Articles Posted in Supreme Court of California

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In this negligence case, the Supreme Court held that the immunity provision of the Government Claims Act (GCA) that bars any statutory liability that might otherwise exist for injuries resulting from the condition of firefighting equipment or facilities, Cal. Gov't Code 850.4, does not deprive a court of fundamental jurisdiction but, rather, operates as an affirmative defense to liability. Plaintiff sued the Chester Fire Protection District and the Garden Valley Fire Protection District alleging that Defendants created a "dangerous condition" of public property for which public entities may be held liable under Cal. Gov't Code 835. Defendants did not allege the immunity conferred by section 850.4. After trial began, defense counsel presented a written motion for nonsuit in which Defendants for the first time invoked section 850.4. Plaintiff objected on the ground that Defendants waived section 850.4 immunity by failing to invoke the immunity in their answer. The trial court overruled the objection, concluding that governmental immunity is jurisdictional and can't be waived. The court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that section 850.4 immunity operates as an affirmative defense and not a jurisdictional bar. The Court remanded the case so the court of appeal may address the parties' remaining arguments in the first instance. View "Quigley v. Garden Valley Fire Protection District" on Justia Law

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In this case concerning a massive, four-month-long leak from a natural gas storage facility located outside Los Angeles the Supreme Court held that local businesses, none of which alleged they suffered personal injury or property damage, may not recover in negligence for income lost because of the leak. Plaintiffs were businesses seeking to represent a class of persons and entities conducting businesses within the area of the leak, arguing that by depriving local businesses of customers the environmental disaster cost local businesses considerable earnings. Defendant demurred, arguing that Plaintiffs' negligence claims failed as a matter of law because Plaintiffs were seeking to recover for purely economic losses. The trial court overruled the demurrer. The court of appeal reversed, holding that California law did not permit recovery for the purely economic losses sought by Plaintiffs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant did not have a tort duty to guard against purely economic losses. View "Southern California Gas Leak Co. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal insofar as it held that the trial court erred in dismissing certain of Plaintiff’s causes of action, holding an employee who believes he or she has not been paid the wages due under the applicable labor statutes and wages orders may not maintain causes of action for unpaid wages against a payroll service provider for breach of contract, negligence, and negligent misrepresentation. While the court of appeal agreed that a payroll company cannot properly be considered an employer of the hiring business’s employee that may be liable for failure to pay wages that are due, the court held that the employee may maintain the causes of action that were dismissed in this case by the trial court. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the court of appeal erred (1) in holding that an employee may maintain a breach of contract action against the payroll company under the third party beneficiary doctrine; and (2) in determining that an employee who alleges that he or she has not been paid wages that are due may maintain causes of action for negligence and negligent misrepresentation against a payroll company. View "Goonewardene v. ADP, LLC" on Justia Law

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At issue was whether evidence of industry custom and practice may be introduced in a strict products liability action. William Jae Kim (Kim) and his wife brought this strict products liability suit against Toyota Motor Corporation alleging that the Toyota Tundra pickup truck Kim was driving he was injured was defective because its standard configuration did not include a vehicle stability control (VSC), which they claimed would have prevented the accident. During trial, evidence was admitted that no vehicle manufacturer at the time included VSC as standard equipment in pickup trucks. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Toyota. The Court of Appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) evidence that a manufacturer’s design conforms with industry custom and practice is not admissible to show the manufacturer adopted reasonably in adopting a challenged design and therefore cannot be held liable; (2) however, evidence of industry custom and practice may be admitted for the strict products liability inquiry, including the jury’s evaluation of whether the product is as safely designed as it should be; and (3) the evidence in this case was properly admitted. View "Kim v. Toyota Motor Corp." on Justia Law

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In this action alleging that a utilization reviewer caused Plaintiff additional injuries by denying his treating physician’s request to continue prescribing certain medication for his injuries without authorizing a weaning regimen or warning him of possible side effects of abruptly ceasing the medication, the Supreme Court held that the workers’ compensation law provided the exclusive remedy for the employee’s injuries and thus preempted the employee’s tort claims. Plaintiff sustained a work-related back injury that caused him chronic pain, anxiety and depression. A mental health profession prescribed Klonopin to treat the anxiety and depression. Two years later, a utilization reviewer determined that Klonopin was medically unnecessary and decertified the prescription. After Plaintiff immediately stopped taking the medication he suffered a series of four seizures. Plaintiff filed a complaint asserting several tort claims. Defendants demurred, arguing that the claims were preempted by the Workers’ Compensation Act. The trial court sustained the demurrer. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment insofar as it permitted Plaintiffs to amend their complaint to bolster their claim that Defendants were liable in tort for failure to warn, holding that because the acts alleged did not suggest that Defendants acted outside of the utilization review role contemplated by statute, Plaintiff’s claims were preempted. View "King v. CompPartners, Inc." on Justia Law

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At issue was whether the immunity from damages for collisions resulting from police chases provided by Cal. Veh. Code 17004.7 is available to a public agency only if all peace officers of the agency certify in writing that they have received, read, and understood the agency’s vehicle policy. The Supreme Court held that a public agency may receive immunity provided by section 17004.7 only if every peace officer the agency employs has provided written certification that the officer has received, read, and understood the agency’s written policy on vehicular pursuits. While the agency’s policy must require the written certification, the agency need not prove total compliance with that requirement as a prerequisite to receiving the immunity. The Court of Appeal reached a similar conclusion, holding (1) it suffices if a public agency imposes the certification requirement, but the agency does not have to prove total compliance with the requirement; and (2) because the pursuit policy promulgated by the City in this case imposed such a requirement, summary judgment was correctly granted in the City’s favor. View "Ramirez v. City of Gardena" on Justia Law

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At issue was which statute of limitations applies to a suit brought by a child allegedly harmed by in utero exposure to hazardous chemicals: that for toxic exposure claims - Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 340.8(a) - or that for prenatal injuries - Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 340.4. Plaintiff brought suit when she was twelve years old alleging that she and her mother were exposed to toxic chemicals at a Sony Electronics, Inc. manufacturing plant, resulting in her birth defects. Sony moved for summary judgment, arguing that the action was barred by the six-year statute of limitations under section 340.4. In response, Plaintiff argued that her action fell under section 340.8. Section 340.8’s limitations period is only two years but, unlike section 340.4, permits tolling during minority and periods of mental incapacity. The trial court granted summary judgment after applying section 340.4. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) because the toxic exposure statute was more recently enacted, and its language plainly encompasses prenatal injuries, it applies in this case; and (2) therefore, Plaintiff’s claims are not time-barred. View "Lopez v. Sony Electronics, Inc." on Justia Law

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At issue was the validity of a court order entered upon default judgment in a defamation case, insofar as it directed Yelp Inc. to remove certain consumer reviews posted on its website. Plaintiffs brought the underlying lawsuit alleging that certain consumer reviews posted on Yelp were libelous. Yelp was not named as a defendant and did not participate in the judicial proceedings that led to the eventual default judgment. Yelp only became involved in the litigation after being served with a copy of the judgment and order directing that the challenged reviews be purged. Yelp field a motion to set aside and vacate the judgment, arguing that, to the extent the removal order would impose upon Yelp a duty to remove the reviews at issue, the order was barred under the Communications Decency Act of 1996, 47 U.S.C. 230. The trial court denied the motion. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that the order as to Yelp was beyond the scope of section 230. The Supreme Court reversed, holding the the court of appeal adopted too narrow a construction of section 230 and that section 230 immunity applied in this case. View "Hassell v. Bird" on Justia Law

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At issue was the claim and issue preclusive significance in future litigation of a conclusion relied on by the trial court and challenged on appeal but not addressed by the appellate court. The Supreme Court overruled People v. Skidmore, 27 Cal. 287 (1865), holding that Skidmore reflects a flawed view of preclusion and that stare decisis does not compel continued adherence to Skidmore. Plaintiff sued both Dr. Haitham Matar and Dr. Stephen Nahigian for professional negligence and alleged that Matar was vicariously liable for Nahigian’s alleged tort. The trial court granted summary judgment for both defendants in two successive judgments. In the first judgment with respect to Nahigian, the trial court concluded that the suit was untimely and that there was no genuine issue regarding causation. In the second judgment, the trial court concluded that the court’s earlier no-causation determination precluded holding Matar liable for Nahigian’s conduct. The court of appeals affirmed the first judgment on statute of limitations grounds without reaching the no-causation ground. As to Matar, the court of appeal reversed, concluding that claim preclusion was unavailable because Plaintiff sued both defendants in a single lawsuit and that Skidmore was inapplicable to issue preclusion. The Supreme Court held that Skidmore must be overruled and that Matar was not entitled to summary judgment on preclusion grounds. View "Samara v. Matar" on Justia Law

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When a third party sues an employer for the negligent hiring, retention, and supervision of an employee who intentionally injured that third party, the suit alleges an “occurrence” under the employer’s commercial general liability policy so long as the injury can be considered “accidental.” Jane Doe alleged that Construction Company negligently hired, retained, and supervised an employee, who allegedly sexually abused Doe. Construction Company tendered the defense to Insurer. Insurer sought declaratory relief in federal court contending that it had no obligation to defend or indemnify Construction Company. The commercial general liability policy at issue provided coverage for “bodily injury caused by an “occurrence.” “Occurrence” was defined as an “accident.” The district court granted summary judgment to Insurer, reasoning that Doe’s injury was not caused by an “occurrence” because the alleged negligent hiring, retention, and supervision were acts too attenuated from the injury-causing conduct committed by the employee. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the causal connection between Construction Company’s alleged negligence and the injury inflicted by its employee was close enough to justify the imposition of liability on Construction Company. View "Liberty Surplus Insurance Corp. v. Ledesma & Meyer Construction Co., Inc." on Justia Law