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Roland v. Annett Holdings, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 24, 2019

ANTHONY ROLAND, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
ANNETT HOLDINGS, INC., Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Karen Romano, Judge.

         A trucking company appeals the district court's grant of class certification to injured drivers.

          Sasha L. Monthei of Smith Mills Schrock Blades Monthei, P.C., Cedar Rapids, for appellant.

          Matthew R. Denning, Christopher D. Spaulding, and Nicholas L. Shaull of Spaulding, Berg & Schmidt, P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellee.

          Heard by Tabor, P.J., and Mullins and Bower, JJ. Gamble, S.J., takes no part.

          TABOR, JUDGE.

         The district court certified a class action involving dozens of truck drivers who allege their employer violated their rights under the workers' compensation act. The trucking company appeals. Finding no abuse of discretion, we affirm the class certification ruling.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings.

         The work-related injury suffered by Anthony Roland planted the seed for this class action. In October 2013, Roland started work for Annette Holdings, LLC[1] as an over-the-road truck driver. Roland lived in Oxford, Alabama, 897 miles away from Annett Holdings's headquarters in Des Moines. Annett Holdings requires all of its drivers, as a condition of their employment, to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The MOU provides:

[A]s a condition of your employment with [Annett Holdings], you acknowledge and agree that [Annett Holdings] may require you to temporarily relocate to Des Moines, Iowa, for modified duty work in the event you suffer a work injury. Iowa Law allows Annett Holdings to suspend workers' compensation benefits to an injured worker if an injured worker fails to accept and work in the modified duty position offered by Annett Holdings . . . .
. . . .
Because drivers agree to be away from home as an essential function and an agreed upon term of their employment with Annett Holdings, injured workers are expected to temporarily relocate and perform their modified duty work in Des Moines, Iowa, irrespective of your state of residence. The temporary relocation will include staying away from your home for up to two weeks at a time. By accepting employment with [Annett Holdings], you acknowledge there is nothing you are aware of which would prevent you from temporarily relocating to Des Moines, Iowa for up to two weeks at a time to perform modified duty work assignments in the event you suffer a work injury.

         After less than a year on the job, Roland injured his elbow while working in Indiana. Consistent with the MOU, after preliminary treatment in Indiana, Annett Holdings assigned Roland to the modified-duty program in Des Moines. The company transferred Roland's medical care to Des Moines to accommodate the modified-duty work program. Dissatisfied with the medical care he was receiving in Des Moines, Roland asked Annett Holdings to authorize treatment by an orthopedic surgeon in Alabama. Annett Holdings agreed. In May 2014, after undergoing elbow surgery in Alabama, Annett Holdings again assigned Roland to modified-duty work. The company again compelled him to relocate to Des Moines and to forgo follow-up care in Alabama.

         In June 2014, Roland petitioned the Iowa Workers' Compensation Commission seeking alternate medical care in Alabama instead of Des Moines. The deputy commissioner concluded the MOU functionally deprived Roland of reasonable medical care. In granting Roland's petition, the commissioner explained:

The agreement signed by Roland is contrary to the law and case law of Iowa because it attempts to use an agreement to relieve the employer from part of its liability to provide reasonably suited treatment for the injury without undue inconvenience to the employee under [c]hapter 85. The agreement appears to be an attempt to either avoid or eliminate both the "reasonable" and "undue inconvenience" clauses in Iowa Code section 85.27(4).

         Annett Holdings sought judicial review and the district court affirmed.

         Annett Holdings then appealed, and our court affirmed, finding substantial evidence supported the agency's conclusion the MOU, as applied to Roland, violated Iowa Code section 85.18 (2013). Annett Holdings, Inc. v. Roland, No. 15-0043, 2016 WL 541265, at *6 (Iowa Ct. App. Feb. 10, 2016).

         Less than a week after our decision, Roland sued Annett Holdings on behalf of himself and others similarly situated. He cited the company's continued attempts to compel him to travel to Des Moines for the light-duty work program despite judicial direction otherwise. Roland alleged Annett Holdings acted in bad faith and violated his statutory rights and those of similarly situated employees. Roland sought compensatory and punitive damages.[2] Roland's petition asked the district court to certify the matter as a class action.

         The district court held a hearing on the class certification in April 2018. At the hearing, Roland's attorney explained that following a discovery conference, counsel for Annett Holdings stipulated the prospective class consisted of more than forty drivers who signed the same MOU. All the drivers had workers' compensation claims and were compelled to travel to Des Moines for the light-duty work program. Despite the company's stipulation to the prospective class membership, Annett Holdings resisted the motion to compel and moved to decertify the class action.

         In a May 2018 order, the district court decided Roland and the other drivers met the requirements for class certification. Annett Holdings timely appealed the court's certification of the class. Our supreme court granted a stay of the district court's proceedings until conclusion of this appeal.

         II. Scope and ...


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