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Haas v. Antero Resources Corporation

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

December 14, 2018

CHARLES HAAS, Plaintiff,
v.
ANTERO RESOURCES CORPORATION, DEEPWELL ENERGY SERVICES, LLC, and TK STANLEY, INC. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT TK STANLEY, INC.'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [DKT. NO. 82], GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT [DKT. NO. 83], AND GRANTING DEFENDANT DEEPWELL ENERGY SERVICES, LLC'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [DKT. NO. 86]

          IRENE M. KEELEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This action for negligence arises out of a workplace incident resulting in bodily injury to the plaintiff, Charles Haas (“Haas”). Pending before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment on defendant TK Stanley, Inc. (“TK Stanley”)'s affirmative defense regarding the statute of limitations (Dkt. Nos. 82, 83). Also pending is defendant DeepWell Energy Services, LLC (“DeepWell”)'s motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 86).

         For the reasons that follow, the Court holds that Haas's claims against TK Stanley are not barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Consequently, it DENIES TK Stanley's motion (Dkt. No. 82) and GRANTS Haas's motion (Dkt. No. 83). Further, the Court GRANTS DeepWell's motion (Dkt. No. 86) and DISMISSES WITH PREJUDICE the claims asserted against it in the Amended Complaint.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On March 25, 2015, Haas sustained severe injuries while working on defendant Antero Resources Corporation (“Antero”)'s Fritz Well Pad, a natural gas drilling site located in Doddridge County, West Virginia. Haas contends that his injuries were caused by the negligent release of four (4) thousand-pound pipes from a forklift operated by Jordan Stalnaker (“Stalnaker”). Apparently, Stalnaker released the pipes on an incline, causing them to roll at a high speed and strike Haas, who had been assigned to hand-roll and stack the pipes as Stalnaker released them onto a multilayer pipe rack (“the Incident”). At the time of the Incident, Stalnaker was employed by TK Stanley, which was wholly owned by DeepWell.[1]

         Haas initiated this action by filing a complaint (“Original Complaint”) against Antero and DeepWell in the Circuit Court of Doddridge County, West Virginia, on February 23, 2017. See Dkt. No. 1-2. The Original Complaint asserted theories of negligence and vicarious liability against Antero and DeepWell, alleging that a “forklift driver acting in the employ/agency and at the direction of Defendants [Antero] and/or [DeepWell] released 4 pipe [sic] on a steep incline causing [them] to roll at an extremely fast pace” and strike him. Id. at ¶ 7. In its Answer to the Original Complaint, DeepWell admitted that the forklift driver, who has since been identified as Stalnaker, was its employee or agent, and that he was operating under its direction at the time of the Incident. Antero and DeepWell properly removed the case to this Court on June 19, 2017 (Dkt. No. 1).[2]

         On September 5, 2017, over six (6) months after the filing of the Original Complaint and over two (2) years after the Incident, Haas filed an Amended Complaint alleging the same injuries and damages and joining TK Stanley as a defendant (Dkt. No. 13). According to the Amended Complaint, Haas did not become aware of Stalnaker's employment status with TK Stanley until sometime after June 22, 2017, when DeepWell provided discovery responses indicating that, despite its prior admission to the contrary, Stalnaker was not employed by DeepWell at the time of the Incident, and that, instead, he was employed by TK Stanley. Id. at ¶¶ 14-16.

         In light of this information, Haas asserts in the Amended Complaint that Stalnaker “was acting in the employ/agency and at the direction of [DeepWell], and/or [TK Stanley] when he was unloading pipe at the . . . Fritz Pad.” Id. at ¶ 20. Thus, Haas alleges that his injuries were caused by the combined negligence of Antero, TK Stanley, and DeepWell (collectively, “the defendants”), and that the defendants are vicariously liable for Stalnaker's actions. Id. at 3-9. He further asserts that, “given the significant overlap in corporate control” between TK Stanley and DeepWell, TK Stanley “knew or should have known of the existence of this action and its vicarious liability for” Stalnaker's actions related to the Incident. Id. at ¶ 17. Consistent with its discovery responses, DeepWell, in its Answer to the Amended Complaint, denied that Stalnaker was its employee at the time of the alleged Incident (Dkt. No. 18 at ¶ 6). In its Answer, TK Stanley asserted that Haas's claims against it are barred by the applicable two-year statute of limitations (Dkt. No. 23 at 19).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is appropriate only “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court reviews all the evidence “in the light most favorable” to the nonmoving party. Providence Square Assocs., L.L.C. v. G.D.F., Inc., 211 F.3d 846, 850 (4th Cir. 2000). The Court must avoid weighing the evidence or determining its truth and limit its inquiry solely to a determination of whether genuine issues of triable fact exist. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).

         The moving party bears the initial burden of informing the Court of the basis for the motion and of establishing the nonexistence of genuine issues of fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has made the necessary showing, the non-moving party “must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The “mere existence of a scintilla of evidence” favoring the non-moving party will not prevent the entry of summary judgment; the evidence must be such that a rational trier of fact could reasonably find for the nonmoving party. Id. at 248-52.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. TK Stanley

         In its motion for summary judgment on its affirmative defense regarding the statute of limitations (Dkt. No. 82), TK Stanley argues that “there is no evidence that TK Stanley was aware or should have been aware of the instant action prior to being served with the Amended Complaint, ” after the expiration of the applicable limitations period. (Dkt. No. 82-2 at 3). Haas has filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on this issue (Dkt. No. 83), arguing that his claims against TK Stanley “relate back” to his Original Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c)(1)(C) and therefore are not barred by the statute of limitations (Dkt. No. 84).

         1. Statute of Limitations

         Under West Virginia law, the period to bring a claim for personal injury is two years. W.Va. Code § 55-2-12. The two-year statute of limitations for personal injury actions begins to run when the right to bring action an accrues, that is, when injury is inflicted. Id.

         Here, the parties do not dispute that a two-year statute of limitations applies to Haas's claims against TK Stanley, or that the Incident giving rise to his claims occurred on March 25, 2015. Based on Haas's allegations regarding the severe bodily injuries he sustained as a result of the Incident, he clearly knew, or had reason to know, of the injury giving rise to his action on that date. Accordingly, his claims accrued--and the statute of limitations began to run--on March 25, 2015. Haas therefore needed to file his claims against TK Stanley no later than two years from that date, or by March 25, 2017. As discussed, Haas did not allege any claims against TK Stanley until September 5, 2017, when he filed his Amended Complaint (Dkt. No. 13).

         A finding that Haas's claims against TK Stanley were filed after the expiration of the limitations period does not end the Court's inquiry, however. It must also consider whether the claims against TK Stanley, first asserted in Haas's Amended Complaint, are saved by the relation back authorized by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c). Relation back would give the Amended Complaint the filing date of the Original Complaint, which the parties agree was timely filed.

         2. Relation Back

         Rule 15(c)(1)(C) provides that an amendment to a pleading that changes a party or a party's name relates back to the date of the original pleading if Rule 15(c)(1)(B) is satisfied and

if, within the period provided by Rule 4(m) for serving the summons and complaint, [3] the party to be brought in by amendment:
(i) received such notice of the action that it will not be prejudiced in defending on the merits; and
(ii) knew or should have known that the action would have been brought against it, but for a mistake concerning the proper party's identity.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)(1)(C).

         “All three conditions of Rule 15(c)(1)(C) must be met in order for relation back to be permissible.” Denmark v. Starcher, No. 1:14CV58, 2014 WL 7272789, at *6 (N.D. W.Va. Dec. 18, 2014) (quoting Francis v. Woody, No. 3:09CV235, 2009 WL 2371509, at *6 (E.D. Va. July 31, 2009)); see also Robinson v. Clipse, 602 F.3d 605, 608 (4th Cir. 2010) (explaining that when a proposed amendment changes the party against whom a claim is asserted, the amending party must satisfy the requirements set forth in Rule 15(c)(1)(C)(i) and (ii)). This rule “presumes that the amending party can make the amendment, although it does constrain substantially the type of amendment that may relate back.” Goodman v. Praxair, Inc., 494 F.3d 458, 469 (4th Cir. 2007) (en banc).

         “Where an amendment seeks to add a defendant, the focus turns to the notice to that individual or entity.” Wilkins v. Montgomery, 751 F.3d 214, 224 (4th Cir. 2014). Specifically, as to Rule 15(c)(1)(C)(ii), the Supreme Court has clarified, “The question . . . is not whether [the amending party] knew or should have known the identity of . . . the proper defendant, but whether [the potential defendant] knew or should have known that it would have been named as a defendant but for an error.” Krupski v. Costa Crociere, 560 U.S. 538, 548 (2010) (holding that amended complaint should relate back because the district court found that the added party had “constructive notice” of the initial complaint within the Rule 4(m) period). The Fourth Circuit has further explained that

Rule [15]'s description of when such an amendment relates back to the original pleading focuses on the notice to the new party and the effect on the new party that the amendment will have. These core requirements preserve for the new party the protections of a statute of limitations. They assure that the new party had adequate notice within the limitations period and was not prejudiced by being added to the litigation.

Goodman, 494 F.3d at 470 (citation omitted) (emphasis in original).

         Here, it is undisputed that the Amended Complaint meets the first requirement of Rule 15(c)(1)(C)--that Rule 15(c)(1)(B)'s requirement is satisfied, that is, the newly-asserted claims “arise out of” conduct alleged in the original pleading. Likewise, the parties do not dispute that the second-prong of Rule 15(c)(1)(C)(ii) is satisfied because Haas made a “mistake” by not naming TK Stanley as a defendant in his Original Complaint.

         Thus, the Court must address whether, within the Rule 4(m) service period for the filing of the Original Complaint, or by May 24, 2017, TK Stanley (1) received such notice of the action such that it would not have prejudiced it “in defending on the merits, ” and (2) “knew or should have known that [Haas's] action would have been brought against it, but for a mistake concerning the proper party's identity.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c)(1)(C).[4] Notably, although TK Stanley argues that it did not have notice within the Rule 4(m) service period, it does not argue that it would suffer any cognizable prejudice as a result of relation back.

         3. Analysis

         TK Stanley asserts that Haas “has failed to present evidence that [it] received notice of the action within 90 days of the filing of the Original Complaint, ” i.e., on or before May 24, 2017 (Dkt. No. 82-2 at 4-5). It further argues that it did not know, nor should it have known, “that the action would have been brought against it within 90 days of the filing of the [Original] [C]omplaint.” Id. at 5. Haas contends that, “given the significant overlap in corporate control” between DeepWell and TK Stanley, there is no genuine dispute that TK Stanley had timely notice of the Original Complaint, or that it knew or should have known, during the relevant limitations period, that this action would have been brought against it, but for his mistake concerning its identity (Dkt. Nos. 13; 84 at 1).

         Given the parties' contentions on summary judgment, a brief history of the relationship between DeepWell and TK Stanley at the times relevant to this action is appropriate. Prior to January 2015, all or most of the outstanding stock of TK Stanley was owned by relatives Cecil Farrar and Cary Farrar (“the Farrars”), while the company retained 75 shares of its own stock. On January 13, 2015, TK Stanley sold its 75 shares of common stock to DeepWell (Dkt. Nos. 82-2 at 5, 82-4). Shortly thereafter, on January 22, 2015, the Farrars sold their outstanding shares back to TK Stanley, making DeepWell the sole owner of all of the equity in TK Stanley. See Dkt. Nos. 84-7, 84-8, 84-10. Thus, at the time of the Incident giving rise to this action, March 25, 2015, TK Stanley was wholly owned by DeepWell.

         Then, in November 2015, DeepWell sold all of its equity in TK Stanley to Duff Timber Holdings, LLC, through a sale to a company named Duff Capital Investors (Dkt. No. 84-10). Notably, Duff Capital Investors was the sole member of a company called Investment Transportation Services, LLC, which was, in turn, the sole member of DeepWell. Id. Thus, by November 30, 2015, although DeepWell owned no equity in TK Stanley, both TK Stanley and DeepWell had been rolled into the same ownership and management group that applies to a group of closely related companies owned by brothers Thomas and James Duff. Finally, on January 1, 2016, DeepWell “took over” the oilfield operations previously performed by TK Stanley (Dkt. No. 84-11).

         The Original Complaint was served on DeepWell via the West Virginia Secretary of State on March 1, 2017 (Dkt. No. 82-5). One day prior, Dicky Dickerson (“Dickerson”), a DeepWell dispatcher, had received and signed for the Original Complaint at 6739 Highway 184, Waynesboro, Mississippi (“the Waynesboro address”) (Dkt. No. 82-6). Dickerson thereafter delivered the Original Complaint to Chris Breedlove (“Breedlove”), DeepWell's ...


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