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John Maxton v. Western States Metals et al

February 1, 2012

JOHN MAXTON, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
WESTERN STATES METALS ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND RESPONDENTS.



APPEAL from judgments of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Thomas I. McKnew, Jr., Judge. Affirmed. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BC403459)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kitching, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Plaintiff John Maxton alleges he sustained personal injuries as a result of working with metal products manufactured by defendants*fn1 and supplied to Maxton's employer. The metal products were essentially raw materials because they could be used in innumerable ways. The issue on appeal is whether Maxton can maintain his negligence and strict liability causes of action against defendants. We hold that he cannot.

Generally suppliers of raw materials to manufacturers cannot be liable for negligence or under a strict products liability theory to the manufacturers' employees who sustain personal injuries as a result of using the raw materials in the manufacturing process. Only in extraordinary circumstances--such as when the raw materials are contaminated, the supplier exercises substantial control of the manufacturing process, or the supplier provides inherently dangerous raw materials--can suppliers be held liable. No such circumstances exist here.

The only California cases we have found that impose liability on suppliers of raw materials under negligence and strict liability causes of action involve asbestos. As we shall explain, however, asbestos is inherently dangerous. We decline to extend the holdings of the asbestos cases here because the metal products involved are not inherently dangerous, and no other circumstances justify imposing liability on defendants for Maxton's injuries.

BACKGROUND

1. Procedural History

Defendants filed demurrers and motions for judgment on the pleadings challenging Maxton's second amended complaint, the operative pleading, on the grounds that they were not liable under the component parts doctrine. The trial court sustained the demurrers and granted the motions, and then entered judgments in favor of defendants.

2. Allegations in the Second Amended Complaint

The second amended complaint identifies with specificity the numerous metal products manufactured and supplied by each defendant. These products consisted of steel and aluminum ingots, sheets, rolls, tubes and the like.

The second amended complaint then alleges the following. From 1975 to 2007 Maxton worked as a laborer for LeFiell Manufacturing (LeFiell). Throughout his employment with LeFiell, Maxton "worked with and around" the metal products manufactured and supplied by defendants. Each of these products was used as intended by Maxton and his co-workers.

"The intended use of each of these metal products in cutting, grinding, sandblasting, welding, brazing, and other activities by Plaintiff and his co-workers in his vicinity resulted in the generation and release of toxicologically significant amounts of toxic airborne fumes and dusts composed of the various metallic toxins of which the metal products were composed." Maxton "was thereby exposed to and inhaled toxicologically significant amounts of toxic fumes and dusts . . . ." As a direct result of this exposure, Maxton "developed interstitial pulmonary fibrosis and other consequential injuries, which will require extensive medical treatment, hospitalizations, and organ transplantation as the disease progresses."

"Each of the foregoing metal products . . . were therefore themselves inherently hazardous products, because the foregoing intended melting, cutting, grinding, polishing, sanding, sandblasting, machining, and soldering of said metal products by Plaintiff and his co-workers in his vicinity resulted in the generation and release of toxicologically significant amounts of toxic airborne metallic fumes and dusts which are known causes of interstitial pulmonary fibrosis."

Defendants "fraudulently concealed the toxic hazards of their products" from Maxton. In particular, defendants concealed "that their products either were carcinogens and/or fibrogens, contained carcinogenic and/or fibrogenic ingredients, or contained carcinogenic and/or fibrogenic contaminants as a result of manufacturing processes." They also failed to disclose to Maxton the "toxic" hazards of their products.

Defendants allegedly violated Labor Code sections 6390 and 6390.5 and the California Hazard Communication Standard (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, § 5194), which require certain warnings regarding hazardous substances. In particular, each of the defendants did not provide a material safety data sheet (MSDS) or provided an inadequate MSDS.

Based on these allegations, the second amended complaint sets forth causes of action for (1) negligence, (2) strict liability - failure to warn, (3) strict liability - design defect, (4) fraudulent concealment, and (5) breach of implied warranties.

DISCUSSION

Defendants mounted two kinds of challenges to the second amended complaint. Some defendants filed demurrers; others filed motions for judgment on the pleadings. The trial court sustained the demurrers and granted the motions on the same ground: the second amended complaint did not state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action.*fn2 (Code Civ. Proc., §§ 430.10, subd. (e), 438, subd. (c)(1)(B)(ii).)

1. Standard of Review

On appeal from a judgment of dismissal following a ruling sustaining a general demurrer or granting a motion for judgment on the pleadings, we determine de novo whether the complaint alleges facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action. (SC Manufactured Homes, Inc. v. Liebert (2008) 162 Cal.App.4th 68, 82 (SC Manufactured Homes); Gami v. Mullikin Medical Center (1993) 18 Cal.App.4th 870, 876.) " 'We assume the truth of the properly pleaded factual allegations, facts that reasonably can be inferred from those expressly pleaded, and facts of which judicial notice can be taken. [Citation.] We construe the pleading in a reasonable manner and read the allegations in context. [Citation.]' " (SC ...


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