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Sims v. VC999 Packaging Systems

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

January 24, 2018

BRIAN C. SIMS, Plaintiff,
v.
VC999 PACKAGING SYSTEMS, et al., Defendants.

          GARY FREDERICK PISERCHIA, ESQ. THOMAS F. FLYNN, III, ESQ. FLYNN & ASSOCIATES, PC ATTORNEYS FOR PLAINTIFF BRIAN C. SIMS

          ROBERT V. DELL'OSA, ESQ. COZEN AND O'CONNOR AND MICHAEL P. NOLAN, ESQ. (PRO HAC VICE) HUSCH BLACKWELL LLP ATTORNEYS FOR DEFENDANT EXPRESS SCRIPTS, INC.

          OPINION

          HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Brian C. Sims (hereinafter, “Plaintiff”) brings this case against Defendants VC 999 Packaging Systems, Eagle Technologies Group, and Express Scripts, Inc., alleging that Defendants VC 999 Packaging Systems and Eagle Technologies Group manufactured, designed, distributed, or installed an industrial machine that was defectively designed or which they failed to adequately warn about, which resulted in serious bodily injury to Plaintiff. As relevant here, Plaintiff alleges that his employer, Defendant Express Scripts, Inc. (hereinafter, “ESI” or “Defendant ESI”), willfully altered, removed, or permitted the non-existence of safety features on the same industrial machine and was substantially certain such action could result in harm to its employees, including the injury suffered by Plaintiff while utilizing the industrial machine. Defendant ESI moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint, arguing that Plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted because the New Jersey Workers' Compensation Act, N.J.S.A. § 34:15-1, et seq., establishes the sole remedy available against his employer for his injury during the course of his employment. The principal issue to be decided is whether Plaintiff has stated a claim of relief within the exception to the Workers' Compensation Act permitting a covered employee's suit against his or her employer for “intentional wrongs, ” as permitted by N.J.S.A. § 34:15-8. For the following reasons, the Court finds that Plaintiff has not stated such a claim and will grant Defendant ESI's motion to dismiss without prejudice.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND [1]

         The Amended Complaint arises out of an on-the-job injury Plaintiff suffered on August 24, 2015, while working for ESI. (Amend. Compl. at ¶¶ 11, 17.) Plaintiff was either working on or utilizing an industrial machine, referred to in the Amended Complaint as an “Order Sort to Wrap Seal” or “Wrap Seal 8” industrial machine, on ESI's premises when his hand was caught in the machine, resulting in the amputation of his left hand and wrist. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges this injury was caused by the machine not being “reasonably fit, suitable or safe for its intended purpose because it deviated from design specifications, formula, or performance standards of manufacturers of like equipment” and, alternatively, that the machine “failed to contain adequate warnings and/or instructions and/or was designed in a defective manner.” (Id. at ¶ 12.) Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant ESI owned and/or exclusively possessed and controlled the industrial machine, and that ESI “willfully, intentionally, and/or deliberately” altered, removed, and/or permitted the “non-existence of safety features” on that machine in such a manner that allowed a co-worker to remotely activate the machine in a way that harmed Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶¶ 16, 18.) Plaintiff alleges that ESI was substantially certain its conduct would result in injury to its employees. (Id.)

         Plaintiff initially filed a Complaint in Burlington County Superior Court on March 6, 2017, and Defendant ESI subsequently removed the case to this Court, with consent of all other named defendants, on the basis of diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332 and 1441. [Docket Item 1.] On April 24, 2017, ESI moved for dismissal of the Complaint. [Docket Item 9.] On July 6, 2017, the Honorable Joel Schneider, U.S.M.J., granted Plaintiff's request to file an Amended Complaint [Docket Item 26], which Plaintiff filed the following day. [Docket Item 29.] ESI's first motion to dismiss was subsequently dismissed as moot [Docket Item 35.] On July 27, 2017, ESI filed a second motion to dismiss Plaintiff's claims against it [Docket Item 36], which is now pending before the Court.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007) (per curiam). A motion to dismiss may only be granted if a court concludes that the plaintiff has failed to set forth fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests that make such a claim plausible on its face. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

         Although the Court must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations, it may disregard any legal conclusions in the complaint. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). A plaintiff should plead sufficient facts to "raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element, " Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, and "[a] pleading that offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         III. DISCUSSION: THE WORKERS' COMPENSATION ACT BAR AND ITS EXCEPTION FOR AN EMPLOYER'S “INTENTIONAL WRONGS”

         Defendant ESI moves to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint for two reasons. First, Defendant ESI argues that Plaintiff's claim is barred by the existence of an exclusive remedy for his injury under the New Jersey Workers' Compensation Act, N.J.S.A. § 34:15-1, et seq. Second, Defendant ESI asserts that Plaintiff fails to plead sufficient facts to state a claim that would establish an exception to that exclusive remedy.

         The relevant exception, established by N.J.S.A. § 34:15-8, states that employees who can be compensated under the Workers' Compensation Act must exclusively use those means and cannot utilize common-law remedies “except for intentional wrong.” This is based on the theory that the system established by the statute is a “trade-off”: employees are promptly and automatically entitled to benefits when injured, but in exchange relinquish the right to pursue common-law remedies against their employer. Laidlow v. Hariton Mach. Co., Inc., 170 N.J. 602, 605 (2002) (quoting Millison v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., 101 N.J. 161, 174 (1985)).

         To define an “intentional wrong” in the context of this statute, New Jersey courts look to both “conduct” and “context.” Mull v. Zeta Consumer Prods., 176 N.J. 385, 391 (2003). The “conduct” prong is satisfied if the employer knew his actions were “substantially certain” to result in the injury or death of employees. Laidlow, 170 N.J. at 617. The “context” prong is likewise satisfied if the “injury and the circumstances of its infliction” are “more than a fact of life of industrial employment” and plainly beyond the legislative intent of the Workers' Compensation Act. Id. Plaintiff fails to plead sufficient facts ...


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