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Hand Construction LLC v. Stringer

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

January 13, 2017

Hand Construction, LLC
Mitchell D. Stringer

         Appeal from Mobile Circuit Court (CV-15-902792)

          THOMPSON, Presiding Judge.

         Hand Construction, LLC ("Hand"), appeals from a judgment entered by the Mobile Circuit Court ("the trial court") finding that injuries Mitchell D. Stringer sustained in a motor-vehicle accident in Arkansas are compensable under the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act ("the Act"), § 25-5-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975. The trial court awarded Stringer medical benefits and temporary-total-disability benefits accordingly.

         The dispositive issue Hand raises on appeal is whether the trial court had subject-matter jurisdiction over this action. The record contains the following evidence relevant to that issue. Stringer lives in Mobile. Hand is a construction contractor whose principal place of business is Shreveport, Louisiana. Hand is licensed to do business in a number of states in the midwestern and southeastern United States, including Alabama. Stringer presented evidence demonstrating that Hand is registered with the Alabama Secretary of State's office as a foreign entity able to do business in Alabama. Adam Hubble, the chief financial officer for Hand, testified by affidavit that Hand does not maintain an office in Alabama, that Hand has not done business in Alabama in at least ten years, and that Hand has no employees working in Alabama. Stringer acknowledged that Hand did not have any projects in Alabama while he worked for the company.

         Stringer testified that, in September or October 2014, Hand's general superintendent, Allen Bayless, called Stringer in Mobile and asked him whether he would like to work for Hand. Stringer said that he had worked with Bayless in the past. At the time Bayless called Stringer, Bayless was working at the construction site of an apartment complex in Oxford, Mississippi, Stringer said. Stringer testified that, during that telephone conversation, Bayless offered him a job and that he accepted. It appears that Stringer subsequently traveled to Oxford, because he testified that Hand flew him from Oxford to Shreveport to complete his employment application and to submit to a drug test. Stringer also met other Hand executives at that time. However, Stringer said, he "felt like [he] had the job when [he] talked to [Bayless] when he called and offered it to me."

         According to the affidavits of Bayless, Hubble, and the project manager for whom Stringer worked, Peyton Dodd, Hand hired Stringer in Shreveport on October 9, 2014. Stringer testified that he first worked for Hand at a construction site in Louisiana. Then, in April 2015, Stringer was sent to supervise site preparation for the construction of an apartment complex ("the project") in Williston, North Dakota.

         Stringer testified that from April 2015 to October 2015 he would work for ten days in North Dakota then return to his home in Mobile for four or five days. When he was in Mobile, he said, he did work for Hand from his house using the laptop computer Hand had issued to him. For example, he said, he would talk by telephone to or respond to e-mail from suppliers and subcontractors connected to the project. In addition, Stringer said, while he was in Alabama, he took a first-aid course that Hand required. Hand paid for the course, he said.

         In his affidavit, Dodd, the project manager, testified that Stringer did not spend any of his time working in the service of Hand while he was in Alabama. "[A]ny time spent in Alabama was during [Stringer's] time off, " Dodd said. In his affidavit, Hubble corroborated Dodd's testimony, saying that Stringer never performed work for Hand in Alabama.

         The evidence was undisputed that Hand paid for Stringer's housing while he was in North Dakota. The evidence was also undisputed that, during the time Stringer was employed on the project, he had money withheld for state income taxes in North Dakota but did not have money withheld for Alabama state income taxes.

         Stringer testified that on October 6, 2015, he met with John Provost, a manager of Hand, in Shreveport at Provost's request. At that time, Provost notified Stringer that the job in North Dakota was finished and that Hand did not have sufficient work to retain him. Stringer said that Provost told him that Hand realized he had a pickup truck and some personal items in North Dakota and that Provost wanted Stringer to return to North Dakota to retrieve his personal belongings as well as Hand's equipment. Stringer said that Hand would save a lot of money if he brought the equipment back with him in his truck. Stringer said that, once he arrived in Mobile, he was to ship the items from Mobile to Shreveport.

         The "notice of termination/separation" form included in the record indicates that Stringer's "date of separation" was October 5, 2015. The notice also states: "Will pay through current 1-week severance." Stringer's signature does not appear on the notice, and he said he was not aware of his layoff until October 6, when he met with Provost. Stringer testified that he worked with Hand until October 10, 2015, when the accident occurred.

         Hand paid for Stringer to fly from Mobile to North Dakota on October 8, 2015, to collect certain equipment that belonged to Hand and that Stringer had used while he was working on the project. Stringer said that he packed the equipment and his personal belongings in his pickup truck and set out on his return trip to Mobile. Stringer testified that on October 10, 2015, as he was en route to Mobile, he was involved in a motor-vehicle accident in Arkansas. Stringer suffered multiple injuries in the accident. Hand has not challenged that, at the time of the accident, Stringer was an employee of Hand. The record includes the "Workers Compensation - First Report of Injury or Illness" form that Hubble completed. That form indicates that Hand was notified of Stringer's accident and injuries on October 12, 2015. The form also indicates that Louisiana has jurisdiction over the claim.

         On May 4, 2016, the trial court entered a judgment in which it concluded that it had jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to § 25-5-35(d)(2), Ala. Code 1975. Specifically, the trial court found that, at the time the accident occurred, Stringer was "working under a contract of hire made in this state in employment not principally localized in any state." The trial court went on to find that, at the time of the accident, Stringer's employment with Hand for the work done in North Dakota had been terminated and that Stringer and Hand had entered into a "subsequent contract for hire when Hand requested [Stringer] to return to North Dakota to retrieve some of its equipment that was there."[1] As noted earlier, the trial court awarded Stringer medical benefits and temporary-total-disability benefits under the Act. Hand timely appealed from the trial court's judgment.

"Our standard of review in workers' compensation cases was prescribed by the Legislature in Ala. Code 1975, ยง 25-5-81(e)(2). We recently set forth that standard, as ...

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