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Sheila Munguia, et al v. Bekins Van Lines

October 19, 2012

SHEILA MUNGUIA, ET AL.,
PLAINTIFFS,
LJO-SKO
v.
BEKINS VAN LINES, LLC, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS WILLIAM WRIGHT, ET AL. PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BEKINS VAN LINES, LLC, ET AL. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sheila K. Oberto United States Magistrate Judge

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS THAT PLAINTIFFS WILLIAM WRIGHT AND JOANNE WRIGHT'S MOTION FOR CHOICE OF LAW BE GRANTED AS TO THE ISSUE OF COMPARATIVE FAULT OBJECTIONS DUE: 21 DAYS

I. INTRODUCTION

On July 23, 2012, Plaintiffs William Wright and Joanne Wright (the "Wrights") filed a Motion for Choice of Law seeking to establish California law as applicable in this case. (Doc. 31.) On August 1, 2012, Plaintiffs Sheila Munguia ("Munguia") and Jordan Harness ("Harness" or, collectively, "Plaintiffs") filed a Joinder in the Wrights' Choice of Law Motion. (Doc. 33.) Defendants Bekins Van Lines, LLC ("Bekins") and the Estate of Myron Bojszuk ("Bojszuk" or, collectively, "Defendants") filed an opposition on August 13, 2012, and the Wrights filed a reply brief on August 22, 2012. (Docs. 34, 35.)

The Court has reviewed the parties' briefs and supporting documents and determined that this matter is suitable for decision without oral argument pursuant to the Local Rules of the United States District Court, Eastern District of California, Rule 230(g). For the reasons set forth below, the Court RECOMMENDS that Plaintiffs' Motion for Choice of Law to establish California law as applicable in this case be GRANTED concerning the issue of comparative fault.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Procedural Background

On June 8, 2011, Plaintiffs Munguia and Harness filed a complaint in Fresno County Superior Court against Defendants; the action was removed to this Court on July 7, 2011, by Defendants in case no. 1:11-cv-01134-LJO-SKO. (Docs. 1-3.) On July 12, 2011, Defendants filed an answer and counterclaim; the counterclaim was answered by Munguia and Harness on July 29, 2011. (Docs. 9-11.)

On September 29, 2011, the Wrights filed an action against Defendants in the United States District Court, Eastern District of California, Sacramento Division. A Notice of Related Action was filed on October 3, 2011, informing the Court that the Wrights' action was related to the action brought Munguia and Harness. On October 4, 2011, the Court related the two actions and reassigned the case to this Court in case no. 1:11-cv-01675-LJO-SKO. (Docs. 1, 2, 6, 7.) On November 8, 2011, Defendants filed an answer and counterclaim in the Wrights' action. (Docs. 11, 12.) On November 22, 2011, Defendants and the Wrights filed a stipulation and proposed order to consolidate the two actions; on the same day, the Court ordered the actions consolidated and closed case no. 1:11-cv-01675-LJO-SKO. (Docs. 14, 15.) Accordingly, case no. 1:11-cv-01134-LJO-SKO became the lead case.

On March 21, 2012, Plaintiff Harness filed a stipulation and proposed order for good faith settlement indicating Munguia and Harness had settled and that Defendants would dismiss with prejudice the counterclaim against Harness; the stipulation was approved by the Court the same date. (Docs. 27-28.)

On July 23, 2012, the Wrights filed the instant motion for choice of law. (Doc. 30.) Munguia filed a joinder to the Wrights' motion. (Doc. 33.) On August 13, 2012, Defendants filed an opposition, and the Wrights filed a reply on August 22, 2012. (Docs. 34-35.)

B. Factual Background*fn1

On January 13, 2011, Defendant Bojszuk was driving a loaded 2003 Peterbilt tractor-trailer for Defendant Bekins.*fn2 Bojszuk began his journey in Sacramento, California, and was heading to Salt Lake City, Utah. At approximately 7:05 p.m., while traveling eastbound on Interstate 80 in Elko, Nevada, Bojszuk failed to negotiate a curve in the road and drifted into the median, then swerved and overcorrected the vehicle, causing the tractor-trailer to overturn. The tractor-trailer came to rest in a north/south direction, blocking all lanes on eastbound Interstate 80, with the undercarriage of the truck facing oncoming eastbound traffic. Bojszuk was semi-conscious immediately following the accident. Although vehicles on both sides of Interstate 80 purportedly stopped to render assistance, Bojszuk died at the scene.

Plaintiff Harness, who was operating a motor vehicle traveling eastbound on Interstate 80 with Munguia as a passenger, collided with the tractor-trailer, allegedly causing severe injuries to both Harness and Munguia. Shortly thereafter, a motor vehicle operated by Plaintiff William Wright, with his wife Plaintiff Joanne Wright as a passenger, also collided with the underside of the overturned tractor-trailer, allegedly causing severe injuries to the Wrights.

The action brought by Munguia and Harness alleges claims for negligence, negligence per se, and negligent entrustment. The Wrights' action alleges claims for personal injury and loss of consortium. Defendants' counterclaims allege claims for indemnification and contribution.

III. DISCUSSION

A. The Wrights' Motion is Limited to Issue of Comparative Fault

While the Wrights' Motion for Choice of Law seeks to establish California law as applicable in this case (Doc. 31), Defendants correctly indicate that the Wrights' request is over broad and premature to the extent that may seek to establish California law as the only applicable law for all potential issues in the case. Defendants note that the Wrights' motion focuses only on the issue of potential conflicts of law concerning the comparative fault systems between the three potentially affected jurisdictions -- California (where the Wrights reside), Nevada (where the accident occurred), and Illinois (the principal place of business of Bekins and where Bojszuk resided prior to his death). In their reply, the Wrights concede that their motion pertains only to the issue of comparative fault and, as such, this is the only issue the Court will consider.

Additionally, Defendants contend that the Wrights' motion improperly seeks to confirm that California law should apply because California courts only consider applying a foreign state's law if a party files a choice of law motion and persuades the court that the law of a foreign state is applicable. However, the Court notes that the parties had indicated prior to their scheduling conference that there was a disputed legal issue of whether California or Nevada substantive law applied in this action. (See Doc. 21, 7:26.) Further, although Defendants have not filed a separate motion for choice of law, they assert that Nevada's statutory comparative fault law, not California's common law comparative fault law, is applicable here. (Doc. 34, 3:10-10:4.) As such, there is a dispute as to which state's law governs the issue of comparative fault in this case, the resolution of which may assist in the parties litigating this action. As the issue has been fully briefed, the Court finds it appropriate to consider the question of choice of law as it relates to comparative fault.

B. Defendants' Objections and Motion to Strike Declaration of Roger A. Dreyer and Exhibits Attached Thereto Defendants object to and move to strike the Declaration of Roger A. Dreyer and supporting exhibits (Doc. 32) pursuant to the Federal Rules of Evidence, Rule 411, contending that the exhibits only serve to advise the Court that Defendants have insurance coverage and that such evidence is improper and irrelevant to the issues raised in the motion for choice of law. (Doc. 34-1.) The Wrights concede that withdrawal of the declaration is appropriate, especially since Defendants are not asserting that Illinois law should apply in this case. (Doc. 35, 8:11-15.) Accordingly, the Declaration of Roger A. Dreyer and accompanying exhibits should be STRICKEN.

C. Legal Standard for Choice of Law

In a diversity action, a federal court sitting in California must apply California choice of law rules. Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Electric Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496 (1941); Abogados v. AT&T, Inc., 223 F.3d 932, 934 (9th Cir. 2000); Marsh v. Burrell, 805 F. Supp. 1493, 1496 (N.D. Cal. 1992). California courts decide choice of law questions by means of the "governmental interests" analysis. In re Yagman, 796 F.2d 1165, 1170 (9th Cir.1986); Marsh, 805 F. Supp. at 1496. This choice of law analysis embodies the presumption that California law ...


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