United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
HENRY E. WOMBLE III, as personal representative for the Estate of Henry E. Womble Plaintiff,
EATON AEROQUIP, INC., Defendant.
J. Conrad, Jr., United States District Judge
MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant's and
Plaintiff's (collectively, the “Parties”)
cross motions for partial summary judgment, (Doc. Nos. 28 and
30), and the memoranda and exhibits in support of and in
opposition to those motions, (Doc. Nos. 29, 31, 34- 37).
E. Womble, who died on September 4, 2012 from aspiration
pneumonia, worked at Aeroquip, Inc. for eighteen years. (Doc.
No. 5 at ¶ 6). Defendant Eaton Aeroquip, Inc. is
Aeroquip, Inc.'s successor in interest. (Id.
¶ 3). Eight years after Mr. Womble's employment
concluded, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. (Id.
¶ 15). In December 2005, Medicare began paying for
medical costs related to Mr. Womble's lung cancer
treatment. (Id. ¶ 14). Four years later, in
December 2009, Mr. Womble field a Form 18B with the North
Carolina Industrial Commission (“NCIC”) seeking
workers' compensation benefits from Defendant for his
lung cancer treatment. (Doc. No. 31-2). On August 11, 2011,
the NCIC determined that Mr. Womble's lung cancer was due
to asbestos exposure through his employment with Defendant
and his “extensive history of cigarette smoking,
” and therefore he was entitled to “payment [from
Defendant] of all medical expenses incurred, or to be
incurred as a result of his lung cancer that are reasonably
necessary to effect a cure, give relief, or lessen his period
of disability.” (Doc. No. 29-1 at 9-11). Many facts
after the August 11, 2011 NCIC order are contested, but are
not relevant to the issue at hand. What is relevant is that
on January 5, 2015, Plaintiff filed a complaint with this
Court seeking reimbursement from an insurance company for
conditional payments Medicare made. (Doc. No. 1). Defendant
Eaton Aeroquip, Inc. replaced the insurance company as the
sole defendant in this suit upon Plaintiff's filing of
its amended complaint on March 31, 2015. (Doc. No. 5).
Plaintiff alleges claims under the Medicare Secondary Payer
Act (“MSPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 1395(y)(b)(3)(A),
the North Carolina Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act,
(“UDTPA”), N.C. Gen. Stat. § 75-1 et
seq., and for unjust enrichment. (Id.). On June
8, 2015, Defendant filed its answer to the Amended Complaint.
(Doc. No. 15). As part of that Answer, Defendant pled
thirteen affirmative defenses. (Id.).
April 20, 2016, Defendant filed a consent motion for a status
conference, (Doc. No. 22), and on May 6, 2016 this Court held
the requested status conference. As a result of the status
conference, and at the request of the Parties, the Court
stayed all scheduling deadlines while Defendant navigates
Medicare administrative appeals but ordered partial
dispositive motions on the specific issues ripe for
adjudication at the time. (Doc. No. 23).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
judgment is appropriate where there is no genuine dispute as
to any material fact, and it appears that the moving party is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(c)(2); United States v. Lee, 943 F.2d 366, 368
(4th Cir. 1991). Any permissible inferences to be drawn from
the underlying facts must be viewed in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec.
Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574,
587-88 (1986). The party moving for summary judgment bears
the burden of demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue
of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 325 (1986). A factual dispute is genuine “if the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is
material only if it might affect the outcome of the suit
under governing law. Id.
initial burden is met, the opposing party may not rest on the
mere allegations in the complaint. Id. at 247-48.
Rather, the opposing party “must come forward with
specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for
trial.” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. Where,
though, the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational
trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, summary
judgment is appropriate. Anderson, 477 U.S. at
mere argued existence of a factual dispute does not defeat an
otherwise properly supported motion. Id. “If
the evidence is merely colorable or is not significantly
probative, ” summary judgment is appropriate.
Id. at 249-50 (citations omitted). “When
opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is
blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable
jury could believe it, a court should not adopt [the moving
party's] version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a
motion for summary judgment.” Scott v. Harris,
550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).
the Court held a status conference in May 2016, it was
hopeful that it could help expedite and narrow this case by
granting the Parties' request to present arguments on
partial summary judgment. Yet, upon review of the motions,
memoranda, and oral arguments at the March 7, 2017 hearing,
the Court is convinced that the best course of action is to
hold in abeyance most of the requests in the cross motions
for partial summary judgment. As is clearly evident from the
Parties' fact-intensive briefs and arguments, many of the
factual issues are not undisputed, though they may become so
after the ongoing Medicare appeals are resolved. Furthermore,
the Court is hesitant to begin resolving this matter
piecemeal. Instead, the Court will withhold decision on the
cross motions for partial summary judgment until the Medicare
appeals are resolved, with two exceptions discussed below. In
the meantime, the Court orders the Parties to file a joint
status report ninety (90) days after the date this order is
issued and every subsequent ninety (90) days until this
matter is resolved or otherwise directed by the Court.
the complication caused by the slow-moving ongoing Medicare
appeals, two issues can be cleanly resolved by this Court at
this stage. First, Plaintiff, in its Response in Opposition
to Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment,
stipulated to the dismissal of its unjust enrichment claim.
(Doc. No. 35 at 1 n.1). Accordingly, the Court will dismiss
that claim without prejudice. Second, the Court can resolve
Plaintiff's UDTPA claim without relying on undetermined
facts related to the Medicare appeal. Plaintiff argues that
the undisputed facts show a UDTPA violation as a matter of
law. On the other hand, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's
UDTPA claim should be dismissed due to a lack of
subject-matter jurisdiction and because UDTPA is preempted by
federal law. The Court agrees with Defendant-it does not have
subject-matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's UDTPA claim.
Gen. Stat. § 97-91 provides that: “[a]ll question
arising under [the Worker's Compensation Act] if not
settled by agreements of the parties interested therein, with
the approval of the Commission, shall be determined by the
Commission, except as otherwise herein provided.”
Indeed, North Carolina courts have found that “[t]he
exclusive jurisdiction of the Industrial Commission includes
not only work-related injuries but also any claims that are
‘ancillary' to the original compensable
injury.” Bowden v. Young, 768 S.E.2d 622, 624
( N.C. Ct. App. 2015) (citation omitted).
“[A]ll claims concerning the
processing and handling of a workers'
compensation claim are within the exclusive jurisdiction of
the Industrial Commission, whether the alleged conduct is
intentional or not. Id. at 624-25 (emphasis in
original). This exclusive jurisdiction extends to UDTPA
claims related to workers' compensation claims. See,
e.g., Deem v. Treadaway & Sons Painting &
Wallcovering, Inc., 543 S.E.2d 209 ( N.C. Ct. App. 2001)
(holding that the North Carolina Workers' Compensation
Act gave exclusive jurisdiction over all of the pleaded
claims, including for unfair and deceptive trade practices);
Johnson v. First Union Corp., 504 S.E.2d 808 ( N.C.
Ct. App. 1998) (same). Plaintiff unconvincingly argues that
the Court's discretionary supplemental jurisdiction under
28 U.S.C. § 1367 should trump the NCIC's exclusive
jurisdiction. (Doc. No. 35 at 14-15). Plaintiff's UDTPA
claim is a state law claim governed by state law, and state
law dictates that claims collateral to workers'
compensation claims are to be adjudicated by the NCIC.
Contrary to Defendant's argument, even federal courts
have recognized this exclusive jurisdiction where provided by
the applicable state workers' compensation act. See,
e.g., Meredith v. Honeywell Int'l, Inc.,
245 F.App'x 325, 326-29 (4th Cir. 2007); Cervantes v.
Bridgefield Casualty Insurance Co., No. 1:15-cv-00081,
2016 WL 592799, at *2 (M.D. N.C. Feb. 11, 2016). Thus, the
NCIC has exclusive jurisdiction over Plaintiff's UDTPA
claim and this Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction.
Because subject-matter jurisdiction must be dealt with at the
outset, it is the appropriate mechanism for resolving
Plaintiff's UDTPA argument notwithstanding
Defendant's argument that the MSPA preempts North