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Case Summaries

Injury & Tort Law

[04/30] Shields v. Hennessey Industries, Inc.
In consolidated actions alleging that the defendant's machine for shaping brake linings that were manufactured by others and that contained asbestos fibers that were dangerously released into the air by the normal action of the defendant's machine, the trial court's judgment on the pleadings in favor of the defendant is reversed, where the plaintiffs pleaded viable causes of action for negligence and strict liability for purposes of overcoming a motion for judgment on the pleadings.

[04/30] Gregg v. Ham
In a homeowner's suit against a bail bondsman and others alleging civil rights violations under 42 USC section 1983 and various state law tort claims, stemming from the bail bondsman's efforts to apprehend a fugitive in and around the plaintiff's home, the jury's verdict and damages award in favor of the plaintiff are affirmed, where: 1) the qualified immunity defense does not apply to bail bondsmen, so the district court’s jury instruction on that defense could not be erroneous; 2) there was sufficient evidence to support the jury's conclusions that the plaintiff's consent to enter her home was involuntary and that she was in reasonable fear of bodily harm; and 3) the district court did not err by denying the defendant's Rule 59 motion for a new trial or remittitur on damages.

[04/30] Bush v. Horizon West
In an action in which one plaintiff sued the operators of a skilled nursing facility for elder abuse based on their alleged neglect in providing her care and treatment at the facility and the plaintiff's daughter sued the same defendants for negligent infliction of emotional distress based on her alleged observation of the harm they caused her mother through their neglect, the trial court's denial of the defendants' motion to compel arbitration is affirmed, where: 1) CCP section 1281.2(c) was not preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act; 2) the parties did not agree that section 1281.2(c) would not apply; 3) the daughter was not bound by the arbitration agreement; and 4) there was no abuse of discretion in the trial court's determination that there was a possibility of conflicting rulings.

[04/27] Cole v. Town of Los Gatos
In a personal injury suit in which one of the defendants was a city, summary judgment in favor of the city is reversed, where the evidence before the trial court raised numerous issues of fact concerning the existence of a dangerous condition of public property and a causal relationship between the characteristics of the property and the plaintiff's injuries, so the city was potentially liable under Government Code section 835.

[04/26] Stone v. Sec'y of Health and Human Services
In consolidated cases in which parents sought compensation under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program for injuries to their children allegedly caused by the Diptheria-Tetanus-acellular Pertussis vaccine, the Court of Federal Claims' rulings in favor of the respondent are affirmed, where: 1) because of expert testimony and considerable evidentiary support for the expert's views in the record, the special master's conclusion that a gene mutation was solely responsible for the children's epilepsy was not arbitrary or capricious; 2) the special master did not impose an inappropriately high burden of proof on the petitioners; and 3) the special master therefore did not abuse his discretion by denying one parent's motion to submit additional evidence.

[04/26] Williams v. New York
In a case in which a voluntary patient of a state-run psychiatric center left the facility without consent and then nearly two years later assaulted and injured the plaintiff, the Appellate Division's judgment finding the state liable is reversed, where the causal connection between the hospital staff's alleged negligence and the former patient's attack on the plaintiff was too attenuated and speculative to support liability, given the length of time between the alleged negligence and the harm.

[04/26] Davis v. Foster Wheeler Energy Corp.
In a suit alleging that an oil refinery worker was exposed to asbestos and asbestos-containing products, causing mesothelioma, summary judgment to the defendant is affirmed, where: 1) internally contradictory deposition testimony of a coworker did not establish the existence of a triable issue of fact; 2) the defendant was not liable just because it was hired to perform maintenance on equipment at the plant; 3) there was no evidence that the defendant supplied asbestos-containing insulation or caused it to be put on boilers, or that the defendant had any knowledge or responsibility concerning the refinery's worker safety; and 4) the defendant's response to a discovery request did not raise a triable issue.

[04/25] Johnson v. Alameda County Medical Center
In a case in which a woman involuntarily committed to a county mental institution was assaulted by a fellow patient and sued the institution and several of its employees for negligence, the trial court's grant of summary judgment to the defendants on the basis of statutory immunity is affirmed, where: 1) general immunity under Government Code section 854.8 was triggered by the undisputed facts that the defendant medical center was a public entity and that the plaintiff was injured by a patient of a mental institution while she herself was an inpatient of that institution; 2) the defendants demonstrated that no evidence supported invocation of an exception to immunity; and 3) further discovery on the issue was properly denied.

[04/24] Knox v. Dean
In a dispute over a conservator's actions with regard to the plaintiff's elderly father, the trial court's grant of the conservator's motion for summary judgment is reversed but his motion for summary adjudication is granted in part, where: 1) the conservator's res judicata defense applied only to acts before a fourth accounting, and the plaintiff's allegations were sufficient to state causes of action against him; and 2) because the conservator failed to establish a complete defense as to certain causes of action, summary judgment was improper, although summary adjudication was properly entered as to the causes of action for fraud and constructive fraud.

[04/23] Landmark Screens, LLC v. Morgan, Lewis, & Bockius, LLP
In a state-law fraud suit stemming from alleged acts of malpractice committed by a lawyer and his firm in connection with a patent application: 1) the district court's grant of summary judgment to the defendants is reversed, where a) patent jurisdiction under 28 USC section 1338 was proper because the underlying question was whether the plaintiff would have been able to achieve patent protection for its invention absent the alleged malpractice, and b) the district court erred in not tolling California's three-year statute of limitations for fraud claims during the time the case was pending in the state courts; and 2) the district court's damages order is vacated, where the record did not support the district court's manner of summarily limiting damages.

[04/19] Bankhead v. ArvinMeritor, Inc.
In an asbestos personal injury case, a punitive damages award is affirmed, where: 1) there is no legal requirement that punitive damages must be measured against a defendant's net worth; 2) there was expert testimony that the defendant corporation's net worth was not a reliable indicator of its ability to pay punitive damages, and that other indicators in its financial data merited the amount of the award; and 3) the 2.4-to-one ratio of punitive damages to compensatory damages awarded by the jury did not violate the federal due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, or the guidelines for making such awards as articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court.

[04/18] Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority
In a suit against the Palestinian Authority and the PLO under the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 (TVPA) brought by the estate of a person killed in the West Bank, dismissal of the case is affirmed, as the TVPA's use of the term "individual" encompasses only natural persons and so does not impose liability against organizations.

[04/17] USPPS, Ltd. v. Avery Dennison Corp.
In a suit for breach of fiduciary duty and fraud arising out of a licensee's and law firm's alleged failure to secure a patent on the licensed product, the district court's order dismissing the complaint is affirmed, where it was not brought within the four-year limitations period, and neither the discovery rule nor the fraudulent concealment doctrine served to toll the limitations period.

[04/16] Stengel v. Medtronic Inc.
In a suit for injuries sustained by one of the plaintiffs from his use of a pain pump manufactured by the defendant, the district court's dismissal of the complaint is affirmed, where the claims were either expressly or impliedly preempted by federal law.

[04/13] Richard v. US
In a suit alleging that under the relevant "bad men" provision in the Laramie Treaty with Sioux tribes, a non-Indian drunk driver's actions in killing two Sioux men on a Sioux reservation obligated the United States to reimburse the estates of the deceased for their losses, dismissal by the Court of Federal Claims for lack of jurisdiction is vacated, where: 1) the treaty text does not limit "bad men" among the whites to governmental actors; 2) the object and policy reasons underlying the treaty show it was written to cover provocations by all non-Sioux; and 3) the Claims Court's holding as to the scope of the "bad men" provision was prohibited by earlier precedent, Tsosie v. US, 825 F.2d 393 (Fed. Cir. 1987).

[04/11] Cloer v. Sec'y of Health and Human Services
On application for an award of reasonable attorney's fees and costs incurred in an appeal of a petition brought under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, the application is remanded to the Court of Federal Claims for a determination of whether an award should be made, where the applicant had asserted an unsuccessful but nonfrivolous limitations argument.

[04/10] S.R.P. v. US
In a suit against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), alleging that the government negligently failed to warn of the danger posed by barracudas to shallow water bathers, the district court's dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is affirmed on the basis that the government was immune from suit under the discretionary function exception to the FTCA's waiver of sovereign immunity, where 1) no statute, regulation, or policy mandated specific action by National Park Service (NPS) officials with respect to warning signs; and 2) NPS's decision not to post additional warning signs or add language to existing warning signs regarding the danger of a shoreline barracuda attack was susceptible to policy analysis.

[04/10] Connolly v. Trabue
In an action involving a claim for prescriptive title to an easement and counterclaims for trespass, emotional distress, and other alleged torts: 1) the trial court's ruling that the plaintiffs' claim was barred by the doctrine of laches is reversed, as a) laches is not applicable to a prescriptive easement claim, b) laches does not apply to an action at law, c) there was no evidence as to when the plaintiffs could have first brought their claim, and d) the defendants suffered no prejudice; and 2) the trial court's rulings against the defendants on their counterclaims are affirmed.

[04/09] Moss v. US Secret Service
In a suit stemming from a protest demonstration against President Bush during the 2004 presidential campaign: 1) the district court's ruling denying the defendant Secret Service agents' motion to dismiss a Bivens claim for viewpoint discrimination is affirmed, where the plaintiffs alleged a plausible First Amendment claim, and the agents were not entitled to qualified immunity; but 2) the district court's denial of the defendant police supervisors' motion to dismiss a 42 USC section 1983 claim is reversed, where the plaintiffs did not allege sufficient facts to support a plausible Fourth Amendment claim against the supervisors for use of excessive force.

[04/05] Johnson v. Ralphs Grocery Co.
In a suit against a supermarket, its independent contractor security company, and employees of the security company for intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, and malicious prosecution stemming from an unsuccessful shoplifting prosecution instigated by the defendants: 1) the district court's grant of anti-SLAPP motions on the malicious prosecution cause of action is affirmed, where the anti-SLAPP statute applies to malicious prosecution actions, and the plaintiff did not meet her burden of showing a probability of prevailing on the merits; and 2) the trial court did not in sustaining the supermarket's demurrer to the causes of action for negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

[03/29] Quarry v. Doe I
In a suit alleging various causes of action against a Catholic bishop, primarily including claims for negligence in hiring, retaining, and supervising a priest despite knowledge of his prior acts of sexual abuse, and negligent failure to protect the plaintiffs or warn them of their peril, the Court of Appeal's decision allowing the complaint to proceed is reversed, where the plaintiffs did not bring their action within the one-year revival period prescribed by a 2002 amendment to Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1.

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