Brown v Dixie Contracting

In this decision the Court of Civil Appeals was asked to review the Trial Court’s judgment holding that the employee was not entitled to worker’s compensation benefits, which was based on its conclusion that the employee was not an employee of the Defendant but instead was an independent contractor. The appellate court reversed and remanded the case back to the trial court. The basis for its decision was two-fold. First, the appellate court held that the trial court’s decision did not comply with AL Code Section 25-5-88, which requires the judgment to contain detailed findings of facts and conclusions of law. The judgment was found to be meager and ommissive.

Second, and more substantively, the appellate court found that the trial court’s conclusion that the plaintiff was not an employee of the defendant but instead was an independent contractor, was not supported by substantial evidence. In reaching this conclusion the court cited the traditional factors that are to be examined when determining if a worker is an employee or an independent contractor: first and foremost the court will look for evidence of whether the purported employer RESERVED the right to control the manner in which the worker performs the duties of the work. In order for the worker to be an employee, “the other party must retain the right to direct the manner in which the business shall be done, as well as the results to be accomplished….” If the right of control extends no further than what is ultimately to be accomplished, no employer-employee relationship is established.

Moreover, in determining if the right of control was retained by the purported employer, the court is to look for: “(1) direct evidence demonstrating a right or an exercise of control; (2) the method of payment for services; (3) whether equipment is furnished; and (4) whether the other party has the right to terminate the employment.” The court will examine these factors on a case-by-case basis, and no one of the above factors, standing alone, can establish an employer-employee relationship.

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