United States District Court, D. New Jersey
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
G. SHERIDAN, U.S.D.J.
personal injury action arose from a construction site
accident. Plaintiff Yuriel Mondragon Calix, a construction
worker who resides in New York, brings this present cause of
action alleging claims of negligence against Defendant A2Z
Universal LLC (hereinafter "A2Z"), a New
Jersey-based Corporation, and its owner Roger West Jr, a New
Jersey resident. The Court has diversity jurisdiction.
Presently before the Court are both parties' motions for
summary judgment (ECF Nos. 63 & 64); however, because there
is a parallel matter pending before the Division of
Workers' Compensation, the Court will administratively
terminate the present case, pending resolution of the
Worker's Compensation matter, with the right to reo-pen
the matter upon completion of the Worker's Compensation
3, 2014, Plaintiff sustained significant injuries when he was
run over by an unmanned front end loader. (Defendant's
Statement of Material Facts [SOMF] at ¶ 1). Moments
before the accident occurred, another construction worker,
Jesue Felipe Sanchez, had parked the front loader atop a
hill. (Plaintiffs SOMF at ¶ 9). However, the front
loader was not properly put into park; instead, it was placed
in neutral and with the bucket not fully placed on the
ground, caused the loader to roll downhill, striking
Plaintiff. (Id; ECF No. 63-6 at 169-187,
of background, January 10, 2013, A2Z, a New Jersey-based
company owned by Roger West, Jr., contracted with Bill Vince
to provide site remediation and excavation of solid waste at
Vince's landfill site in Old Bridge, New Jersey. (Def s
SOMF at ¶ 7; ECF No. 64-3, "Remediation
Contract"). Under the terms of the contract, A2Z agreed
to provide wood shredding, rock crushing, and grading
services. (Id.). Specifically, A2Z was responsible
for "cleaning debris, including organics such as tree
roots, creosote logs and organics that were decomposing,
which was a violation issued from the DEP." (Def s SOMF
at ¶ 8). It is undisputed that A2Z owned the work
vehicles onsite and the front end loader that injured
Plaintiff. (Id.). According to Plaintiff, Vince also
contracted with RNR Corporation (hereinafter,
"RNR"), another New Jersey-based corporation owned
by West, to recycle leaves and wood waste found at the site.
(Plaintiffs SOMF at ¶¶ 25-26). Specifically, Vince
allowed RNR to use the site's Class B Recycling Facility,
Reclamation Technology, Inc., and the parties agreed to share
the revenue earned from manufacturing the top soil and mulch
collected from the site. (Id.).
12, 2016, the Division of Workers' Compensation issued an
order awarding Plaintiff temporary disability benefits, worth
approximately $27, 896.40. (ECF No. 63-6 at 43,
"Worker's Comp Order"). Thereafter, A2Z
appealed the worker's compensation order, contending that
there was insufficient evidence to support the judge's
determination that A2Z was Plaintiffs employer. See Calix
v. A2Z Universal Landscaping, No. A-3978-15T2, 2017
N.J.Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2223, at *1 ( N.J.Super.Ct.App.Div.
Sept. 7, 2017). In reversing and vacating the judge's
order, the Appellate Division concluded that "the record
before the judge was bereft of any evidence that A2Z employed
[Plaintiff]." Id. at *6. Specifically, the
court noted that the only evidence before the judge was
Plaintiffs own certifications, wherein he testified that he
had no knowledge of who his employer was besides having been
hired by "Steve and Roger West." Id. The
matter is currently before the Division of Workers'
the key issue presently before the Court is whether Plaintiff
was an employee of A2Z or its subcontractor RNR. Plaintiff
claims that, at all relevant times, he was an employee of
RNR; A2Z claims he was their employee.
deciding whether to abstain from adjudicating a particular
case, when a parallel state administrative proceeding remains
pending, federal courts must analyze their abstention ability
under Burford v. Sun Oil Co., 319 U.S. 315 (1943).
See PTK, LLC v. Borough of Fort Lee, No. 07-2166,
2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22934, at *11 (D.N.J. Mar. 24, 2008).
Under Burford, "a federal court should refuse
to exercise its jurisdiction in a manner that would interfere
with a state's efforts to regulate an area of law in
which state interests predominate and in which adequate and
timely state review of the regulatory scheme is
available." Chiropractic Am. v. LaVecchia, 180
F.3d 99, 104 (3d Cir. 1999). "The purpose of
Burford is to avoid federal intrusion into matters
of local concern and which are within the special competence
of local courts." Matusow v. Trans-Cty. Title
Agency, LLC, 545 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal
quotation marks and citations omitted).
that Plaintiffs workers' compensation claim is currently
pending before the Division of Workers' Compensation, the
Court sua sponte requested the parties provide supplemental
briefs addressing whether federal abstention and related
doctrines apply. Defendant contends that
Pullman abstention applies, since a stay,
pending disposition of the workers' compensation claim,
is more appropriate than a dismissal under Burford.
Plaintiff responds, arguing that Burford abstention
is not appropriate since he presents purely legal claims,
which do not involve difficult questions of state law. Having
reviewed the parties' submissions, the Court finds that
Burford abstention, rather than Pullman, is
background, the State of New Jersey has a comprehensive
statutory scheme that regulates workers' compensation.
Under New Jersey's Workers' Compensation Act,
'"[w]hen employer and employee shall by agreement,
either express or implied... accept the provisions of the
Compensation Act, employers shall compensate employees for
work-related injuries 'arising out of and in the course
of employment... without regard to the negligence of the
employer[.]"' Estate of Kotsovska, ex rel.
Kotsovska v. Liebman, 116 A.3d 1, 10 (N.J. Sup. Ct.
2015) (quoting N.J.S.A. § 34:15-7). "The remedial
purpose of the Workers' Compensation Act" is
"to make benefits readily and broadly available to
injured workers through a non-complicated process."
Tlumac v. High Bridge Stone, 902 A.2d 222, 225 (N.J.
Sup. Ct. 2006). In order to further this public policy,
"[t]he Legislature has conferred 'exclusive
jurisdiction of all claims for workers' compensation
benefits' upon the Division of Workers'
Compensation." Greenberg v. O 'Gorman, 491
A.2d 800, 803 ( N.J.Super. Ct. Law Div. 1984) (quoting
N.J.S.A. § 34:15-49)).
New Jersey sets forth a stringent administrative process for
individuals seeking workers' compensation benefits. After
filing a motion for temporary disability or medical benefits,
a period of discovery commences, before a formal hearing is
held before the Judge of Compensation. See N.J.A.C.
§§ 12:235-3.2, -3.8, and -3.12. It remains the
employer's burden of proof to defeat an employee's
claim for workers' compensation benefits. See
N.J.S.A. § 34:15-7. In addition, upon rendering a
decision at the administrative hearing, "[a]ny party may
appeal from the judgment of a judge of compensation to the
Appellate Division of the Superior Court, " which
"shall be conclusive and binding" on the parties.
N.J.S.A. § 34:15-66.
this background, the Court considers whether abstention is
warranted. First, the Court finds Defendant's reliance on
Pullman abstention inapplicable.
"Pullman abstention instructs federal courts to
abstain from ruling on federal constitutional issues where
clarification of an uncertain state law might make the
federal constitutional ruling unnecessary." Bath
Unlimited, Inc. v. Ginarte, O'Dwyer, Winograd &
Laracuente, No. 04-3919, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22654, at
*9 (D.N.J. Sept. 29, 2005); see also Erwin
Chemerinsky, Federal Jurisdiction § 12.2, at
831-32 (2016). (Under Pullman, a "federal court
should not resolve the federal constitutional question until
the matter has been sent to state court for a determination
of the uncertain issue of state ...