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Gnatkiv v. Machkur

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division

May 24, 2016

PETRO GNATKIV, Plaintiff/Appellant,

         Appeal from the Superior Court in Yavapai County No. P1300CV201200776 The Honorable Patricia A. Trebesch, Judge

          Scott M. Harris PC, Scottsdale By Scott M. Harris Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellant

          Elardo Bragg & Rossi PC, Phoenix By Amanda E. Nelson, John A. E

          Judge Randall M. Howe delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Presiding Judge Kent E. Cattani and Judge Samuel A. Thumma joined.


          HOWE, Judge:

         ¶1 Petro Gnatkiv ("Gnatkiv") appeals the trial court's summary judgment in favor of Andriy Machkur ("Machkur") and intervenor Ryder Transportation Systems ("Ryder") for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the doctrine of res judicata. Gnatkiv argues that the trial court had jurisdiction because the parties and claims in this case are different from his prior New Jersey case and he did not benefit by virtue of receiving workers' compensation benefits there. But under the principle of comity, the trial court could have accorded presumptive validity to Gnatkiv's and Machkur's New Jersey workers' compensation settlement agreements and divested itself of jurisdiction in this case. Consequently, because we may affirm a judgment if the trial court was correct in its ruling for any reason, KCI Rest. Mgmt. LLC v. Holm Wright Hyde & Hays PLC, 236 Ariz. 485, 488 ¶ 11 n.2, 341 P.3d 1156, 1159 n.2 (App. 2014), we affirm summary judgment in favor of Machkur and Ryder.


         ¶2Both Gnatkiv and Machkur provided transportation and driving services on behalf of Azstar Logistics, LLC ("Azstar"), a New Jersey corporation. In June 2010, Machkur was driving a semi-truck that went off the road and rolled over near Black Canyon City, Arizona. Gnatkiv was a passenger in the truck and was injured in the accident.

         ¶3In September 2010, Gnatkiv applied for workers' compensation benefits in New Jersey. In his petition, Gnatkiv alleged that he "sustained an injury by an accident arising out of and in the course of [his] employment with [Azstar], compensable under" New Jersey's workers' compensation laws. Azstar admitted that it employed Gnatkiv on the date of the accident, that the accident "arose out of and in the course of employment, " and that the employment was covered by New Jersey's workers' compensation laws. Gnatkiv and Azstar settled the matter, with Gnatkiv receiving nearly $78, 000 in permanent disability payments. After finding that the terms of the settlement were "fair and just, " a "judge of compensation" for the New Jersey Division of Workers' Compensation entered an order approving the settlement. Gnatkiv received workers' compensation benefits as a result.

         ¶4 Machkur and Azstar also reached a settlement for Machkur's claim for benefits under the New Jersey workers' compensation laws. In an affidavit supporting the settlement, Machkur stated that he "sustained injuries" due to a "work-related accident that occurred on June 28, 2010." A judge of compensation for the New Jersey Division of Workers' Compensation approved the settlement between Machkur and Azstar.

         ¶5 In June 2012, Gnatkiv filed this tort claim in Arizona against Machkur. Gnatkiv also sued Ryder Logistics & Transportation Solutions Worldwide, dba Ryder Transportation Services, but stipulated to dismiss that entity with prejudice. Because he was unable to locate Machkur, Gnatkiv served Machkur by publication. The trial court permitted Ryder, the insurance carrier for the semi-truck Machkur drove during the accident, to intervene on its own behalf in defense of Machkur.

         ¶6 Ryder then moved for summary judgment, arguing that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Gnatkiv's tort claim because, regardless whether Arizona or New Jersey law applied, workers' compensation benefits were Gnatkiv's exclusive remedy. Gnatkiv responded-contrary to the allegations in his New Jersey petition-that he was an independent contractor, which meant that the exclusive remedy provisions of workers' compensation laws did not divest the Arizona trial court of subject matter jurisdiction over his tort claim against Machkur. Gnatkiv relied on an affidavit from the business director for ATL Group, of which Azstar was a subsidiary, stating that Gnatkiv was not an employee of Azstar, but an independent contractor. At the very least, Gnatkiv argued, whether he was an employee or an independent contractor was a jury question.

         ¶7 The trial court granted Ryder's motion for summary judgment, finding that a "determination was made in New Jersey by the Worker's Compensation entity" that both Gnatkiv and Machkur "were employees of Azstar at the time of the subject accident." The court also found that "both received worker's compensation benefits arising from the accident" and "under both New Jersey and Arizona law, only a person who is an employee is entitled to workers' compensation." Thus, the court concluded that "the prior determination in New Jersey that [Gnatkiv] ...

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