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Voeller v. HSBC Card Services, Inc.

Supreme Court of South Dakota

July 10, 2013

RONALD VOELLER, COURT-APPOINTED PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF JULIE DIANE TASSLER and COURT-APPOINTED GUARDIAN OF MITCHEL KANE TASSLER and KRISTAL MACIE TASSLER, MINORS AND DEPENDANTS OF DECEASED EMPLOYEE, JULIE DIANE TASSLER, Claimants and Appellants,
v.
HSBC CARD SERVICES, INC. and CHARTIS INSURANCE, Employer, Insurer and Appellees.

ARGUED MARCH 20, 2013

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SIXTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT HUGHES COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA, THE HONORABLE MARK BARNETT Judge

N. DEAN NASSER, JR. JIMMY NASSER of Nasser Law Offices, PC Sioux Falls, South Dakota Attorneys for claimants and appellants.

RICHARD L. TRAVIS ERIC D. DENURE of May & Johnson, PC Sioux Falls, South Dakota Attorneys for employer, insurer and appellees.

ZINTER, Justice

[¶1.] Julie Tassler was shot and killed by her estranged husband in the parking lot of her employer. The personal representative of Julie's estate sought worker's compensation benefits for her death. Julie's employer and the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation denied benefits. They ruled that Julie's death did not "arise out of" her employment. The circuit court affirmed. We affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

[¶2.] On December 23, 2008, Julie served her husband Steven with a summons and complaint for divorce. The next morning, Julie reported to work at HSBC Card Services (Employer), where she had been employed since 2002. Around 9:30 a.m., Julie logged out of her work duties and left Employer's building to take her morning break in her car, which was in Employer's parking lot. Steven, who had been waiting in the parking lot in his vehicle, shot and killed Julie near her parked car. Steven then took his own life. There were no witnesses to the incident.

[¶3.] Ronald Voeller, Julie's father, was appointed the personal representative of Julie's estate. After Employer denied worker's compensation benefits for Julie's death, Voeller filed a petition for benefits with the Department.

[¶4.] To recover worker's compensation benefits, Voeller was required to prove, among other things, that Julie's death arose out of her employment. Voeller argued that Julie's death arose out of her employment because "but for" her being at work that day, she would not have been killed. Voeller also argued that Julie's employment facilitated her death because Steven would have only killed Julie on Employer's premises. Voeller claimed that Julie was only away from their children while at work, and Steven would not have killed her when their children were present. Voeller also claimed that Steven knew the layout of the parking lot, Julie's vehicle model, Julie's habit of parking in a certain area of the lot, and Julie's routine of taking morning breaks in her car. On the other hand, Employer argued that Julie's death arose out of a domestic assault that was purely personal, and consequently, there was no causal connection between the assault and Julie's employment.

[¶5.] On cross-motions for summary judgment, an administrative law judge granted summary judgment in favor of Employer. The ALJ noted that the "origin of the assault was a marital conflict[.]" The ALJ also noted that Steven and Julie were not coworkers, and there was "no evidence that [Julie's] employment or [any] relationship with a co-worker was a source of irritation in their marriage." The ALJ concluded that Julie's employment "did not exacerbate or contribute to the assault[, ]" and Julie's death "did not 'arise out of' her employment and [was] not compensable[.]" The Department's Secretary affirmed the ALJ's decision. Voeller appealed to the circuit court, which affirmed.

Decision

[¶6.] "When reviewing a grant of summary judgment, we decide only whether genuine issues of material fact exist and whether the law was correctly applied." Fedderson v. Columbia Ins. Grp., 2012 S.D. 90, ¶ 5, 824 N.W.2d 793, 795 (internal quotation marks omitted). We conduct that review de novo. Jorgensen Farms, Inc. v. Country Pride Coop., Inc., 2012 S.D. 78, ¶ 7, 824 N.W.2d 410, 414. "All reasonable inferences drawn from the facts [are] viewed in favor of the nonmoving party and reasonable doubts [are] resolved against the moving party." Gul v. Ctr. for Fam. Med., 2009 S.D. 12, ¶ 8, 762 N.W.2d 629, 632. However, "[e]ntry of summary judgment is mandated against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Zephier v. Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls, 2008 S.D. 56, ¶ 6, 752 N.W.2d 658, 662.

[¶7.] To recover worker's compensation benefits, the employee has the burden of proving that he or she sustained an injury "arising out of" and "in the course of" employment. SDCL 62-1-1(7). We construe these requirements liberally so benefits are "not limited solely to the times when the employee is engaged in the work that he [or she] was hired to perform." Fair v. Nash Finch Co., 2007 S.D. 16, ¶ 9, 728 N.W.2d 623, 628-29. Even though we analyze each requirement independently, "they are part of the general inquiry of whether the ...


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