George v. Bowler

George v. Bowler, 2015 MT 209 (July 28, 2015) (Baker, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether the district court properly granted summary judgment to Bowlers on the basis of workers’ compensation exclusivity.

Short Answer: yes.

Affirmed

Facts: Robert George was a warehouse manager for Carpets Plus, a corporation whose sole shareholder and president is Curtis Bowler, and whose secretary and treasurer is Jean Bowler. Carpets Plus operates on rented property owned by the Bowlers individuals. In 20008, the Bowlers applied for a permit to build a warehouse on their property for use by Carpets Plus, and listed “owners” as the general contractors for the construction project.

In September 2008, Curtis asked Robert to assemble carpet racks in the uncompleted warehouse. While doing so, Robert fell and was injured. He claimed and received workers’ compensation benefits through Carpets Plus’s work comp insurance.

In May 2012, Robert sued the Bowlers in their individual capacities as property owners and general contractors of the warehouse, alleging negligence and failure to provide a safe workplace. Bowlers answered and pled the work comp exclusivity provision as an affirmative defense. Curtis testified he was acting as president of Carpets Plus when he instructed Robert to assemble the carpet racks, and that he acted on behalf of Carpets Plus in all aspects of the warehouse construction.

Bowlers moved for summary judgment on the basis of work comp exclusivity, and Georges filed a cross-motion, arguing Bowlers as individual owners and contractors were separate legal entities from Bowlers as corporate officers of Carpets Plus. They pointed to tax returns showing that the warehouse was depreciated on the Bowelrs’ individual return rather than on Carpets Plus’s return. 

Procedural Posture & Holding: The district court granted Bowlers’ motion for summary judgment and denied Georges’ motion, holding Bowlers were immune from suit because they acted at all relevant times as corporate officers of Carpets Plus. Georges appeal and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: Georges are not arguing the dual capacity doctrine, and their complaint does not invoke premises liability. If the Bowlers were acting within the course and scope of their carpets Plus employment when Robert was injured, the exclusivity provision applies. Georges fail to show a triable issue of fact, and Bowlers are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.