Houston v. People Ready, Inc. et al
ORDER granting 13 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. Signed by Judge Samuel H. Mays, Jr on 8/1/2022. (Mays, Samuel)
Case 2:21-cv-02684-SHM-tmp Document 18 Filed 08/01/22 Page 1 of 12
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
RITA HOUSTON as natural
mother of William Scott IV
and Trevor Shemar Scott, next
of kin of William Scott III,
PEOPLE READY, INC. and
CATAMOUNT CONSTRUCTORS, INC.,
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT CATAMOUNT’S MOTION TO DISMISS FOR
FAILURE TO STATE A CLAIM
(“Houston”) asserts tort claims against Defendant People Ready,
Inc. (“People Ready”) and Defendant Catamount Constructors, Inc.
(“Catamount”). (ECF No. 1-1 at ¶¶ 24-47.) Catamount filed a Motion
to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim (“Motion to Dismiss”) on
December 31, 2021. (ECF No. 13.) Houston filed a Response on
February 23, 2022. (ECF No. 16.) Catamount filed a Reply on March
9, 2022. (ECF No. 17.) For the following reasons, the Motion to
Dismiss is GRANTED.
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Commercial Cleaning (“QCC”). (ECF No. 1-1 at ¶ 12.) QCC provides
clean-up services to construction sites. (ECF No. 1-1 at ¶ 12.)
Catamount contracted with QCC to furnish laborers on Catamount’s
Harbor Chase of Cordova construction project. (ECF No. 1-1 at ¶
13.) Scott worked at the Harbor Chase jobsite in September 2020.
Marcus Williams (“Williams”) was an employee of People Ready and
also worked at the Harbor Chase jobsite in September 2020. (ECF
No. 1-1 at ¶ 14.) On September 18, 2020, Scott was sitting in a
jobsite break area with co-workers. (ECF No. 1-1 at ¶ 16.) At
around 9:00 a.m., Williams entered the break area with a handgun
in his right hand. (ECF No. 1-1 at ¶ 17.) Scott asked Williams to
leave the jobsite as weapons were not permitted onsite. (ECF No.
1-1 at ¶ 18.) Williams refused to leave or put away the handgun
and verbally accosted Scott. (ECF No. 1-1 at ¶ 19.) The altercation
continued until Williams shot and killed Scott. (ECF No. 1-1 at ¶¶
Houston is the natural mother of William Scott IV and Trevor
Shemar Scott, Scott’s next of kin and minor children. (ECF No. 11, PageID 4.) She filed her Complaint in the Circuit Court of
Tennessee for the Thirtieth Judicial District at Memphis. (ECF No.
1-1, PageID 4.) Houston seeks $2,500,000 in compensatory damages
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Catamount removed the action to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1332(a), 1441(a), and 1446. (ECF No. 1, PageID 1.)
Jurisdiction and Choice of Law
A federal district court has original jurisdiction of all
civil actions between citizens of different states “where the
exclusive of interest and costs.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). The Court
has original diversity jurisdiction over this case. Houston is a
citizen of Tennessee. (ECF No. 1-1 at ¶¶ 1-4). People Ready is a
citizen of New Jersey. (ECF No. 1-1 at ¶ 5) Catamount is a citizen
of Colorado. (ECF No. 1-1 at ¶ 6.) There is complete diversity.
See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). Houston’s claims exceed $75,000. (ECF
No. 1-1, PageID 12.) The amount in controversy is satisfied. See
28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1).
A federal court sitting in diversity applies the law of the
Marine Constr. Co. Inc. v. U.S. Dist. Ct. for W. Dist. of Tex.,
571 U.S. 49, 65 (2013); Standard Fire Ins. Co. v. Ford Motor Co.,
723 F.3d 690, 692 (6th Cir. 2013). The parties do not dispute that
Tennessee law applies in this case. When considering issues of
state law, federal courts “must follow the decisions of the state’s
highest court when that court has addressed the relevant issue.”
Talley v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 223 F.3d 323, 326 (6th Cir.
2000). If the forum state’s highest court has not addressed the
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issue, federal courts must “anticipate how the relevant state’s
highest court would rule in the case and are bound by controlling
decisions of that court.” In re Dow Corning Corp., 419 F.3d 543,
549 (6th Cir. 2005).
III. Standard of Review
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows dismissal of
a complaint that “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can
be granted.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). When evaluating a motion to
dismiss for failure to state a claim, a court must determine
whether the complaint alleges “sufficient factual matter, accepted
as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell
Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A court must
construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff
and draw all reasonable inferences in her favor. Golf Vill. N.,
LLC v. City of Powell, 14 F.4th 611, 617 (6th Cir. 2021) (citing
Cahoo v. SAS Analytics, Inc., 912 F.3d 887, 897 (6th Cir. 2019)).
If a court decides, in light of its judicial experience and
common sense, that the claim is not plausible, the case may be
dismissed at the pleading stage. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. The
“[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief
above the speculative level.” Ass’n Cleveland Fire Fighters v.
City of Cleveland, 502 F.3d 545, 548 (6th Cir. 2007) (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). A claim is plausible on its face if
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“the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550
U.S. at 556).
“Courts generally cannot grant motions to dismiss on the basis
of an affirmative defense unless the plaintiff has anticipated the
defense and explicitly addressed it in the pleadings.” Pfeil v.
State St. Bank & Tr. Co., 671 F.3d 585, 599 (6th Cir. 2012),
abrogated on other grounds Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer,
573 U.S. 409 (2014). However, “if the plaintiff[’s] complaint
contains facts which satisfy the elements of the defendant's
affirmative defense, the district court may apply the affirmative
defense.” Estate of Barney v. PNC Bank, Nat’l Ass’n, 714 F.3d 920,
926 (6th Cir.2013); accord Marsh v. Genentech, Inc., 693 F.3d 546,
554–55 (6th Cir.2012) (“A motion to dismiss can be premised on an
affirmative defense . . . if the plaintiff’s own allegations show
that a defense exists that legally defeats the claim for relief.”
(internal quotation marks omitted)).
In its Motion to Dismiss, Catamount argues that Scott’s death
“arose out of” and “occurred during the course and scope of” his
employment. It says that Tennessee law precludes Houston’s tort
through the state workers’ compensation system. Houston argues
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that Scott’s death arose out of an “inherently private dispute”
with Williams. She says that her tort claims against Catamount are
not precluded because Scott’s death is not covered by workers’
The Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Act (the “Act”), Tenn.
Code Ann. §§ 50–6–101, et seq., provides the exclusive remedies
for workers sustaining work-related injuries. Tenn. Code Ann. §
50–6–108(a). An employee’s right to recover under the Act requires
a finding that the injury arose “out of and in the course and scope
“arising out of” and “in the course and scope of” employment are
separate requirements. Woods v. Harry B. Woods Plumbing Co., 967
S.W.2d 768, 771 (Tenn. 1998). The phrase “in the course and scope
of” refers to the time, place, and circumstances under which the
injury occurred. See id. (citing McAdams v. Canale, 294 S.W.2d
696, 699 (Tenn. 1956)). The phrase “arising out of” refers to the
injury’s origin. Id. An employer may invoke Tenn. Code Ann. § 50–
6–108(a), also known as “workers’ compensation immunity,” as an
affirmative defense. See Tenn. R. Civ. P. 8.03. (listing “workers’
compensation immunity” as an affirmative defense); Doe v. P.F.
Chang’s China Bistro Inc., No. W2016-01817-COA-R9-CV, 2017 WL
3741345, at *4 (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 29, 2017) (“[Employer] would
bear the burden of proof at trial to show by a preponderance of
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the evidence that the injury fell within the scope of the workers’
The parties here dispute whether Scott’s death arose out of
his employment. 1 An injury arises out of employment when there is
a causal relationship between the employment and the injury. Orman
Tennessee Supreme Court has classified assaults into three general
(1) assaults with an “inherent connection” to employment
such as disputes over performance, pay or termination;
(2) assaults stemming from “inherently private” disputes
imported into the employment setting from the claimant’s
domestic or private life and not exacerbated by the
employment; and (3) assaults resulting from a “neutral
force” such as random assaults on employees by
individuals outside the employment relationship.
Woods, 967 S.W.2d at 771. The first category of assaults—those
that have an “inherent connection” to employment—arise out of
employment. Id. The second category of assaults—those that involve
“inherently private” disputes—do not arise out of employment. Id.
The third and final category of assaults—those that involve random
Houston concedes that Scott’s death occurred in the course and scope
of his employment, but not that his death arose out of his employment.
(See ECF No. 16, PageID 44.) Houston does not contest that workers’
compensation immunity may apply to Catamount as Scott’s co-employer. See
Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-113 (providing that principal contractors,
intermediate contractors, and subcontractors are covered by state
workers’ compensation statutes “to the same extent as the immediate
Case 2:21-cv-02684-SHM-tmp Document 18 Filed 08/01/22 Page 8 of 12
violent acts—may arise out of employment depending on the facts.
Id. at 772.
addressed the issue, its prior decisions demonstrate that assaults
resulting from the enforcement of work policies have an inherent
connection to employment and therefore arise out of employment.
See Hurst v. Lab. Ready, 197 S.W.3d 756 (Tenn. 2006); Woods, 967
S.W.2d 768; Cabe v. Union Carbide Corp., 644 S.W.2d 397 (Tenn.
1983). In Hurst, decedent and several co-workers were standing
outside their employer’s office waiting to collect pay. 197 S.W.3d
at 758. An unknown woman arrived at the employer’s office and asked
to use the bathroom. Id. at 758-59. She was refused based on the
employer’s policy and a sign stating that there was no public
restroom. Id. at 759. One of the workers outside the office
suggested that the woman could “relieve herself” in the alley. Id.
A companion of the woman then confronted the workers and shot the
decedent. Id. The trial court found that the assault arose from
employment because the decedent had been targeted based on his
association with his employer and his employer’s “enforcement of
its restroom policy.” Id. at 760, 762. The Tennessee Supreme Court
upheld the trial court’s finding that the assault arose from
employment. Id. at 762.
The decedent in Woods, a plumber, arrived at a jobsite through
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contractor that the entrance should not be used because use of the
S.W.2d at 770. After a confrontation over decedent’s use of the
entrance, the second contractor shot decedent. Id. at 770–71. The
Tennessee Supreme Court found that the dispute “concern[ed] work”
and “was apparently related to the employment setting.” Id. at
employment setting and “arose” from his employment. Id. The assault
preferences. Similarly, assaults that result from the enforcement
In Cabe, the decedent had verbally reprimanded a worker for
failing to wear required safety glasses. 644 S.W.2d at 398. Both
the decedent and the worker had “raised their voices and an active
argument ensued which lasted about five minutes.” Id. (internal
quotations omitted). Shortly after the argument, decedent suffered
a heart attack. Id. The Chancery Court decided that the argument
over safety requirements had caused the heart attack, but found
that the heart attack did not constitute an “accident” under state
workers’ compensation law. Id. On appeal, the Tennessee Supreme
Court reversed. It held that the decedent’s heart attack was
covered by workers’ compensation and that “[t]here [was] no problem
with causation in [the] case.” Id. at 399.
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Houston’s Complaint alleges that Scott “asked Mr. Williams to
leave the job site as weapons are not permitted at the site.” (ECF
No. 1-1 at ¶ 18.) Scott’s request to Williams was an attempt to
enforcement of his employer’s policies precipitated the dispute
with Williams and caused Scott’s death. Because Scott’s death
resulted from the enforcement of employment policies, it has a
connection to employment and arose from employment.
The cases Houston cites to support her argument that Scott’s
death arose from an inherently private dispute are inapposite.
(See ECF No. 16, PageID 46.) Doe v. Matthew 25, Inc., asserted a
civil claim for assault and battery based on a supervisor’s sexual
assault on the plaintiff. 322 F. Supp. 3d 843, 849 (M.D. Tenn.
2018). The district court applied the general rule that “emotional
injuries arising out of supervisor sexual harassment are not
covered by workers’ compensation law.” Id. at 852. Houston’s claims
do not arise from sexual harassment or assault.
plaintiff inside her home office without provocation. 240 S.W.3d
220, 223-24 (Tenn. 2007). The Tennessee Supreme Court concluded
that the assault had no connection to the employment setting and
was a non-compensable neutral assault. Id. at 227. Houston’s
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policies provoked Williams’ assault. Scott’s death had an inherent
connection to employment and arose from employment.
Brimhall v. Home Ins. Co. addressed an assault that resulted
from a co-worker’s use of plaintiff’s hand cleaner. 694 S.W.2d
931, 932 (Tenn. 1985). The Tennessee Supreme Court concluded that
the dispute was personal and did not arise from employment. Id. at
933. The Court explained:
[Brimhall] provided his own personal hand cleaner
because he preferred this particular brand since it did
not chap his hands. Although the employer required its
[employees] to wash their hands between jobs, it cannot
be said that the altercation that resulted in
plaintiff’s injuries ‘arose out of’ his employment, but
rather, the encounter was a personal matter between
Brimhall’s attempt to make [the co-worker] pay for
taking Brimhall’s property. If Brimhall had not
preferred to have his own personal soap on the job, the
incident would not have occurred.
Id. Although there was an employer handwashing policy in place,
the dispute in Brimhall was not caused by the enforcement of the
preferences and financial interests. In the present case, the
dispute between Scott and Williams was the result of Scott’s
enforcement of employment policies.
Houston seeks to distinguish Woods because the assault in
assailant] was performing at the decedent’s job site.” (ECF No.
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16, PageID 43 (quoting Woods, 967 S.W.2d at 772)). Houston argues
that the assault in this case “arose because Mr. Williams was
brandishing a handgun which he had brought onto the job site.”
(ECF No. 16, PageID 43.) However, Houston’s Complaint alleges that
policies. The enforcement of work-related preferences and the
enforcement of work policies both concern work. Like the assault
in Woods, Williams’ assault arose from employment.
Scott’s death arose out of and in the course and scope of
employment. Workers’ compensation immunity precludes Houston’s
tort claims against Catamount. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-108(a).
For the foregoing reasons, Catamount’s Motion to Dismiss is
SO ORDERED this 1st day of August, 2022.
/s/ Samuel H. Mays, Jr.
SAMUEL H. MAYS, JR.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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