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Estate of MacIas v. Waste Management Holdings, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California

September 25, 2014

THE ESTATE OF EVANGELINA MACIAS, an individual, ANNA LAURA MACIAS, MARIA DE JESUS MACIAS, and VICTOR MACIAS, individually and as co-successors in interest of decedent Evangelina Macias, Plaintiffs,
v.
WASTE MANAGEMENT HOLDINGS, INC., a corporation, WASTE MANAGEMENT SAFETY SERVICES, LLC, a limited liability company, and DOES 1-50, inclusive, Defendants.

AMENDED ORDER GRANTING LEAVE AND DENYING AS MOOT MOTION TO DISMISS

WILLIAM ALSUP, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

In this action alleging wrongful death and other state-law claims, defendants move to dismiss the second amended complaint for (1) failure to state a claim; (2) lack of personal jurisdiction; and (3) lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Moreover, plaintiffs seek leave to amend the second amended complaint to cure any deficiencies identified herein. For the reasons discussed, the motion to dismiss is DENIED AS MOOT. Furthermore, to the extent stated in the last paragraph of this order, leave to amend is GRANTED.

STATEMENT

The following well-pled facts are assumed to be true for purposes of the present motion. Plaintiffs are the estate and family members of decedent Evangelina Macias. On June 18, 2012, Macias was working at Waste Management of Alameda County's dump-site when a co-worker drove a front-end tractor loader over her body. Macias later died that day. Plaintiffs then sued WMAC and other defendants in an action filed last year, but that action was dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

Now, plaintiffs have filed the instant action this year. WMAC is no longer a defendant but two other entities are: Waste Management Holdings, Inc. (WMAC's indirect parent corporation), and Waste Management Safety Services, LLC (one of WM Holdings' indirect subsidiaries). Following two pleadings in this action, the second amended complaint now claims wrongful death, negligence, loss of consortium, survival action, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b), defendants move to dismiss the second amended complaint on three grounds: (1) failure to state a claim; (2) lack of personal jurisdiction, and (3) lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Following full briefing, supplemental responses, and oral argument from both sides, this order decides below.

ANALYSIS

1. STATING A CLAIM.

WM Holdings and WM Security Services argue that the second amended complaint fails to state a claim because they owed no duty to Macias. Pointing to sections of the workers' compensation law, they assert that only Macias' employer (WMAC) held the non-delegable duty to provide a safe workplace for Macias, and that plaintiffs have an exclusive remedy against WMAC - but not WM Holdings or WM Safety Services. See Cal. Lab. Code 3600 et al; 6400. By suing WM Holdings and WM Safety Services instead of WMAC, plaintiffs circumvent California's exclusive remedy system, or so it is alleged.

This order disagrees. It is true that under California law, "[e]mployers have a nondelegable duty to furnish their employees with a safe place to work, " so that "[a]n employer's parent corporation is not responsible for the working conditions of its subsidiary's employees based on the existence of the parent-subsidiary relationship." But a parent corporation can still be liable "if it assumes a duty to act by affirmatively undertaking to provide a safe working environment at the subsidiary's workplace." In other words, "a plaintiff who recovers workers' compensation from an employer can pursue common law tort actions against third parties for independent acts of negligence ... even if the third party tortfeasor is the parent company of the plaintiff's employer...." Waste Mgmt. Inc. v. Superior Court, 119 Cal.App.4th 105, 109-10 (2004) (emphasis added) (internal citations omitted).

Waste Management is instructive. There, a defective trash truck had killed a subsidiary's employee on the job. The employee's family later sued the subsidiary's parent corporation for negligence and wrongful death, alleging that the parent had controlled the subsidiary's budget and had refused to allocate corporate funds to repair or replace the subsidiary's defective trucks. After the superior court had overruled the parent's demurrer, the California Court of Appeal reversed that decision, largely because the plaintiffs had not alleged any independent tort committed by the parent itself. The operative complaint there had also failed to allege that the parent directed the subsidiary's safety operations, ordered or required the subsidiary to continue using the defective trucks, or otherwise assumed an independent duty to ensure the safety of the subsidiary's employees. Id. at 111.

That is not the case here. In this action, the second amended complaint does allege that defendants assumed a duty to provide a safe work environment for WMAC's employees ( see, e.g., Second Amd. Compl. ¶ 32). To that end, the second amended complaint asserts facts as to how WM Holdings created WM Safety Services "for the purpose of developing safety training and policies" - including a safety policy requiring protected zones for workers from dangerous vehicles - at WMAC and other facilities throughout the country. The second amended complaint goes on to claim that WM Holdings and/or WM Safety Services inspected WMAC for compliance with their safety policies, gave approvals to and recommendations for WMAC's safety policies and procedures, were responsible for monitoring and controlling security cameras at WMAC, participated in Cal/OSHA investigations and independent investigations of workplace injuries at WMAC, and knew about the dangers associated with the operating procedures and driving of WMAC's front-end tractor loaders ( see id. ¶¶ 15, 20, 32).

Based on such factual allegations within the second amended complaint, this order finds that plaintiffs sufficiently state an assumption of duty by WM Holdings and WM Safety Services, at least at this point. It may be that at the summary-judgment stage, the record will not support a triable issue of fact as to whether WM Holdings and WM Safety Services assumed such a duty, but this order must ...


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