a contract between Val Energy and Clear Exploration, Inc. Val Energy had entered into a written contract with Clear Exploration, requiring Val Energy to furnish an oil rig and to drill at the well site location. Rainbow Trucking was not a party to that contract, nor was Rainbow Trucking mentioned in that contract. No written contract formalizing the relationship between Val Energy and Rainbow Trucking has been presented.

While Zendejas contends that no contract exists between Val Energy and Rainbow Trucking, Zendejas admits that "some sort of arrangement was made between Val Energy and Rainbow Trucking in which Val Energy requested that Rainbow Trucking move its drilling rig."[13]

Brandi Wyer, the operations manager of Val Energy for the last eight years, testified that there was not a written contract, [14] but said there was a contract.[15] The undisputed evidence demonstrates a clear and consistent history of the two businesses working together. Wyer stated that, to her knowledge, Rainbow Trucking is the only company Val Energy had ever used to move its rigs.[16] Wyer also testified that it is commonplace for an oil driller and a company such as Rainbow Trucking to not have a written contract. No disputes have been raised about the factual accuracy of Wyer's testimony, and Zendejas has not produced evidence suggesting her testimony is inaccurate. In addition, Val Energy produced a written invoice[17] it received from Rainbow Trucking for moving Val Energy's rig at the time of Zendejas' injuries.

Zendejas was paid workers compensation benefits through Rainbow Trucking and its insurer after his accident. Zendejas filed the present common-law negligence action against Val Energy on February 12, 2013. He alleges a "falling chain guard" struck him, because one of Val Energy's employees negligently unhooked it from the rig.

III. Discussion

The Kansas Workers Compensation Act, K.S.A. ยง 44-501, et. seq., provides injured workers with a means to be compensated for their injuries without having to prove common-law negligence by their employers.[18] The Act provides injured workers a more certain and expeditious recovery, and in exchange, employers receive a more limited and determinate liability through the Act's ...


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