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Jarman v. Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

May 9, 2017




         The following matter is before the court on defendant DuPriest Construction Inc.'s (“DuPriest”) motion to dismiss or in the alternative for summary judgment, ECF No. 46. For the reasons set forth below, the court grants the motion and dismisses plaintiff Leonard Paul Jarman's (“Jarman”) claims with prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case stems from an accident that occurred on the site of a construction project on Parris Island, South Carolina, a federal enclave. Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority (“BJWSA”) contracted with DuPriest Construction, Inc. (“DuPriest”), a construction company specializing in water, sewer, and storm drain installation, to perform work on the ISM Group II Sewer Project on Parris Island. The contract between BJWSA and DuPriest required DuPriest to install a new gravity sewer line, a portion of which was to run underneath a roadway. To avoid disrupting the roadway traffic, the government required BJWSA-and therefore DuPriest as the contractor-to bore underneath the roadway to install a sewer line using the “jack and bore” drilling method.[1] DuPriest in turn hired Razorback Boring, Inc. (“Razorback”), a subcontractor, to perform the boring work.[2]

         Leonard Paul Jarman (“Jarman”), a direct employee of Razorback, was injured while working on the ISM Group II Sewer Project. Jarman filed suit against BJWSA and DuPriest, alleging a number of common law tort claims including negligence, premises liability, and breach of warranties.[3] BJWSA and DuPriest removed the case on January 26, 2015, asserting that the court had concurrent jurisdiction over the matter because the accident occurred on federal property.

         DuPriest filed a motion to dismiss or in the alternative for summary judgment on January 14, 2016, ECF No. 20, and the court held a hearing on June 8, 2016. During the hearing, the court focused on the threshold issue of whether the court had subject matter jurisdiction to hear Jarman's common law tort claims, or if Jarman was a “statutory employee” under the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Act (“SCWCA”) such that workers' compensation was the exclusive remedy. The court ordered the parties to conduct jurisdictional discovery to assist with the subject matter jurisdiction inquiry. ECF No. 39. Having now completed jurisdictional discovery, DuPriest once again brings a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction before the court. Jarman filed a response on November 21, 2016. The motion has been fully briefed and is now ripe for the court's review.

         II. STANDARD

         A. Rule 12(b)(1)

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), a party may move to dismiss for “lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.” The determination of subject matter jurisdiction must be made at the outset before any determination on the merits. Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83 (1998). “The plaintiff bears the burden of persuasion if subject matter jurisdiction is challenged under Rule 12(b)(1).” Williams v. United States, 50 F.3d 299, 304 (4th Cir. 1995). If the plaintiff cannot overcome this burden, the claim must be dismissed. Welch v. United States, 409 F.3d 646, 651 (4th Cir. 2005). In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, “the court may consider exhibits outside the pleadings” and “is free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself as to the existence of its power to hear the case.” Williams, 50 F.3d at 304 (internal citations and quotations omitted).

         B. Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment shall be granted “if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). “By its very terms, this standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Id. at 248. “[S]ummary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact is ‘genuine, ' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. “[A]t the summary judgment stage the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 249. The court should view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all inferences in its favor. Id. at 255.


         The sole issue before this court is whether Jarman is a statutory employee of DuPriest such that he is barred from bringing any claims in this court. DuPriest argues that Jarman is a statutory employee of DuPriest, and so his exclusive remedy is through the SCWCA. Def.'s Mot. 2. Jarman contends that he is not a statutory employee of DuPriest, and the court continues to have subject-matter jurisdiction over his common law claims. Pl.'s Resp. 1. The court agrees with DuPriest, and grants the motion to dismiss.

         The SCWCA is the exclusive remedy against an employer for an employee's work-related accident or injury. Fuller v. Blanchard, 595 S.E.2d 831, 832 (S.C. Ct. App. 2004). When determining whether a worker is a statutory employee under the SWCA, courts are to ask three questions: “(1) Is the activity an important part of the owner's business or trade; (2) Is the activity a necessary, essential, and integral part of the owner's trade, business or occupation; or (3) Has the identical activity previously been performed by the owner's employees.” Edens v. Bellini, 597 S.E.2d 863, 867 (S.C. Ct. App. 2004). To qualify as a statutory employee, the activity needs to meet just one of the three tests ...

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