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Macomber v. Yupiit School District

United States District Court, D. Alaska

May 12, 2016

Amanda Macomber, Plaintiff,
v.
Yupiit School District, et al., Defendants.

ORDER AND OPINION [Re: Motion at docket 19]

JOHN W. SEDWICK SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

I. MOTION PRESENTED

At docket 19 defendant Yupiit School District (“Yupiit”) moves to dismiss three of the claims made by plaintiff Amanda Macomber (“Macomber”) against Yupiit pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Macomber responds at docket 27, and Yupiit replies at docket 28. Oral argument was not requested, and it would not be of assistance to the court.

II. JURISDICTION

Macomber’s First Amended Complaint (“Complaint”) alleges numerous claims against Yupiit and several individual defendants. The claims include claims arising under federal law, as well as three state law negligence claims. This court has jurisdiction over the federal law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Jurisdiction over the state law claims exists under 28 U.S.C. § 1367, because the state law claims are so closely related to the federal law claims that they are a part of the same controversy.

III. BACKGROUND

Macomber was employed by Yupiit as a school teacher to work at Yupiit’s school in the village of Akiachak, Alaska. Akiachak is a remote settlement which is not on the road system. Yupiit provided Macomber with housing in Akiachak during each of the years she taught there. The Complaint sets out seven claims against Yupiit. The first three are state law negligence claims, which relate to the housing provided by Yupiit and the events which transpired in that housing. Count I alleges that Yupiit negligently breached its duty to provide safe, secure, and habitable housing; Count II alleges that Yupiit’s negligent conduct rose to the level of gross negligence; and Count III alleges that Yupiit’s conduct amounted to the intentional infliction of emotional distress.[1] These three state law claims are the subject of the motion to dismiss docket 19. In its answer, Yupiit pled several affirmative defenses, including the defense that Macomber’s claims are “barred by the exclusive remedies provision of the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act, AS 23.30.010 et seq.[2]

IV. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Rule 12(c) provides: “After the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” For analytical purposes Rules 12(c) and 12(b)(6) are “substantially identical.”[3] Thus, Rule 12(b)(6) cases are instructive when considering a motion made under Rule 12(c). Analysis under either rule requires the court to assume the truth of the facts pled by plaintiff and then to decide if such facts entitle plaintiff to a remedy.[4]

When reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) or Rule 12(c) motion, “[a]ll allegations of material fact in the complaint are taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.”[5] To be assumed true, the allegations, “may not simply recite the elements of a cause of action, but must contain sufficient allegations of underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively.”[6]Dismissal for failure to state a claim can be based on either “the lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory.”[7]“Conclusory allegations of law . . . are insufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss.”[8]

To avoid dismissal, a plaintiff must plead facts sufficient to "‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." "The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." "Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" "In sum, for a complaint to survive a motion to dismiss, the non-conclusory ‘factual content, ' and reasonable inferences from that content, must be plausibly suggestive of a claim entitling the plaintiff to relief."

V. DISCUSSION

Under Alaska law, an employee who suffers an injury at work is entitled to be paid workers’ compensation benefits regardless of whether the employer was at fault.[9]In exchange for this assured compensation, the employee’s right to bring tort claims against her employer is foreclosed.[10] Yupiit argues that the facts pled in the complaint establish that Macomber’s negligence claims are work-related claims for which her exclusive remedy is workers’ compensation benefits. It is undisputed that Yupiit obtained Workers’ Compensation Insurance for its employees.

The conditions and events giving rise to Macomber’s negligence claims took place at her dwelling in Akiachak rather than at the school. For that reason, Yupiit’s argument depends upon a particular aspect of Alaska workers’ compensation law known as the “remote site” doctrine. The Alaska’s Supreme Court has explained the rationale for the doctrine “is that everyday activities that are normally considered non-work-related are deemed a part of a remote site employee’s job for workers’ compensation purposes because the requirement of living at the remote site limits the employee’s activity choices.”[11] In the complaint, Macomber alleges that she and other teachers at Akiachak “had no other choice than to accept the housing selected and rented by Yupiit School District.”[12] The complaint goes on to describe in some detail the various ...


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