The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer, District Judge
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.
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
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.
In a case in which jurisdiction is based on diversity of citizenship, a
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 ...