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Hooks v. Coastal Stone Works, Inc.

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

September 5, 2014

Ernest Lee Hooks, Jr.
v.
Coastal Stone Works, Inc

Released for Publication June 10, 2015.

Appeal from Baldwin Circuit Court. (CV-12-901101). J. Langford Floyd, Trial Judge.

For Appellant: J. Byron Brackin III, Brackin, McGriff & Johnson, P.C., Foley.

For Appellee: Helen J. Alford, Kristy W. Dugan, Alford Bolin, LLC, Mobile.

DONALDSON, Judge. Thompson, P.J., and Pittman, Thomas, and Moore, JJ., concur.

OPINION

Page 593

DONALDSON, Judge.

An officer of a corporation may elect to become exempt from coverage under the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act (" the Act" ), § 25-5-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975, specifically pursuant to § 25-5-50(b), Ala. Code 1975. This appeal presents the question whether a corporate officer who has properly signed and filed a written certification of his or her election to be exempt from coverage under the Act (" the certification of exemption" ), as required by § 25-5-50(b), must re-sign and refile a certification of exemption annually in order to remain exempt in succeeding years or whether a certification of exemption continues to be effective until it is revoked by the corporate officer pursuant to the statute. After applying the rules of statutory construction, we conclude that a certificate of exemption from coverage under § 25-5-50(b) remains in effect until it is revoked. Accordingly, the corporate officer in this case, Ernest Lee Hooks, Jr., was exempt from coverage under the Act at the time of his work-related injury, and, therefore, we affirm the judgment of the Baldwin Circuit Court (" the trial court" ) entered in favor of his employer, Coastal Stone Works, Inc. (" Coastal" ).

Facts and Procedural History

Both parties agree that the material facts are undisputed. Hooks became employed as president of Coastal in 2005. On May 24, 2006, Hooks, along with two other officers of Coastal, signed a certificate of exemption, " elect[ing] to be exempt from coverage under the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act, Article 3, Section 25-5-50[, Ala. Code 1975]." The certificate of exemption was filed with the Alabama Department of Labor[1] (" ADOL" ), and Coastal's

Page 594

workers' compensation insurer received it on May 31, 2006. From June 1, 2006, forward, Hooks was excluded from coverage under Coastal's workers' compensation insurance policy.

On November 23, 2011, Hooks was injured in an automobile accident while performing work on behalf of Coastal. Hooks demanded compensation and benefits under the Act from Coastal. Coastal denied that Hooks was entitled to any compensation or benefits under the Act based on the May 24, 2006, certification of exemption. On August 23, 2012, Hooks filed a complaint against Coastal in the trial court, seeking compensation and benefits under the Act. Coastal answered the complaint by asserting, among other defenses, that Hooks had exempted himself from coverage under the Act by signing and filing the May 24, 2006, certification of exemption. Coastal also asserted that Hooks had failed to give Coastal sufficient notice of the November 23, 2011, accident and resulting injury as required by § 25-5-78, Ala. Code 1975.[2] The evidence is undisputed that Hooks did not sign or file any documents regarding his coverage status under the Act other than the May 24, 2006, certification of exemption, that Hooks never considered himself to be covered under the Act before the November 2011 accident, and that Hooks was never covered under Coastal's workers' compensation insurance policy.

In December 2012, Coastal filed a motion for a summary judgment asserting that Hooks was exempt from coverage under the Act based on the May 24, 2006, certification of exemption filed with ADOL and Coastal's workers' compensation insurer. The trial court denied that motion on May 1, 2013. The trial judge who entered the May 1 order denying the motion for a summary judgment recused himself from the case, and a second trial judge appointed to the case also recused himself. A third trial judge was then assigned to the case.

On September 21, 2013, Coastal filed a second motion for a summary judgment, again arguing, among other things, that Hooks was exempt from coverage under the Act.[3] On October 28, 2013, the trial

Page 595

court entered a summary judgment for Coastal, stating in part:

" Section 25-5-50, Code of Alabama, when read in total, establishes a method by which an officer of a company may annually affirmatively request exemption. The section also sets out a method for the officer to affirmatively withdraw that exemption. When read together, the statute appears to set out a method to exempt and a method to withdraw. Therefore, the Court finds that this places the requirement on the officer that once he seeks exemption, he must then later affirmatively opt back in or the exemption remains automatically for another year.
" The Court finds that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and [Coastal] is entitled to a judgment as a matter ...

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