United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division
P. JORDAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
personal-injury action is before the Court on Defendant
Nissan North America's motion to dismiss  pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Nissan contends
that Plaintiff John Taylor's claims are barred by the
exclusivity provision of the Mississippi Workers'
Compensation Act (MWCA). Taylor has responded in opposition.
The Court, having considered the memoranda of the parties and
the pertinent authorities, finds that Nissan's motion
should be denied.
Facts and Procedural History
Taylor filed this suit against Nissan, his former employer,
for injuries he sustained due to repeated exposure to
formaldehyde gas emissions. He says Nissan knowingly required
him to work in areas with unsafe levels of formaldehyde
emissions and actively concealed the harmful levels of
formaldehyde in the plant. In his Complaint, he advances
intentional-tort claims, including misrepresentation,
battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, civil
conspiracy, fraud, and intentional misrepresentation.
argues that all claims are subject to dismissal based on the
exclusivity provision of the MWCA. Miss. Code Ann. §
71-3-9 (“The liability of an employer to pay
compensation shall be exclusive and in place of all other
liability of such employer to the employee . . . on account
of such injury or death . . . .”). Taylor opposes
dismissal, arguing that his claims fall within the
intentional-tort exception to the MWCA. See Bowden v.
Young, 120 So.3d 971, 976 (Miss. 2013) (examining
intentional-tort exception). In his response, Taylor
alternatively asks for an opportunity to amend his Complaint,
should the Court find his allegations are insufficient. The
motion is fully briefed, and the Court is prepared to rule.
considering a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the “court
accepts ‘all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them
in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.'”
Martin K. Eby Constr. Co. v. Dall. Area Rapid
Transit, 369 F.3d 464, 467 (5th Cir. 2004) (quoting
Jones v. Greninger, 188 F.3d 322, 324 (5th Cir.
1999) (per curiam)). But “the tenet that a court must
accept as true all of the allegations contained in a
complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare
recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by
mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555
(2007)). To overcome a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a plaintiff must
plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at
570. “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a
right to relief above the speculative level, on the
assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true
(even if doubtful in fact).” Id. at 555
(citations and footnote omitted).
primary question for the Court is whether Taylor's
allegations fall within the intentional-tort exception to the
MWCA. For a “willful tort to be outside the
exclusivity” of the MWCA, the employer's action
must be done “with an actual intent to injure the
employee.” Griffin v. Futorian Corp., 533
So.2d 461, 464 (Miss. 1988) (internal quotation marks and
citation omitted). “[A] mere willful and malicious act
is insufficient to give rise to the intentional tort
exception to the exclusive remedy provisions of the
[MWCA].” Blailock v. O'Bannon, 795 So.2d
533, 535 (Miss. 2001). Similarly, “[r]eckless or
grossly negligent conduct is not enough.” Id.
(citation omitted). Instead, “the plaintiff must allege
and prove that the employer acted with an actual intent to
injure the employee, with full knowledge that the employee
would be injured and with the purpose of the action being to
cause injury to the employee.” Bowden v.
Young, 120 So.3d 971, 976 (Miss. 2013).
standard is admittedly difficult-though not impossible-to
satisfy. See Pinnacle Trust Co. v. Babcok & Wilcox
Power Generation Group, Inc., No. 1:11CV02 SA-SAA, 2013
WL 5674381, at 3-7 (N.D. Miss. Oct. 17, 2013) (collecting
cases and granting summary judgment in favor of employer on
claim that employee's lung cancer was caused by exposure
to hexavalent chromium compounds); see also Peaster v.
David New Drilling Co., Inc., 642 So.2d 344 (Miss. 1994)
(affirming grant of summary judgment in favor of employer);
Griffin v. Futorian Corp., 533 So.2d 461, 464 (Miss.
1988) (affirming grant of summary judgment in favor of
employer on claim that employee was injured twice by lumber
sawing machine); but see Franklin Corp. v. Tedford,
18 So.3d 215, 231 (Miss. 2009) (affirming jury verdict in
favor of employees for injuries tied to exposure to adhesive
chemicals and finding no error in denial of employer's
motion to dismiss and motion for summary judgment);
Blailock v. O'Bannon, 795 So.2d 533, 535 (Miss.
2001) (reversing dismissal of action in favor of employer
where the employee was physically assaulted by a
suit centers around his alleged exposure to formaldehyde gas,
which is a byproduct of the paint-curing process used by
Nissan. On October 21, 2015, Nissan required Taylor to
perform maintenance in the LCV-oven area within the paint
plant without a respirator or other personal protective
equipment. Taylor claims Nissan knew the emission levels of
formaldehyde gas in this area were “significantly above
the permissible exposure limit” set by the Occupational
Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Compl. at 3. After
four hours of exposure, Taylor experienced dizziness, nausea,
difficulty breathing, exhaustion, confusion, and memory loss.
He also observed “burn-like markings around his face
and eyes.” Id. Taylor reported his symptoms to
his supervisor, attributing them to the formaldehyde gas. His
supervisor “made a comment to the effect that he hoped
he would never have to send Plaintiff back to work in the
area again.” Id.
days later, Taylor had a seizure at home and sought medical
attention at University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC),
where physicians told him not to return to similar work until
cleared by a neurologist. In response, Nissan initiated a
workers' compensation claim. On October 27, 2015,
Nissan's on-site medical clinic diagnosed Taylor with
“chemical gas exposure, ” setting a work
restriction of “no contact with formaldehyde
gas.” Id. at 4. But on November 3, 2015, the
medical clinic returned Taylor to full duty, despite
UMMC's instruction that he wait until cleared by a
neurologist. After Taylor complained to his workers'
compensation agent, Nissan returned Taylor to restricted
November 4, 2015, UMMC Neurologist Dr. Jimmy Wolfe diagnosed
Taylor with “new onset seizures and toxin exposure
related to the formaldehyde gas emissions from [Nissan's]
plant.” Id. at 5. Over the coming months,
Taylor continued to experience seizure-related symptoms and
sought follow-up care with a second neurologist, Dr. Ruth
Fredericks. Dr. Fredericks confirmed the diagnosis of seizure
disorder caused by chemical exposure and recommended that
Taylor be laterally transferred to a different area to avoid
further formaldehyde exposure and that he be provided a
respirator if forced to work in the paint plant. Id.
on August 18, 2016, Nissan required Taylor to perform
maintenance on the Paint 1 Prime oven without a respirator.
After forty-five minutes, Taylor experienced seizure-related
symptoms. Then, on August 26, 2016, Nissan again dispatched
Taylor to work on another prime oven in the paint plant
without a respirator. This time, Taylor observed ...