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Reaume v. United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

June 11, 2019

QUENTIN REAUME, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE FOREST SERVICE, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT FOR DEFENDANT

          Ronald B. Leighton United States District Judge.

         INTRODUCTION

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service's Motion for Summary Judgment.[1] Plaintiff Quentin Reaume was an employee of a subcontractor hired to cut trees on Forest Service land and was injured when a dead tree (called a “snag”) fell on his foot. He seeks to hold the Forest Service liable for his injury because it allegedly refused to allow loggers like Reaume to cut down such hazardous trees located on the boundary of the timber sale area.

         Forest Service argues that it cannot be liable for Reaume's injury because it owed no duty to Reaume. Forest Service contends that as an employee of a subcontractor, Reaume was owed no duty because Forest Service did not retain control over safety and on-site operation at Reaume's worksite. Forest Service also argues that it owed no duty to Reaume as an invitee because Reaume did not encounter a latent danger and Forest Service had no reason to expect Reaume would be harmed. Reaume did not respond to Forest Service's Motion.

         For the following reasons, Forest Service's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         The United States, through Defendant Forest Service, awarded a timber sale to Gamble Bay Timber and Construction Inc. Forest Service and Gamble Bay agreed that Gamble Bay was to purchase, cut, and remove timber that was marked in orange paint in the sale area. The contract also states that Gamble Bay was to assume “all responsibility for compliance with safety requirements” for its employees. In addition to the timber sale contract, Forest Service and Gamble Bay also entered an agreement that authorized Gamble Bay to cut additional trees in the sale area for safety or operational reasons.

         Gamble Bay then contracted with Fugarwee Timber Inc. to cut the timber. Plaintiff Quentin Reaume was an employee of Fugarwee Timber Inc. Prior to Reaume cutting trees in the sale area, Reaume's employer allegedly notified the contracting officer from Forest Service, Jana Carlson, that “additional hazardous trees” needed to be cut to avoid the hazard posed by snags that could fall on workers. Reaume alleges that the only way to avoid the snag hazard was to cut the additional boundary trees.

         Reaume's Complaint states that Carlson did not authorize additional cutting. She also allegedly informed Reaume's employer that it would be in breach of their contract if additional trees were cut. Reaume claims that after Carlson's refusal to permit additional cutting, Reaume continued his work in the area that remained dangerous. He was then struck in the foot by a falling snag on the boundary of the work area.

         The contract between Forest Service and Gamble Bay states that boundary trees outside of the sale area shall not be cut. It also states that “if logging safety is jeopardized, snags may be felled and then left in the stand.” The Department of Labor and Industries documentation indicates that Reaume's management at Fugarwee had been told by Forest Service that Fugarwee workers could cut down snags that posed a threat to safety, although they also may have understood the contract to prohibit cutting boundary trees.

         Reaume filed this action under the Federal Tort Claims Act in January of 2018. The Complaint claims that Reaume's foot injury was a proximate result of Forest Service's negligence, although it does not explain exactly what this negligence consisted of. Reaume claims that Forest Service failed its duty to protect him, focusing on the allegation that Forest Service had a contractual right to authorize additional cutting but declined to do so.

         DISCUSSION

         1. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is proper “if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In determining whether an issue of fact exists, the Court must view all evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Anderson LibertyLobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-50 (1986) (emphasis added); Bagdadi v. Nazar, 84 F.3d 1194, 1197 (9th Cir. 1996). A genuine issue of material fact exists where there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable factfinder to find for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The inquiry is “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Id. at 251-52. The moving party bears the initial burden of showing that there is no evidence which supports an element essential to the nonmovant's claim. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the movant has met this ...


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