FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN
DISTRICT OF OKLAHOMA (D.C. NO. 5:16-CV-00442-W)
E. Bryan III, Lane M. Clausen with him on the briefs,
Hornbeek Vitali & Braun P.L.L.C., Oklahoma City,
Oklahoma, for Appellants.
Earl Ogletree, Cameron R. Capps with him on the brief,
Wiggins Sewell & Ogletree, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for
TYMKOVICH, Chief Judge, HARTZ, and HOLMES, Circuit Judges.
TYMKOVICH, Chief Judge.
appeal concerns the scope of Oklahoma's recently modified
workers' compensation regime. Perry Odom suffered serious
injuries when a semi-trailer collapsed on him at work. His
employer—Penske Logistics—did not own the
trailer, but his employer's sole stockholder—Penske
Truck Leasing—did. Odom and his wife sought to recover
from Penske Truck Leasing through a personal injury action in
federal court. The district court dismissed their complaint,
reasoning Oklahoma's workers' compensation scheme as
applied here shielded an employer's stockholders from
employee claims arising out of a workplace injury.
Odoms appealed, challenging the district court's
interpretation of the Oklahoma statute. We certified the
interpretive question to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. We have
received an answer making it clear the district court applied
an incorrect legal standard in dismissing this case. We
therefore reverse and remand for further proceedings.
stage of the proceedings, we assume the truth of the facts
alleged in the Odoms' complaint.
Odom worked for Penske Logistics in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
On July 27, 2015, Odom suffered life-threatening injuries
when a trailer equipped with an air suspension system
collapsed on him, striking his head. In addition to pursuing
relief from the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation
Commission, Odom and his wife filed this diversity action in
the United States District Court for the Western District of
Oklahoma. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332. As relevant
here, the Odoms alleged the trailer's owner,
Penske Truck Leasing Co., L.P., negligently inspected,
tested, repaired, serviced and maintained the trailer, and
then failed to preserve evidence critical to this action.
turns out, however, Penske Truck Leasing also owned
Odom's employer, Penske Logistics, as a corporate
subsidiary. On this basis alone, Penske Truck Leasing moved
to dismiss the Odoms' action for failure to state a
claim. It argued the exclusive-remedy provision of
Oklahoma's workers' compensation statute barred civil
suits against it based on workplace injuries suffered by
Penske Logistics employees.
district court granted the motion. It read the Oklahoma
statute to immunize both employers and their
stockholders from liability for work-related negligence. As a
result, the court agreed dismissal was in order so long as
Penske Truck Leasing could prove an ownership interest in
Penske Logistics. In subsequent briefing, Penske Truck
Leasing offered an employee affidavit and a corporate data
sheet both establishing that fact. The Odoms did not refute
this evidence, and have not challenged it here. Accordingly,
the district court dismissed the case.
Odoms appealed. Uncertainty over the proper interpretation of
the statute led us to solicit the view of the Oklahoma
Supreme Court. See Odom v. Penske Truck Leasing Co.,
704 Fed.Appx. 780 (10th Cir. 2017) (unpublished);
see 10th Cir. R. 27.2(A)(1); see also Okla.
Stat. tit. 20, § 1602 (granting the power to answer
certified questions). We asked whether the statute's
"exclusive-remedy provision bar[s] an employee from
[suing] a stockholder of his employer" in tort,
"even if . . . liability would arise from duties
independent of the employment relationship."
Odom, 704 Fed.Appx. at 782. The Oklahoma Supreme
Court accepted our certified question and issued an opinion
answering it. See Odom v. Penske Truck Leasing Co.,
415 P.3d 521 (Okla. 2018). Applying that answer, we now
decide the Odoms' appeal.