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VAN DYKE v. COLUMBIA MACHINE

February 18, 2003

TRAVIS E. VAN DYKE, PLAINTIFF,
V.
COLUMBIA MACHINE, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer, District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Travis Van Dyke ("plaintiff") filed this diversity action asserting claims based on negligence, breach of warranty, failure to warn, and strict products liability against Columbia Machine Inc. ("Columbia"), the manufacturer of a palletizer machine*fn1 owned and operated by plaintiff's employer, Leprino Foods Company ("Leprino"). Plaintiff was gravely injured while performing routine maintenance on the palletizer during work at Leprino.

Given its unique location, Leprino employs both New York and Pennsylvania residents. Leprino has a policy that workers who injure themselves in the course of their employment should avail themselves to the workers' compensation laws and benefits of the state of their residence. In this case, plaintiff, a Pennsylvania resident, applied for and received Pennsylvania workers' compensation. Dkt. #18, Olsen Aff. ¶ 4.

Columbia filed a third-party complaint against Leprino for contribution or indemnification pursuant to New York Workers' Compensation Law § 11. Section 11 allows a third party to seek contribution or indemnification from an employer for its proportionate share of liability (if any) where an employee suffers a "grave injury" in the course of his employment and sues that third party. Section 11 is an exception to the exclusivity provisions of the Workers' Compensation Law by allowing the third party claim against the employer even though a direct action by the employee against the employer is prohibited. Because of Leprino's unique location, on the border of New York and Pennsylvania, this case presents interesting issues concerning the choice of law that should apply. In addition to New York, three other states, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Colorado all have some contacts with this litigation and the parties. Except for New York, all of these three other states preclude actions for contribution or indemnification by third-parties against employers of injured parties. In a nutshell, Leprino claims that New York law does not apply in this situation and, therefore, the third-party complaint must be dismissed.

Leprino filed the instant motion to dismiss Columbia's third-party complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim or, in the alternative, for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Leprino argues that Columbia cannot avail itself to New York's grave injury exception because Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Law, which prohibits such an action, applies to this case. Alternatively, Leprino claims that even assuming New York law applies, Columbia cannot take advantage of Workers' Compensation Law § 11 because Leprino did not agree in writing to indemnify Columbia. Lastly, Leprino asserts that Columbia waived its right to contribution or indemnification from Leprino in certain purchase and service agreements between the parties.

Columbia argues that New York law does apply because it is the site of the accident and because New York has the greatest interest in the litigation. Columbia also claims that no writing is required to bring a claim pursuant to Section 11 and that it did not waive its right to seek contribution or indemnification from Leprino.

For the reasons that follow, I find that Pennsylvania law should apply to this case, and not New York law. Therefore, Leprino's motion to dismiss Columbia' third-party complaint is granted.

DISCUSSION

A. Choice of Law

In a case in which jurisdiction is based on diversity of citizenship, a federal court sitting in New York State must apply New York's choice of law rules. Alderman v. Pan Am World Airways, 169 F.3d 99, 103 (1999), citing Guaranty Trust Co. v. York, 326 U.S. 99, 108-09 (1945); Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Elec. Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496 (1941). In New York, the relevant analytical approach to choice of law issues is the `interest analysis.' See Schultz v. Boy Scouts of Am., 65 N.Y.2d 189, 197 (1985); In re Allstate Ins. Co. [Stolarz], 81 N.Y.2d 219, 225 (1993).

Pursuant to the interest analysis, "the law of the jurisdiction having the greatest interest in the litigation will be applied and . . . the facts or contacts which obtain significance in defining State interests are those which relate to the purpose of the particular law in conflict." Miller v. Miller, 22 N.Y.2d 12, 15-16 (1968); Neumeier v. Kuehner, 31 N.Y.2d 121, 127 (1972). The interest analysis adopted by the New York Court of Appeals specifically "rejected the mechanical place of injury rule in personal injury cases because it failed to take account of underlying policy considerations." Neumeier, 31 N.Y.2d at 127. The Court recognized that it was abandoning the "certainty provided by the old rule for the more just, fair and practical result that may best be achieved by giving controlling effect to the law of the jurisdiction which has the greatest concern with, or interest in, the specific issue raised in the litigation." Id. Under this formulation, the significant contacts are still the parties' domiciles and the site of the tort. See Schultz, 65 N.Y.2d at 197. However, other significant contacts to consider are the state where the conduct causing the injury occurred, the state where the relationship between the parties is centered, and, in the context of workers' compensation, the state where plaintiff has accepted workers' compensation benefits. See Roach v. McGuire & Bennett, Inc., 146 A.D.2d 89 (3d Dep't 1989); see also Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws § 145 (2002).

With these contacts in mind, the choice is between the laws of New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Colorado. New York is the site of the Leprino plant, the site of plaintiff's employment, and consequently, the site of the accident. However, none of the parties are domiciled in New York. Plaintiff is a Pennsylvania resident and currently is receiving Pennsylvania workers' compensation as a result of this accident.*fn2 Columbia is domiciled in the State of Washington. Presumably, Washington is also the place where the tortious conduct occurred (that is the manufacturing of the allegedly defective ...


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