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Reinholt v. Schwan's Home Service, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

November 7, 2014

TREVOR REINHOLT, an individual, Plaintiff,
v.
SCHWAN'S HOME SERVICE, INC., a Minnesota corporation, Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT

ROSANNA MALOUF PETERSON, Chief District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 21. A hearing on this motion was held on November 5, 2014. Plaintiff was represented by Darryl Parker. Defendant was represented by Thomas McLane.

The Court has considered the motion, response, reply, all supporting documents, and the parties' oral arguments. The Court is fully informed.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Trevor Reinholt was injured in the scope of his employment with Defendant Schwan's Home Service, Inc., when he was using a propane heater to defrost a truck and gas from the heater ignited.

Schwan's sells frozen food through home delivery, the food service industry, and grocery stores. ECF No. 26 at 3. Mr. Reinholt was employed by Schwan's as a material handler in the company's Spokane, Washington, warehouse from March 2005 until November 2013. ECF No. 29 at 1, 2. His primary job duties included transferring frozen food between Schwan's trucks and warehouse freezers. ECF No. 29 at 1-2.

During the last two years of Mr. Reinholt's employment at Schwan's, his supervisor was Corey Pape. ECF No. 29 at 2. Mr. Reinholt claims that Mr. Pape "consistently verbally abused and threatened [him, ]" made unreasonable work demands on him, and berated him in front of other employees. ECF No. 29 at 2. Mr. Reinholt further alleges that in December 2011 he threatened to report Mr. Pape to the human resources department because of his constant bullying. ECF No. 29 at 2. Mr. Reinholt states that this threat of reporting angered Mr. Pape. ECF No. 29 at 2.

Mr. Reinholt also defrosted trucks as a Schwan's employee. See ECF No. 23-1 at 3-4. Mr. Reinholt explains that defrosting involves power washing a truck and allowing ice and water to drain out. ECF No. 29 at 3. On January 17, 2012, however, Mr. Pape brought a propane heater and ordered Mr. Reinholt to run the heater inside a truck and shut the doors so that the ice would melt. ECF No. 29 at 3. Mr. Reinholt refused at first and told Mr. Pape that it was dangerous and improper to use a propane heater to defrost the trucks, but Mr. Reinholt relented because he thought that he would be fired if he did not comply with Mr. Pape's order. ECF No. 29 at 3.

Mr. Pape placed the propane heater in one truck and showed Mr. Reinholt how to set it up. ECF No. 28-1 at 8. Mr. Pape was present for at least part of the time when the first truck was being defrosted. ECF No. 28-1 at 8-9.

When Mr. Reinholt used the propane heater to defrost another truck, however, Mr. Pape was no longer at the facility. See ECF Nos. 23-2 at 4; 28-1 at 9. Mr. Reinholt placed the propane heater in the truck, as instructed, and shut the doors. ECF No. 29 at 3. When he later opened the truck to remove the heater, the gas ignited, throwing Mr. Reinholt backward and severely burning his face, ears, and hands. ECF No. 29 at 3-4.

Mr. Reinholt sued Schwan's, asserting claims of intentional exposure to danger, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and physical assault/battery and deliberate intention to cause injury. ECF No. 9 at 5-7. He seeks relief including lost wages, medical expenses, and attorney fees. ECF No. 9 at 8.

Schwan's moves for summary judgment, alleging that there is no evidence supporting Mr. Reinholt's theory that Schwan's deliberately intended for Mr. Reinholt to be harmed, and that his claims are barred against his employer absent such a finding of intent. ECF No. 21 at 2. The parties also dispute whether Mr. Reinholt may proceed with a separate claim that Mr. Pape's verbal abuse constitutes intentional infliction of emotional distress. ECF Nos. 27 at 20; 32 at 9-11.

ANALYSIS

A. Summary judgment ...


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