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Heredia v. John Beach & Associates, Inc.

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District

July 24, 2019



          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Hillsborough County; Robert A. Foster, Jr., Judge.

          Rolando J. Santiago and Gregory S. Grossman of RJS Law Group, Apollo Beach, for Appellant.

          Carri S. Leininger of Williams, Leininger & Cosby, P.A., North Palm Beach, for Appellee John Beach & Associates, Inc.

          No appearance for remaining Appellee.

          LUCAS, JUDGE.

         Leonirez Heredia appeals the circuit court's entry of a final summary judgment in favor of John Beach & Associates, Inc. (JBA) and Michael Gross, the defendants below. The circuit court was apparently persuaded that the plaintiff's negligence claim was one between two subcontractors in horizontal privity under the Workers Compensation Law, §§ 440.01-60, Fla. Stat. (2017), and that, as such, the defendants were entitled to workers compensation immunity from the plaintiff's claim. Because the record does not support that determination, we reverse the circuit court's judgment.

         In 2015, Lennar Homes, LLC (Lennar) was developing a tract of land it owned in Riverview into a residential community known as Oaks at Shady Creek. Although the record is somewhat sparse as to what were Lennar's precise plans for this property, it is undisputed that Lennar was, at all times relevant, the fee simple owner of Oaks at Shady Creek. That is, Lennar was developing Lennar's own property, not someone else's.

         From the record before us, it appears that Mr. Heredia was an employee of QGS Development, Inc. (QGS), a company that Lennar had hired to perform road work in the Oaks at Shady Creek subdivision. On April 22, 2015, Mr. Heredia was working at the site, cleaning dirt from a road. Mr. Gross, an employee of JBA, was working in the same vicinity as Mr. Heredia. JBA had been retained by Lennar to provide surveying work for the Oaks at Shady Creek development.[1]

         Mr. Heredia alleges that Mr. Gross drove his JBA truck negligently by backing it into him. He filed a complaint against JBA and Mr. Gross in the Hillsborough County Circuit Court. JBA and Mr. Gross generally denied the complaint's allegations and, pertinent here, asserted the affirmative defense that Mr. Heredia's negligence claims were barred under the Worker's Compensation Law.

         The parties engaged in discovery and eventually filed competing motions for summary judgment on the issue of worker's compensation immunity. In the defendants' motion, JBA and Mr. Gross argued that QGS and JBA were both subcontractors of Lennar for the Oaks at Shady Creek development. Further, JBA and Mr. Gross maintained that QGS, JBA, and Lennar had workers compensation insurance coverage for this project-QGS' policy provided coverage for its employees; JBA's policy covered JBA's employees; and Lennar's policy extended coverage that "would have provided coverage to the Plaintiff." As such, the defendants argued, there was horizontal privity between the subcontractors, JBA and QGS, so that JBA and Mr. Gross were immune from civil liability for QGS' employee's injuries.

         Mr. Heredia's motion for summary judgment argued otherwise. He pointed out that the applicable subsection of the Workers Compensation Law, section 440.10(b), only creates horizontal privity when "a contractor sublets any part or parts of his or her contract work to a subcontractor or subcontractors." Because Lennar was developing the Oaks at Shady Creek project for itself as the owner, and not under a contract Lennar had with any third party, Lennar could not be considered a "contractor" that was "subletting" work under this section. Accordingly, he argued, neither JBA nor Mr. Gross were immune from civil liability as a matter of law.

         The circuit court agreed with the defendants. In an unelaborated order, it granted JBA and Mr. Gross' motion for summary judgment. In a separate and equally sparse order, the court denied Mr. Heredia's competing motion for summary judgment. Those rulings became final in the circuit court's amended final judgment against Mr. Heredia, which was entered on September 14, 2018. Like the summary judgment orders that preceded it, the circuit court's amended final judgment contained no findings or any legal analysis. Mr. Heredia now appeals that judgment.

We review a circuit court's entry of summary judgment under a de novo standard of review. Herendeen v. Mandelbaum, 232 So.3d 487, 489 (Fla. 2d DCA 2017) (citing Volusia County v. Aberdeen at Ormond Beach, L.P., 760 So.2d 126, 130 (Fla. 2000)). A party is entitled to summary judgment only "if the pleadings and summary judgment evidence on file show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that ...

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