The trial court properly denied defendant professional indoor football players’ motion for summary judgment and entered summary judgment for plaintiff workers’ compensation insurer based on the ruling that defendants’ claims for the injuries they suffered while playing football were not compensable under the Wisconsin workers’ compensation law, since there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether defendants were employees of plaintiff’s insured, and in the absence of an employer- employee relationship between defendants and plaintiff’s insured, plaintiff was not obligated to provide coverage for defendants.
Gregory Szul, of Greg Tuite & Associates, of Rockford, for appellants.
Thomas F. Lucas and Sumi Yang, both of McKenna Storer, of Chicago, for appellee.
JUSTICE McLaren delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Zenoff and Schostok concurred in the judgment and opinion.
¶ 1 Defendants, Maurice Talton, Robert J. Lash, and Jaa Valentine, appeal the trial court's order denying their motion for summary judgment and granting summary judgment in favor of plaintiff, West Bend Mutual Insurance Company. On appeal, defendants argue that the trial court erred: (1) because there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether defendants were employees of plaintiff's insured, Championship Investments, LLC (Championship); and (2) by ruling that defendants' claims were not compensable under Wisconsin's workers' compensation law. We affirm for the reasons stated below.
¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND
¶ 3 The following facts are taken from the pleadings and attached documents. On November 12 and 18, and December 4, 2008, defendants signed individual contracts to play football for the Rock River Raptors (Raptors) indoor football team for the 2009 season. The Raptors were part of the Continental Indoor Football League (CIFL), which played its home games in Rockford, Illinois. On March 7 and 20, and April 11, 2009, Talton, Lash, and Valentine, respectively, were injured while playing home games in Rockford. In June 2009, defendants filed applications for benefits with the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission.
¶ 4 The injuries were reported to plaintiff and coverage was sought under a policy issued to Championship. When Talton's and Lash's claims were reported to plaintiff, plaintiff was advised that Talton and Lash were employed by Championship and that Championship owned both the Raptors and the Wisconsin Wolfpack, an outdoor football team that was a member of the North American Football League (NAFL). Plaintiff began paying Talton and Lash workers' compensation benefits. Plaintiff did not pay Valentine workers' compensation benefits, because, shortly after his injury was reported to plaintiff, it was advised that Championship did not own the Raptors and that defendants' injuries had occurred in Illinois. As a result, plaintiff also stopped paying benefits to Talton and Lash.
¶ 5 The headings on Valentine's and Lash's contracts state, "Championship Investments, LLC–CIFL Employment Agreement." The heading on Talton's agreement states, "Championship Sports–CIFL Employment Agreement." ¶ 6 Jordan Kopac, the president of Championship, provided the following deposition testimony. Championship was a limited liability company formed in 2006 in Wisconsin by Kopac to operate the Wisconsin Wolfpack, a football team that participated in the NAFL, an outdoor summer league. Kopac was also the owner of JFK2, LLC. Around September 2008, Kopac entered into discussions with Robert Lowe, one of the owners of the Raptors Football Owners Club, LP, the owner and operator of the Raptors, a CIFL team. These discussions led to JFK2, LLC, becoming a general partner of the Raptors Football Owners Club, LP, for the 2009 season.
¶ 7 During Kopac's deposition he was asked the following questions and provided the following answers.
"Q. [Paragraph 2 of the] agreement states team employs employee as a skilled employee. Employee accepts such employment. That's what the document states, correct?
Q. And the teams referred to in Paragraph 2 is the Rock River ...