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United States District Court holds that personal injury plaintiff stated a legally cognizable claim, irrespective of whether defendant corporation alleged plaintiff was an employee

Fischer v. ISE America, Inc.
No. 14-1314 (D. Md. Nov. 5, 2014)

by Wayne C. Heavener, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (www.semmes.com)

Available at: http://www.mdd.uscourts.gov/Opinions/Opinions/14-CV-1314_Fischer%20Memo.pdf

In Fischer v. ISE America, Inc., the United States District Court for the District of Maryland held that personal injury plaintiffs’ complaint neither failed to invoke the court’s jurisdiction, nor failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, simply because the defendant corporation alleged that the plaintiff was an employee. Writing for the Court, Judge Ellen L. Hollander denied the defendant corporation’s motion to dismiss, which was premised upon exclusivity of Maryland’s Workers’ Compensation Statute. The plaintiffs argued that the injured plaintiff was an independent contractor, as opposed to an employee, and thus entitled to recovery. Taking the allegations in plaintiffs’ complaint as true for the purposes of ruling on the defendant’s motion to dismiss, the Court held that the defendant’s exclusivity argument was not a basis to grant dismissal at this stage in the litigation. The Court essentially treated the defendant’s exclusive remedy argument as an affirmative defense. The Court could not, therefore, dispose of the plaintiffs’ claims on a motion to dismiss.

Paul and Patricia Fischer (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) filed suit in the United States District Court against ISE America, Inc. (“Defendant”) seeking to recover damages for injuries sustained by Mr. Fischer when he fell at a property owned by Defendant in Millington, Maryland. Plaintiff’s invoked the Court’s diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, alleging that Plaintiffs were citizens of Pennsylvania, and that Defendant was a Delaware corporation. Plaintiffs likewise claimed that their damages were in excess of $75,000.00. Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss, stating that Mr. Fischer was Defendant’s employee. According to Defendant, the Court was therefore deprived of jurisdiction pursuant to the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Statute (the “Statute”), which makes an employees’ exclusive remedy workers’ compensation benefits. For the same reason, Defendant argued that Plaintiffs failed to state claims upon which relief could be granted. In Plaintiffs’ Opposition, Plaintiffs argued that Mr. Fischer was an independent contractor, rather than an employee, and thus entitled to recovery from the third party.

The Court denied Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, finding that Defendant’s exclusive remedy argument was, essentially, an affirmative defense. Exclusivity under the Workers’ Compensation Statute was, therefore, not an appropriate reason to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims at this stage of the litigation. As a threshold matter, the Court stated that both parties submitted material outside of the pleadings, i.e. materials pertaining to Mr. Fischer’s employment status. The Court likewise stated that it would not consider this information, and refused to convert Defendant’s motion into a motion for summary judgment. The Court held that Plaintiff invoked the Court’s jurisdiction by pleading complete diversity, as well as a demand in excess of the amount in controversy threshold. Plaintiffs’ employment status was immaterial at this stage, given the allegations in Plaintiffs’ Complaint. The Court made clear that Defendant’s argument premised on the exclusive remedy provision of the Statute was irrelevant to the sufficiency of Plaintiffs’ complaint. As a result, the Court denied Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, holding that Plaintiffs’ claim stated a legally cognizable claim.


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