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Clark v. Benton, LLC

Supreme Court of Maine

July 17, 2018


          Argued: May 16, 2018

          Jonathan W. Brogan, Esq. (orally), and David A. Goldman, Esq., Norman, Hanson & DeTroy, LLC, Portland, for appellant Benton, LLC.

          William C. Herbert, Esq. (orally), and Christian J. Lewis, Esq., Hardy, Wolf & Downing, P.A., Lewiston, for appellee Chauncey W. Clark.


          MEAD, J.

         [¶1] Benton, LLC, appeals from the Superior Court's (Kennebec County, Stokes, J.) order denying its motion for summary judgment and rejecting its claim that section 104 of the Maine Workers' Compensation Act of 1992 (the Act), 39-A M.R.S. § 104 (2017), provides it with immunity from Chauncey W. Clark's negligence suit for injuries sustained on its property in Benton, Maine. Benton, LLC, argues that once Hammond Lumber Company, Clark's actual employer, secured workers' compensation for Clark's injuries and lost wages, section 104 of the Act immunized Hammond Lumber Company and Benton, LLC, from Clark's negligence action because these entities are functionally one and the same. Benton, LLC, reasons that an extension of our dual persona doctrine regarding the scope of the Act's immunity and exclusivity provisions provides it with immunity from Clark's suit as a matter of law. We disagree and affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] "The following facts, viewed in the light most favorable to [Clark], are drawn from the statements of material facts and, except where otherwise indicated, are undisputed." Deschenes v. City of Sanford, 2016 ME 56, ¶ 3, 137A.3dl98.

         [¶3] In 2012, Donald Hammond created and became the sole member of Benton, LLC, a Maine limited liability company. At that time, he was the president of Hammond Lumber Company, a Maine corporation; he is currently that company's vice president. Benton, LLC, was formed, according to its annual reports, for the purpose of "owning and operating real estate." Michael Hammond, the current president of Hammond Lumber Company, states in an affidavit that Benton, LLC, was formed by his company as one of the so-called "Hammond Lumber LLCs," with a purpose "to purchase at auction, using funds provided by Donald Hammond, and own the assets of a company that had gone out of business called Benton Hardwood Lumber."[1]

         [¶4] Hammond Lumber Company does not own the real estate on which its stores that were acquired after 1989 are located. Each of those parcels "is owned by a distinct limited liability company" (a Hammond Lumber LLC). Hammond Lumber Company directs all of the operations of the LLCs, and one of the Hammond shareholders owns each LLC. The LLCs, including Benton, LLC, have no independent business or employees.

         [¶5] In 2009, Hammond Lumber Company hired Clark as a yard worker. On February 12, 2015, Clark and his manager from the Hammond Lumber Company store in Fairfield visited the property owned by Benton, LLC, which contains buildings that Hammond Lumber Company maintained. Clark's manager identified the rooftops of the buildings from which Clark was to remove snow. The following day, Clark returned with a number of his coworkers and, while clearing snow, fell through a skylight on one of the buildings and sustained significant injuries. Clark filed a worker's compensation claim, and Hammond Lumber Company, through its insurance carrier, paid the claim in accordance with the Workers' Compensation Act.

         [¶6] On May 8, 2017, Clark filed a complaint alleging three negligence claims against Benton, LLC, for its failure to (1) properly maintain the property; (2) provide premises reasonably safe for his work; and (3) warn him of dangerous conditions that Benton, LLC, knew or should have known existed. After it filed its answer, Benton, LLC, moved for summary judgment on all counts, asserting that, once Hammond Lumber Company secured compensation for Clark's injuries and lost wages, it was immune from the negligence suit.

         [¶7] Clark argued that summary judgment proceedings were premature pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 56(f), because Clark had conducted no substantive discovery to test the truth of the assertions of material facts by Benton, LLC. On August 15, 2017, Clark moved to amend his complaint by adding six negligence claims against Donald Hammond personally, as sole owner and member of Benton, LLC. On October 10, 2017, the court denied the motion for summary judgment, which rendered moot Clark's pending ...

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