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Cupps v. S & J Tube, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 9, 2019

MICHAEL L. CUPPS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
S & J TUBE, INC., Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Louisa County, Michael J. Schilling, Judge.

         Michael Cupps appeals the district court's grant of the defendant's motion for summary judgment. AFFIRMED.

          John D. Simmons of Hupy & Abraham, SC PC, Davenport, for appellant.

          Timothy D. Roberts of Anderson, Roberts, Porth, Wallace & Stewart LLP, Burlington, for appellee.

          Heard by Potterfield, P.J., Doyle, J., and Danilson, S.J. [*]

          DANILSON, SENIOR JUDGE.

         Michael Cupps appeals the district court's grant of the defendant's motion for summary judgment. Cupps contends the district court erred in granting summary judgment because the employment application he signed is not a contract. Alternatively, Cupps contends the exculpatory clause contained in the application is invalid because it does not certainly and unequivocally state the signer is waiving claims for negligence, or, even if the exculpatory clause is valid, Cupps's injury was not a "work-related injury" within the meaning of the contract. Because we conclude a binding contract existed between the parties and Team Staffing Solutions, Inc.'s ("TSS") offer for employment encompassed the terms and conditions set forth in the job application document, Cupps was bound to its terms when he accepted employment from TSS. Further, the exculpatory clause clearly and unequivocally alerted the signer that he or she is waiving any claim for damage, including damages caused by negligence, and the injury was work-related. We affirm.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         Cupps was injured when he slipped and fell on an area of snow and ice outside a property maintained by S & J Tube, Inc. ("S & J"). Cupps was an employee of S & J at the time of the incident. Cupps alleges S & J was negligent in the maintenance of the subject property.

         Cupps initially sought employment directly through S & J but was referred to TSS. S & J does nearly all its hiring through temporary agencies, including TSS. TSS recruits candidates for hire, interviews them, assesses their skill, places them with customers (employers such as S & J), pays the workers' weekly wages, processes all withholdings, prepares and mails W-2s, maintains employee records, maintains workers' compensation insurance, and assumes liability for unemployment claims. In exchange for its services, TSS receives a mark-up on wages paid by its customers. In other words, TSS's customers pay TSS for the employee's time, and TSS pays the employee a portion of that amount.

         TSS requires each prospective employee to execute a document titled, "Application for Employment-Understanding and Agreement as to Application Terms and Conditions." Cupps completed the entire employment application with TSS, which contained the following "legal remedies" clause:

I acknowledge and agree that even though my work related activities may be under the control and direction of the Customer [S & J], my sole legal remedies in the event of a work related injury will be the Company's [TSS's] workers' compensation insurance and will not include any claim for damage against that Customer.

         Cupps signed this application under a paragraph stating the following: "My signature below certifies that I have read, understand and agree to abide by the conditions set forth. By signing this document, I agree to these terms and conditions, whether or not I am employed by Team Staffing Solutions, Inc." Cupps was then hired by TSS to be a welder for S & J on a "temp-to-hire" basis.

         Cupps gave a one-week notice of resignation to S & J, effective December 20, 2013. On December 20, 2013, at or near the end of his shift, Cupps cleaned his work area and carried his welding gear outside to his vehicle. He did not seek nor receive permission to leave the workplace to go to his vehicle. While he was walking in a grassy area outside the building, Cupps slipped, fell, and was injured. Cupps was still on the clock and being paid at the time of his injury. Cupps's injury was recorded on S & J's injury log, and he received workers' compensation benefits from TSS.

         Cupps filed a lawsuit in November 2015, alleging S & J's negligence caused him to slip, fall, and become injured. S & J filed a motion for summary judgment asserting Cupps could not bring his suit because he agreed when he executed the employment application with TSS that his legal remedies for work-related injuries were limited to a claim for workers' compensation benefits. S & J argued that when Cupps was injured he was on the clock ...


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