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McDonald v. Ponderosa Enters., Inc.

Supreme Court of Montana

June 16, 2015

CODY McDONALD, Plaintiff, Appellant, and Cross-Appellee,
v.
PONDEROSA ENTERPRISES, INC., RTK CONSTRUCTION, INC., and JOHN DOES 1-10, Defendants, Cross-Appellant, and Appellees

Submitted on Briefs February 25, 2015.

Released for Publication July 2, 2015.

Page 15

APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eighteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Gallatin, Cause No. DV-12-148C. Honorable John C. Brown, Presiding Judge.

For Appellant: Lucas J. Foust, Foust Law Office, P.C., Bozeman, Montana; Elizabeth A. Brennan, Brennan Law & Mediation, PLLC, Missoula, Montana.

For Appellees: Randall G. Nelson, Nelson Law Firm, P.C., Billings, Montana (Attorney for RTK Construction, Inc.); Edward J. Guza, Guza, Nesbitt & Putzier, PLLC, Bozeman, Montana (Attorney for Ponderosa Enterprises, Inc.).

MICHAEL E WHEAT. We Concur: JIM RICE, PATRICIA COTTER, BETH BAKER. Justice Michael E Wheat delivered the Opinion of the Court. Justice Laurie McKinnon, concurring and dissenting.

OPINION

Page 16

[379 Mont. 380] Michael E Wheat, Justice.

[¶1] Cody McDonald (" McDonald" ) appeals from the order of the Eighteenth Judicial District Court, Gallatin County, granting summary judgment to Ponderosa Enterprises, Inc. (" Ponderosa" ). McDonald also appeals certain evidentiary rulings made by the District Court. Ponderosa cross-appeals. Appellee RTK Construction Inc. (" RTK" ) requests fees and costs associated with this appeal.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

[¶2] Ponderosa is a framing company located in Bozeman, Montana. Matt Orrell (" Orrell" ) is the principal of Ponderosa. McDonald is a construction worker in Bozeman, Montana, doing business as Head First Construction. McDonald was approved as an independent contractor by the Montana Department of Labor on April 16, 2008.

[¶3] RTK, a construction company, hired Ponderosa to frame a quilt shop in Sidney, Montana. Ponderosa then hired McDonald as an independent contractor to assist with the framing.

[¶4] McDonald and Orrell each worked on building a separate wall for the quilt shop. Orrell's wall was approximately 24-30 feet long and 12 feet tall. Estimates for the weight of the wall ranged from 880 lbs. to 1,028 lbs.

[¶5] On June 28, 2011, Orrell asked McDonald and two plumbers working on the building to help him manually lift the wall. As the men [379 Mont. 381] were lifting the wall it collapsed and fell on McDonald and Orrell. McDonald was seriously injured.

[¶6] In September 2011, McDonald filed for Worker's Compensation benefits and began receiving $633 per week in Temporary Total Disability payments from State Fund. In doing so, McDonald contended that he had been an employee of Ponderosa at the time of the accident.

[¶7] On February 29, 2012, McDonald brought suit against Ponderosa and RTK, alleging, in part, negligence and violation of § § 50-71-201, et. seq., MCA, of the Montana Occupational Safety and Health Act (" MOSHA" ). In his complaint, McDonald claimed to be an employee of Ponderosa.

[¶8] In February 2013, McDonald reached a settlement with State Fund dismissing his claim in exchange for $332,000. The settlement was approved by the Worker's Compensation Court in an order on February 27, 2013, and the case was dismissed.

[¶9] On March 18, 2013, Ponderosa moved for summary judgment on the MOSHA claims, arguing that McDonald was in fact an independent contractor rather than an employee at the time of the accident and thus MOSHA did not apply.

[¶10] On August 7, 2013, while Ponderosa's motion for summary judgment was pending, McDonald filed an Unopposed Stipulation with the District Court. The stipulation was intended to resolve the question of McDonald's status by declaring that he was an independent contractor at the time of his injury. The District Court approved the stipulation in an order on August 28, 2013.[1]

[¶11] The District Court granted Ponderosa's motion for summary judgment on the MOSHA claims on January 2, 2014. The court reasoned that, because McDonald was an independent contractor, not an employee, at the time of his injury, Ponderosa did not owe him any duties of safety under MOSHA. On January 16, 2014, the District Court issued an ...


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