Last Friday, the Supreme Court of Texas denied Brenda Young’s petition for review. The 14th Court of Appeals’ holding that Chapter 87 can immunize defendants against suits brought by independent contractors will stand. 

The Court’s notice regarding the denial of the petition for review can be downloaded here.

The Supreme Court did not give a reason for denying the petition. One reason could have been that the Court found no reversible error in the 14th Court’s opinion. As such, the denial may be yet another indication that the Supreme Court agrees with me and other practitioners who believe Chapter 87 applies to suits brought by workers (both independent contractors and employees), subject to its exceptions.

As far as I know, no court of last resort in any state has ever taken up the issue of whether an equine or farm animal immunity statute applies to suits brought by workers.

Related Posts:

Young v. McKim Appealed to Supreme Court of Texas

Texas Supreme Court May Be Inclined to Grant Chapter 87 Immunity to Employers

Another Appellate Court Holds Chapter 87 Immunity Act Applies to Suits Brought by Independent Contractors

Do you withhold payroll taxes from your farm help’s wages? A recent tax case illustrates the bad things than can happen when a horse business incorrectly calls its farm workers “independent contractors”, and fails to withhold payroll taxes from their wages.

Are your farm workers really independent contractors?

Case Background:

Twin Rivers Farm, Inc., a Tennessee S Corporation, was engaged in the business of raising, training, and showing horses for anticipated sale or lease.

Twin Rivers hired Adam Lopez Morales and Nallhelyo Ruiz (workers) to work on the property where it ran its horse business. Morales and Ruiz lived in a trailer on the property and did not pay rent during the three years at issue in the case.

Morales and Ruiz’s primary job duties included: cleaning stalls, the barn area, the barn offices, the restroom, and the tack room; grooming horses; watering the horses; and moving the horses between pastures. The workers also occasionally fixed fence and mowed.  The equipment Morales and Ruiz used to perform their job duties was owned by Twin Rivers.

Twin Rivers paid both workers by check, with Morales receiving $300 per week, and Ruiz receiving $150 per week. With respect to the years at issue, Twin Rivers did not make deposits of employment tax, nor did it file Forms 1099 with respect to the workers.

Holding:

Over farm owner Diana Militana’s objections, the court found that Morales and Ruiz were employees of the farm and not independent contractors. As a result of the farm’s misclassification of the employees, the court found Militana liable for approximately $30,000 in unpaid employment taxes and penalties for a three year period.

Case Info

Twin Rivers Farm, Inc. v. Commissioner; T.C. Memo 2012-184; Docket No. 14074-10 (July 2, 2012)

Related Posts:

Employee v. Independent Contractor: Pitfalls of Misclassification (Part 1)

Employee v. Independent Contractor: Pitfalls of Misclassification (Part 2)

In general, a defendant can only be immune from suit in a Texas horse-related injury case if the plaintiff was a “participant in a farm animal activity or livestock show” when the injuries occurred.

Chapter 87 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code (the “Act”) was amended in 2011 to, among other things, include farm animals other than equines. However, the “participant” requirement did not change in 2011.  Neither the former nor the current version of the Act specifically states whether or not employees of equine activity sponsors are considered “participants in a farm animal activity or livestock show” under the Act.

The 1st Court of Appeals in Houston is the only Texas court to have taken up this issue (Dodge v. Durdin, 2005).  In that case, Deborah Dodge sued her employers, Magestic Moments Stables, et al, after a horse kicked her in the abdomen as she was administering paste-wormer at the direction of her employer. Dodge claimed that she incurred $4,000 in medical bills as a result of her injuries, and that her employers’ negligence was the proximate cause of her damages. 

Majestic Moments claimed that Dodge’s suit was barred by the Act.  The trial court agreed, and dismissed the case.  On appeal, the 1st Court of Appeals disagreed that the Act applied to an employer / employee relationship.

This warning sign should not be a "news flash" to anyone.

Citing its review of legislative intent, together with the duties assigned to Texas employers under the Texas Labor Code, the 1st Court of Appeals held that, “the Equine Act applies to consumers and not to employees and that Dodge is therefore not a ‘participant’ under the Equine Act.” 

Workers’ compensation did not cover Dodge’s alleged injures. Unlike employers in many states, Texas employers are able to opt out of the workers’ compensation system. For more information, see this post.

In Dodge, the 1st Court of Appeals noted that the only other Texas court to have addressed the definition of “participant” was the Corpus Christi Court of Appeals in Johnson v. Smith (2002). In that case, the Corpus Christi court acknowledged that an independent contractor—not an employee—in charge of breeding and handling stallions was a participant under the Act.  The 1st Court of Appeals distinguished the Johnson case from the Dodge case on its facts.

Neither the Dodge nor the Johnson case were appealed to the Supreme Court. 

The Texas Supreme Court has not yet addressed whether or not an employee or independent contractor who is injured while working with horses on their employer’s premises is a “participant” for purposes of the Act.  Until the Supreme Court takes up this issue or the Legislature clarifies it, this issue continues to be somewhat unsettled in Texas. Texas equine businesses should therefore not rely upon the Act to provide immunity from suits brought by employees or independent contractors. 

Businesses can take several steps to minimize liability risk in this area, including 1) procuring insurance to cover employee or independent contractor injuries; 2) having employees or independent contractors sign liability releases; and 3) forming limited liability entities through which employees and independent contractors are retained.

A special thank you to reader Lois Mermelstein, Esq. of Austin, Texas for submitting this topic suggestion.

Hello all!  I’m back stateside after a brief business trip to Germany.  Unfortunately, the Equine Law Blog went "postless" last week due to a bad internet connection in the Hotel Dorint in Ausgburg, Germany.  Hotel management reported to me that the bad connection was unavoidable and due to the fact that the walls of the hotel are about 2 feet thick and made of concrete!!

In any event, I am happy to see that I seem to have brought some cooler temeratures back with me from Germany!

Last week I was at the Americana Horse Show in Augsburg, Europe’s biggest Western horse show.  Below is a photo I took of my friend Uwe Roeschmann, a German cutting horse trainer whose training facility is located in Gainesville, Texas.  The photo shows Uwe entering the arena on September 1, 2011 and preparing to work cattle in the European Cutting Championship Open Finals.  As you can see, he was showing in front of a packed house!

I hope you find the following guest post material helpful.  It is Part II of a series on employer vs. independent contractor status by  employment law specialist Russell Cawyer, publisher of Texas Employment Law Update.  Enjoy! 

In Texas, the test for determining independent contractor status is a multifactor analysis that centers on the economic realty of the relationship.  The focus is on whether the worker is, as a matter of economic reality, dependent on the alleged employer or in business for himself.   This inquiry includes whether the employer has the right to control the progress, details, and methods of operations of the work.  A nonexclusive list of factors that are usually considered in this analysis include: 

  • the degree of control exercised by the alleged employer;
  • the extent of the relative investments of the work and the alleged employer;
  • the degree to which the worker’s opportunity for profit or loss is determined by the alleged employer;
  • the skill and initiative required in performing the job;
  • the permanency of the relationship.

No one factor is determinative. If a court or taxing authority determines that the independent contractor was misclassified, the employer may be responsible for failing to provide the benefits the employee would have otherwise enjoyed had he been properly classified as an employee (e.g., participation in certain employee benefit plans and unpaid overtime).  Depending on the size of the workforce and the work it engages in, these sums can be significant.  Consequently, operations making extensive use of independent contractors should review these relationships carefully to ensure that the workers are properly classified and incorporate changes in the relationships that enhance the ability to defend that classification."

Follow Russell Cawyer on Twitter @RussellCawyer

Follow Alison Rowe on Twitter @alisonmrowe

Hey everyone!  I hope you like this picture I took today at the "Reiterstadion" in Hannover, Germany. The yellow building (pictured) is a barn within the Hannover city limits that was built at the turn of the century for the Germany cavalry. Now it’s a boarding and training stable surrounded by indoor and outdoor arenas plus a small cross-country course.

For today we have a guest post by employment law specialist Russell Cawyer, publisher of Texas Employment Law Update.  Enjoy! 

"Owning and operating a horse operation requires a lot labor. Owners use a variety of types of personal services. Improperly classifying these workers as independent contractors instead of employees can have a variety of adverse consequences. Potential liability that can result from misclassification include:

1)  Potential tax exposure from federal and state taxing authorities (i.e., unemployment tax, FICA, FUTA);

2)  Exclusion from certain insurance policies depending on the kind of coverage provided;

3)  Claims that misclassified contractors should be entitled to participate in employer benefit plans covering employees (e.g., stock option plans, health and benefit plans);

4)  Claims that misclassified contractors are entitled to overtime compensation.

Moreover, the likelihood of a misclassification mistake being discovered has increased as state workforce divisions, the U.S. Department of Labor and IRS are now coordinating their resources to catch employers that have misclassified workers. In Part 2 of this post I’ll outline the test that is used by Texas courts in determining whether a workers is an independent contractor or an employee."

Follow Russell Cawyer on Twitter @RussellCawyer

Follow Alison Rowe on Twitter @alisonmrowe