Law School Case Brief
Castellanos v. Tommy John, LLC - 2014 UT App 48, 321 P.3d 218
Summary judgment is appropriate only when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Utah R. Civ. P. 56(c). An appellate court reviews a trial court's legal conclusions and ultimate grant or denial of summary judgment for correctness, and views the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. And because negligence cases often require the drawing of inferences from the facts, which is properly done by juries rather than judges, summary judgment is appropriate in negligence cases only in the clearest instances.
On Aug. 14, 2009, plaintiff Josue Castellanos was involved in a physical altercation with security guards at a bar and restaurant owned and operated by defendant Tommy John ("the establishment"). The security guards were employees of Thor Staffing ("Thor"), a company that had contracted with Tommy John to provide security services at the establishment. In 2010, Castellanos filed suit in Utah state court against Tommy John, alleging that he suffered physical and emotional injuries as a result of being forcibly removed from the establishment by the security guards. Based on the theory of respondeat superior, Castellanos alleged that Tommy John was liable for the security guards' intentional torts, including assault, battery, and false imprisonment. Castellanos also alleged that Tommy John was liable for its own negligence in the hiring, supervision, and retention of the individual security guards. But Castellanos did not allege that Tommy John was negligent in its hiring, supervision, and retention of Thor. Tommy John later filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it could not be held liable for the intentional torts of the security guards because they were employees of an independent contractor, Thor. The trial court granted summary judgment to Tommy John on all claims and certified the judgment as final. The trial court held that under the circumstances, where Thor maintained an independent contractor status and Tommy John was not involved in and did not retain control over how Thor performed its security services, Tommy John could not be held vicariously liable for the acts of Thor or its security guards. Castellanos appealed.
Could Tommy John be held vicariously liable for the acts of Thor and its security guards?
The appellate court affirmed the trial court's decision. It held that the facts supported the trial court’s conclusion that the retained control exception to the general rule that the employer of an independent contractor was not liable for harm caused by an act of the contractor or his servants did not apply, given that Tommy John was not involved and did not retain control over how Thor performed its security services, and Tommy John did not train Thor or its personnel on how to remove persons like Castellanos from the establishment. Moreover, the risk of the intentional infliction of physical injuries on patrons by security guards hired by an independent contractor security company was not inherent in security work itself, and the inherently dangerous work exception to the no liability rule would not apply in Castellanos' case because the provision of security services was not inherently dangerous.
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