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Southern California Edison Co. v. City of Victorville

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, Second Division

June 17, 2013

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA EDISON COMPANY, Cross-complainant and Appellant,
CITY OF VICTORVILLE, Cross-defendant and Respondent. AMANDA LAABS, Plaintiff and Appellant,

APPEAL from the Superior Court of San Bernardino County. No. VCVVS032374 Gilbert G. Ochoa, Judge.

Richard Harris Law Firm, Richard A. Harris; Ferguson Case Orr Paterson, Wendy C. Lascher and John A. Hribar for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Patricia A. Cirucci, Brian A. Cardoza; Greines, Martin, Stein & Richland, Timothy T. Coates and Carolyn Oill for Defendant, Cross-complainant, Appellant, and Respondent.

Graves & King, Harvey W. Wimer III and Dennis J. Mahoney for Cross-defendant and Respondent.



Amanda Laabs was injured when the car in which she was riding collided with another car in an intersection and then hit a light pole owned by Southern California Edison Company (SCE). Laabs sued various parties, including the City of Victorville (the City), the County of San Bernardino (the County), and SCE.

The present opinion deals with consolidated appeals from judgments following (1) the trial court’s granting of SCE’s motion for judgment on the pleadings as to Laabs’s second amended complaint, and (2) the trial court’s order sustaining, without leave to amend, the City’s demurrer to SCE’s first amended cross-complaint.

We first address the ruling on SCE’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, which we reverse. We then address and affirm the trial court’s order sustaining the City’s demurrer without leave to amend.


A. Introduction

This is Laabs’s fourth appeal, and the second involving SCE. In the first two appeals we affirmed summary judgments in favor of the County and the City.[1] In the third appeal, we reversed summary judgment in favor of SCE. (Laabs v. Southern California Edison Co. (2009) 175 Cal.App.4th 1260, 1279 (Laabs III).) In Laabs III, we held that there existed triable issues of fact as to whether SCE owed a duty of care to motorists relative to the placement of street lights immediately adjacent to the traveling lanes of a high-speed roadway. (Id. at p. 1269.)[2]

Following remand, SCE moved for judgment on the pleadings based on the argument that the superior court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the present action. (See Code Civ. Proc., § 438, subd. (c)(1)(B)(i).) Its motion was premised on an argument that Public Utilities Code section 1759[3] precluded the superior court from entertaining any lawsuit dealing with matters that are under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC or Commission). It argued that the placement or location of street lights fell under the exclusive province of the PUC, and the trial court could not entertain an action for damages because it would interfere with the PUC’s exercise of its plenary power. More particularly, SCE contended that upon SCE’s filing of its tariff with the PUC and the PUC’s approval of said tariff, the conditions contained therein had the force and effect of law. SCE submitted that the location of the subject pole was part of the approved tariff and that under the express conditions of the tariff, SCE is relieved of all liability for acting in accordance therewith. (See Pub. Util. Code, § 489, subd. (a).)

The trial court granted the motion and the present appeal ensued. Because the trial court does have subject matter jurisdiction over the present matter, we reverse.

B. Background

In Laabs’s second amended complaint, she alleges the following facts. Laabs was a passenger in a car driven by James Dimeo. Dimeo was driving northbound on Ridgecrest Road in Victorville. Dimeo’s car was struck by another car at an intersection with Pebble Beach Drive, spun out of control and across Ridgecrest Road, and hit a concrete light pole erected 18 inches away from the curb. Laabs was injured. The light pole was owned and maintained by SCE.

Laabs sued SCE on the theory that SCE acted negligently by installing and maintaining the light pole so close to the curb.

C. Judicially Noticed Documents

SCE’s motion for judgment on the pleadings relies exclusively on documents of which it requested the trial court take judicial notice. First is an “Agreement for Service for Street Lighting” entered into between the City and SCE on August 12, 1977. Attached as exhibits to this agreement are PUC “Schedule No. LS-1, ” which deals with a “Utility-Owned System” and “Schedule No. LS-2, ” dealing with a “Customer-Owned Installation.”

The second document is a “Schedule LS-1, ” dated June 5, 1992, dealing solely with company-owned systems.[4] It includes a reference to “Decision 92-06-020.”[5] The tariff sets forth certain rates applicable to “street and highway lighting service where [SCE] owns and maintains the street lighting equipment and associated facilities....” It includes two “SPECIAL CONDITIONS” relevant here. Special condition 6.a. provides: “The applicant for street light service shall specify the type of service, lamp size, and location of street lights.” Special condition 9 provides: “Liability of Company: The Company shall not, by taking action pursuant to its tariffs, be liable for any loss, damage, or injury, established or alleged, which may result, or be claimed to result, therefrom.”

The third document is a one-page document dated November 21, 1975, and revised April 11, 1979; it appears to be a schematic drawing which includes the descriptions, “City of Victorville” and “Commercial Corner Utility Location.”[6] It shows a utility pole placed 18 inches from the curb.

The trial court granted the request for judicial notice as to each document.

Based on these documents, SCE contends that Laabs’s action is barred by section 1759. Specifically, SCE argues that when the PUC approved SCE’s tariff, it exercised its authority over subject matters addressed in the tariff; the tariff required SCE to place street lights where the City wanted them and included a limitation of liability provision; because the location of street lights and the limitation of liability are addressed in the tariff, any issues related to them are subject to the PUC’s exclusive jurisdiction and any action addressing them is barred by section 1759.

Initially, we note that Schedule No. LS-2 (Customer-Owned Installation) appears not applicable. Laabs’s second amended complaint alleges that SCE owns the specific street light installation.

Further, the pleading does not allege the date the street light was installed; it is therefore left to some conjecture as to whether the 1976/1977 Schedule No. LS-1 or the 1992 LS-1 applies. This date may be important because if one were to accept SCE’s position as to the significance of the release of liability, the release is contained only in the 1992 LS-1, not the 1976/1977 schedules. Additionally, there are no conditions in the earlier schedules referencing “location of street lights.” As such, any approval by the PUC of those schedules would not have entailed the siting of street lights. For purposes of our opinion, however, we assume the applicability of the 1992 LS-1.[7]

Lastly, there is nothing about the street corner schematic depicting the location of a utility pole that suggests it was submitted to the PUC or ...

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