The following is our summary of the Supreme Court’s actions on petitions for review in civil cases from the Court’s conference on Wednesday, July 9, 2014. The summary includes those civil cases in which (1) review has been granted, (2) review has been denied but one or more justices has voted for review, or (3) the Court has ordered depublished an opinion of the Court of Appeal.
Ramos v. Brenntag Specialties, S218176—Review Granted—July 09, 2014
The defendants in this case include companies that supply aluminum and other raw materials to manufacturers. The plaintiff worked for one of those manufacturers, and allegedly breathed fumes emitted from the melting of aluminum during the manufacturing process. The plaintiff sued the defendants under a product liability theory, but the trial court sustained the defendant’s demurrer based on Maxton v. Western States Metals (2012) 203 Cal.App.4th 81, which held that a supplier of a nondefective multiuse material (like aluminum) is not responsible for injuries resulting from the manufacturing of the raw material.
The Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Four, reversed in a published opinion, expressly disagreeing with Maxton. It held that a duty to workers in plaintiff’s position arises where it is foreseeable that the raw material will be used in processes that may pose health hazards, even where the raw material posed no health hazard when transferred from the supplier to the manufacturer.
The Supreme Court granted review to resolve the conflict between this case and Maxton. The Supreme Court’s decision reflects its renewed scrutiny of the application of products liability doctrines outside the traditional context in which those doctrines were developed. In O’Neil v. Crane Co. (2012) 53 Cal.4th 335, the Supreme Court rejected a plaintiff’s effort to hold a manufacturer responsible for injuries caused by third-party replacement parts. Webb v. Special Electric, S209927, currently pending before the Supreme Court, raises a question similar to the issue presented in Ramos: whether a broker who sold raw asbestos to a manufacturer of asbestos-containing products can be liable for injuries allegedly caused by exposure to those products, where undisputed evidence shows that the manufacturer knew more than the supplier about the potential hazards of asbestos. [Full disclosure: Horvitz & Levy LLP represents one of the defendants who petitioned for review in Ramos. Horvitz & Levy also represents the defendant in Webb, and represented the defendant in O'Neil. ]
Citizens for Environmental Responsibility v. 14th District Agricultural Association (Stars of Justice), S218240—Review Granted and Held—July 09, 2014
The 14th District Agricultural Association (District), owner of Santa Cruz County Fairground, contracted with Stars of Justice to operate a rodeo at the Fairground. Pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the Fairground was prohibited from partaking in activities that would contaminate the water sources in the nearby areas. However, the Class 23 categorical exemption allowed the continuation of “normal operations of existing facilities for public gatherings for which the facilities were designed, where there is a past history of the facility being used for the same or similar kind of purpose” (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 14, § 15323), which included rodeos and other events involving livestock. The plaintiffs, including the Citizens for Environmental Responsibility and Stop the Rodeo, contended that livestock runoff from the rodeo would pollute surrounding ground water.
The trial court denied the plaintiffs’ petition for writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief, concluding that the rodeo project was a normal activity of the Fairground within the meaning of the exemption. The Third District Court of Appeal affirmed in a published decision.
The Supreme Court granted review and deferred briefing pending consideration and disposition of a related issue in Berkeley Hillside Preservation v. City of Berkeley, S201116, which presents the following issue: “Did the City of Berkeley properly conclude that a proposed project was exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.) under the categorical exemptions set forth in California Code of Regulations, title 14, sections 15303, subdivision (a), and 15332, and that the ‘Significant Effects Exception’ set forth in section 15300.2, subdivision (c), of the regulations did not operate to remove the project from the scope of those categorical exemptions?”
Gillespie v. Svale Del Grande, S218704—Review Granted and Held—July 09, 2014
After purchasing a used car from defendant’s car dealership, the plaintiff filed a class action alleging violations of the Civil Code, Vehicle Code, Public Resources Code, and Business & Professions Code. The defendant filed a petition to compel arbitration, relying on the parties’ arbitration agreement and class action waiver. The plaintiff argued the class action waiver was illegal under the Consumers Legal Remedies Act, and that the arbitration clause was unenforceable on grounds of unconscionability. The trial court held the class action waiver was enforceable but it refused to sever the unconscionable provisions of the arbitration clause. It therefore declined to enforce the arbitration agreement.
The Sixth District Court of Appeal held in an unpublished opinion that the class action waiver was enforceable but the three other provisions in the arbitration clause were unconscionable. It reversed the trial court’s order denying the petition to compel arbitration, and remanded for a determination whether to sever the three unconscionable provisions.
The Supreme Court granted reviewed and deferred briefing pending consideration and disposition of a related issue in Sanchez v. Valencia Holding Co., S199119, which presents the following issue: includes the following issue: “Does the Federal Arbitration Act (9 U.S.C. § 2), as interpreted in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion (2011) 563 U. S. __, 131 S.Ct. 1740, preempt state law rules invalidating mandatory arbitration provisions in a consumer contract as procedurally and substantively unconscionable?”
Center for Biological Diversity v. California Department of Fish and Game (Newhall and Farming Company), S217763—Review Granted—July 09, 2014
The plaintiffs challenged Los Angeles County’s approval of the Newhall Ranch Resource Management and Development Plan, including the environmental impact statement and impact report. The trial court entered a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, issuing a writ of mandate requiring the County to void its certification of the impact report with respect to five different issues. The Court of Appeal, Second District, Division Five, reversed in a partially published opinion, with directions that judgment be entered in favor of the defendants.
The question presented is whether the County properly certified the environmental impact report and development plan.
Gray1 CPB, LLC v. SCC Acquisitions, Inc., S218699—Review Granted and Held—July 09, 2014
The plaintiff obtained a judgment for $9.1 million. After several attempts to collect the judgment, the defendant’s attorney hand-delivered a cashier’s check to plaintiff for almost $13 million in satisfaction of the judgment. Twelve days later, plaintiff filed a motion for postjudgment costs, claiming it spent $3.1 million in attorney’s fees to collect the judgment. The defendant, citing Code of Civil Procedure section 685.080, argued the plaintiff’s motion was untimely because “a motion for costs, including attorney fees permitted by section 685.040 [must] be filed before the judgment has been fully satisfied.” The defendant asserted the judgment was satisfied upon plaintiff’s receipt of the cashier’s check. The plaintiff, however, argued the judgment was not satisfied until the check was honored by the issuing bank.
The Court of Appeal, Fourth District, Division Three, held in a published opinion that, under Commercial Code section 3310 (UCC §3310), a judgment paid by a cashier’s check is deemed satisfied upon acceptance of the payment by the receiving party. (Comm. Code § 3310 [“[u]nless otherwise agreed, if a . . . check is taken for an obligation, the obligation is discharged to the same extent discharge would result if any amount of money equal to the amount of the instrument were taken in payment of the obligation”].) The court thus held plaintiff’s costs motion untimely because it was not filed until twelve days after it accepted the defendant’s cashier’s check. The court rejected plaintiff’s reliance on Code of Civil Procedure section 724.050 subdivision (c), on the ground that it only “addresses the timing of a judgment creditor’s obligation to file an acknowledgement of satisfaction, not when a judgment is deemed to have been fully satisfied.”
The Supreme Court granted reviewed and deferred briefing pending consideration and disposition of a related issue in Conservatorship of McQueen, S209376, which presents the following issue: “Is a trial court award of statutorily-mandated fees and costs incurred on appeal subject to the Enforcement of Judgments Statutes (Code Civ. Proc., § 685.040 et seq.) if the statutory authority underlying the award is the Elder Abuse Act (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 15600 et seq.)?”
Review Denied (with dissenting justices)
Pielstick v. Midfirst Bank, S217575—Depublished—July 09, 2014
The trial court denied the plaintiff’s request for voluntary dismissal on the ground the request was made after the commencement of the hearing on the defendant’s demurrer. Instead, the court sustained the defendant’s demurrer without leave to amend.
The Court of Appeal, Second District, Division Two, held in a published opinion, Pielstick v. Midfirst Bank (2014) 224 Cal.App.4th 1452, that the plaintiff had not made his request “before the actual commencement” of the demurrer hearing. It relied on Mary Morgan, Inc. v. Melzark (1996) 49 Cal.App.4th 765, where the court denied a party’s attempt to voluntarily dismiss its case during a summary judgment hearing. The court analogized here that a plaintiff should similarly not be allowed to request voluntary dismissal during a demurrer hearing. The court reasoned that a contrary rule would allow a plaintiff to restart his complaint if it was not initially going well, as the plaintiff appeared to seek to do in the present case.
The Supreme Court ordered that the Court of Appeal’s opinion not be published in the official reports.