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Ryan v. TCI Architects/ Engineers/ Contractors, Inc.

Supreme Court of Indiana

April 26, 2017

Michael Ryan, Appellant (Petitioner below),
v.
TCI Architects/ Engineers/ Contractors, Inc. and BMH Enterprises, Inc., d/b/a Craft Mechanical, Appellee (Respondent below).

         Appeal from the Marion County Superior Court, No. 49D06-1303-CT-8401 The Honorable Thomas J. Carroll, Judge

         On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 49A02-1508-CT-1198

          Attorneys for Appellant John P. Daly, Jr. Golitko & Daly, PC Indianapolis, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Donald G. Orzeske Beth L. Riga Orzeske-Blackwell, P.C. Indianapolis, Indiana

          DAVID, JUSTICE.

         At issue is whether a general contractor assumed a non-delegable duty of care to keep a worksite safe when it executed the contract in question. Guided by the contract's plain language and looking at the contract as a whole, we find the contract demonstrates the general contractor's intent to assume a duty of care. Thus, we: 1) reverse the trial court's grant of partial summary judgment for defendant; 2) grant the plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of duty; and 3) remand for further proceedings on breach, causation, and damages.

         Facts and Procedural History

         This case stems from a workplace injury sustained by a subcontractor's employee. In June 2012, TCI Architects ("TCI") entered into an agreement with Gander Mountain to serve as the general contractor on a construction project. The project involved renovations to Gander Mountain's retail store in Lafayette, Indiana. TCI subsequently hired several subcontractors, including BMH Enterprises, Inc., d/b/a/ Craft Mechanical ("Craft"), to perform work on the site. Craft further sub-contracted with B.A. Romines Sheet Metal ("Romines") to carry out heating and ventilation work for the project.

         The parties used various contract instruments to formalize their obligations. TCI and Gander Mountain used a "form contract" created by the Design-Build Institute of America ("DBIA") for design-build projects[1]; specifically, they used a form called DBIA Document No. 530 1998 Standard Form of Agreement Between Owner and Design-Builder ("Form No. 530"). The contract also included a second form called DBIA Document No. 535, Standard Form of General Conditions of Contract Between Owner and Design-Builder ("Form No. 535"). Section 2.8 of Form No. 535 generally outlined the extent of TCI's obligations regarding safety on the site.

         TCI and Craft drew up a subcontract of their own. The TCI-Craft subcontract placed the onus of ensuring employee safety on Craft. Similarly, Craft and Romines memorialized their obligations in a sub-subcontract, which called for Craft to assume toward Romines the same responsibilities that TCI assumed toward Craft. The Craft-Romines sub-subcontract also charged Romines with the responsibility of implementing safety precautions and complying with applicable laws.

         On June 26, 2016, Michael Ryan, an experienced sheet metal worker and Romines employee, was working at the Gander Mountain construction site when he allegedly fell approximately 8-10 feet, sustaining serious bodily injuries. Ryan testified that, at the time he fell, he was standing on top of an 8-foot ladder, removing ductwork that hung above the second-floor decking of a building. The ladder Ryan was given was allegedly too short, and Ryan claims a Romines foreman, William Hadaway, told him it was the only one available. Hadaway, however, disputes Ryan's recollection of the incident, noting in a sworn affidavit that Romines had three ladders of various sizes on the premises - an 8-foot ladder, 10-foot ladder, and a 24-foot extension ladder. Hadaway also stated that he offered Ryan a choice of any of the three ladders, but Ryan chose the shortest one. In any case, Ryan admits he made no additional effort to contact or make complaints to either TCI or Craft.

         On April 1, 2013, Ryan filed an Amended Complaint for Damages in the Marion Superior Court Civil Division No. 6 for the injuries sustained, naming TCI and Craft as defendants. Ryan claimed Craft and TCI had a duty to provide him with a safe workplace and he was injured as a result of their breach. On February 24, 2015, Ryan filed a motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of duty, claiming that both defendants had a non-delegable contractual obligation to provide a safe work environment. TCI then filed an opposition and cross motion for summary judgment, on the issues of duty, breach, and proximate cause. Craft also filed an opposition to Ryan's motion.[2] After hearing argument on the various motions, the trial court denied Ryan's motion, finding that genuine issues of material fact existed regarding TCI's duty, but then granted TCI's motion, finding that there were not any genuine issues of material fact to be submitted to a jury.

         Ryan then appealed the grant of TCI's cross motion for summary judgment, again arguing that TCI assumed a non-delegable duty of care when it contracted with Gander Mountain. In a 2-1 published decision, a Court of Appeals majority affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment, concluding that the contract between TCI and Gander Mountain (the "TCI Contract") did not create a duty. Ryan v. TCI Architects/Engineers/Contractors, Inc., 55 N.E.3d 340, 346 (Ind.Ct.App. 2016), reh'g denied (Aug. 2, 2016). Judge Riley dissented, opining that the language of the contract, particularly the language "assuming the responsibility of the implementation and monitoring of the safety programs, " demonstrated an intent to assume a non-delegable duty of care. Id. at 347. Thus, she believed a duty was owed to Ryan and would have reversed the trial court. Id.

         Ryan sought transfer, arguing the trial court's grant of summary judgment was incorrect. We scheduled oral argument without granting transfer. After having the benefit of oral argument, we now grant Ryan's Petition to Transfer, ...


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