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Redford v. Willbros Group, Inc.

United States District Court, D. North Dakota, Northwestern Division

July 17, 2014

Rosemarie Redford as Personal Representative of the Estate of Bryan Neal; and Rosemarie Redford on Behalf of all the heirs of Bryan Neal, Plaintiffs,
v.
Willbros Group, Inc. and Willbros Construction (U.S.), LLC, Defendants.

FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTION

CHARLES S. MILLER, Jr., Magistrate Judge.

This is an action brought by Rosemarie Redford as the personal representative of the estate of Bryan Neal and on behalf of Neal's heirs. The heirs assert a statutory claim for wrongful death and the estate a survival claim. Before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment. Unless otherwise indicated below, the facts are stated most favorably for plaintiffs.

I. BACKGROUND

A. The Willbros RV park

Defendant Willbros Construction (U.S.), LLC ("Willbros") is headquartered in Houston, Texas. It specializes in the construction of oil and gas pipelines. To support its work in western North Dakota, Willbros maintains an office/shop complex and pipe storage yard in rural McKenzie County just south of Watford City, North Dakota.

Because of the shortage in housing in western North Dakota due to the oil boom, Willbros created a small RV park adjacent to its office/shop complex as one of its solutions for providing housing for its workforce.[1] The RV park had spots for approximately fifteen RVs for which Willbros provided connections for utilities (electricity, sewer, and water) and a dumpster for trash. Willbros also made available limited laundry and shower facilities in its adjacent shop. At the time of the events relevant here, there was no fence or other barrier between the RV park and the office/shop and pipe yard. However, there was a separate entrance for vehicles as well as driving lanes to access the RV hookups and room for parking tenant vehicles.

The Willbros employees residing in the park were required to sign a rental agreement, which set forth the rental policies and the park rules, and to pay $500 per month rent. The decedent Bryan Neal was a tenant of the RV park at the time of his death and the version of the rental agreement that he signed was the following:

WILLBROS RV PARK RENTAL POLICY AND PARK RULES
1. LOT RENT IS $500.00 PER MONTH DUE ON THE 1st OF EACH MONTH.
2. PAYMENTS MUST BE MADE TO: WILLBROS (CHECK OR MONEY ORDERS ONLY)
3. I/WE GIVE WILLBROS AUTHORIZATION TO GARNISH ANY AND ALL LOT RENT THAT IS PAST DUE OR OWED TO WILLBROS FROM THE WEEKLY PAY CHECKS.
4. ALL PAYMENTS MUST BE TURNED IN TO LISA KURGAN .
5. THERE IS A 5 DAY GRACE PERIOD, AFTER WHICH THERE IS A $30.00/WK LATE CHARGE.
6. WILLBROS IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR PROPERTY DAMAGE OR INJURIES INCURRED ON THE PREMISES.
7. TENANT IS RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY DAMAGE TO WILLBROS PROPERTY INCLUDING ELECTRICAL AND PLUMBING FIXTURES.
8. TENANT IS REQUIRED TO WINTERIZE THEIR RV'S TO THE EXTENT TO PROTECT THE WATER AND SEWER SYSTEMS.
9. TENANTS ARE NOT ALLOWED TO LEAVE WATER RUNNING INSIDE OR OUTSIDE OF THE RV AT ANY TIME.
10. ALL TENANT'S [sic] WILL USE THE NORTH DRIVEWAY. THE SHOP, PIPEYARD AND OFFICE AREA IS OFF LIMITS TO ALL TENANTS/EMPLOYEES UNLESS THEY ARE ON THE CLOCK AND DURING WORKING HOURS.
11. ALL TENANTS MUST ABIDE BY THE 10MPH SPEED LIMIT IN THE PREMISES.
12. QUIET HOURS ARE FROM 10PM TO 5AM. (NO EXCEPTIONS)
13. ALL VEHICLES WILL BE LICENSE [sic], INSURED AND DRIVEABLE. (3 MAXIMUM PER LOT)
14. NO PERMANENT STRUCTURES OR BUILDING ARE ALLOWED ON THE PREMISES.
15. ALL TENANTS MUST KEEP PETS ON A LEASH AT ALL TIMES AND MUST CLEAN UP AFTER THEM.
16. ALL TENANTS WILL BE RESPONSIBLE FOR KEEPING THE PREMISES AND AREAS AROUND THEIR RV NEAT, CLEAN, FREE OF TRASH AND EQUIPMENT ETC.
17. TENANTS ARE PERMITTED TO RECEIVE PERSONAL MAIL/PACKAGES AT THE OFFICE. BUT MUST BE PICKED UP DAILY, WILLBROS WILL IS [sic] NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR LEFT MAIL/PACKAGES.
18. ALL TENANTS MUST BE LISTED ON THE RENTAL AGREEMENT AND ARE REQUIRED TO FOLLOW ALL RULES WHILE ON PREMISES.
19. ALL TENANTS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ACTIONS OF THEIR VISITORS WHILE ON THE PREMISES.
20. ANY TENANT RECEIVING UP TO 3 WARNINGS DUE TO VIOLATION OF PARK RULES WILL BE EVICTED FROM THE PREMISES.

(Doc. Nos. 31-12 & 31-60, p. 13).

The record is unclear as to exactly how the park policies were developed. However, there is some evidence suggesting that, because Willbros does not normally get involved in providing workforce housing and this was an exception due to the severe housing shortage, the responsibility for setting up and operating the RV park fell to the area manager and his staff and that one or more of his staff looked on the internet for ideas of what to include in the park policies.

B. The after-bar-closing party

During the early morning hours of Tuesday, August 14, 2012, and after the bars had closed at 1:00 a.m., several of the RV tenants, along with others who were not residing in the park, retired to the park to continue drinking and "partying." Most, if not all, of the group had been at the Eagles Club in Watford City until closing. The group included at least four Willbros employees: Thomas Stillwagoner; Jake Swartz; Hunter Rhodes; and the decedent, Byran Neal. However, it is possible there may have been one or two others. Of these four employees, only two were tenants of the park, Stillwagoner and Neal. Swartz and Rhodes were staying elsewhere, although Swartz planned on spending that evening in Neal's RV.

The "party group" also included Emily Envid, the bartender from the Eagles, who was invited to attend. There is also evidence that one or more other Eagles employees may have been in attendance.

Several of the Willbros employees who came from the Eagles had been there since early evening, drinking beer interspersed with shots of hard alcohol. There is evidence they were alcohol impaired even before the after-bar-closing party began at the RV park. In fact, one of the Willbros employees, Don Huffman, who had been part of the group in the bar never made it back to the RV park at closing with the others. He was arrested for an alcohol-related driving offense shortly after 1:00 a.m upon leaving the Eagles Club. The test for his blood alcohol level came back at 0.198 g/100ml, which is ...


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