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Trujillo v. Ametek, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. California

July 17, 2017

DANIELLE TRUJILLO, as Guardian Ad Litem for KADEN PORTER, a minor, on behalf of himself and others similarly situated; LACEY MORALES, as Guardian Ad Litem for ISABEL MORALES., a minor, on behalf of herself and others similarly situated; BEVERLY HOY, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated; Plaintiffs,
v.
AMETEK, INC., a Delaware corporation; SENIOR OPERATIONS, LLC, a limited liability company; and DOES 1 through 100, inclusive, Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' OBJECTIONS TO PLAINTIFFS' LONE PINE SUBMISSION [DKT. NOS. 84 & 85]

          HON. GONZALO P. CURIEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Plaintiffs' Lone Pine submission, Dkt. No. 77, filed pursuant to this Court's Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Defendants' Motion for Entry of a Lone Pine Case Management Order, Dkt. No. 71. On December 2, 2016, this Court granted Defendants' request to file objections to Plaintiffs' Lone Pine response. Dkt. No. 83. The adequacy of Plaintiffs' Lone Pine submission has been fully briefed. Defendant Ametek, Inc. (“Ametek”) and Defendant Senior Operations, LLC (“Senior Operations”) each filed separate objections on January 3, 2017. Plaintiffs Trujillo, Morales and Hoy filed a joint response to the Defendants' objections on January 23, 2016, Dkt. No. 86, and Defendants submitted separate replies on January 30, 2017, Dkt. Nos. 87 & 88.

         Upon review of the evidence submitted by Plaintiffs, the moving papers, the applicable law, and for the foregoing reasons, the Court hereby DENIES Defendants' objections to Plaintiffs' Lone Pine submission and concludes that Plaintiffs have made a sufficient prima facie evidentiary showing to warrant moving ahead with discovery.

         BACKGROUND

         This is toxic tort case arising out of Defendant Ametek's alleged dumping of chemical waste into a temporary storage tank on their property in El Cajon, California.[1]Plaintiffs allege that the toxic waste caused an underground plume of discharge that infected, and continues to infect, the groundwater below the Magnolia Elementary School (“Magnolia”), which shares a property line with the Defendant property. Plaintiffs further allege that the plume created toxic fumes that migrated, and continue to migrate, from the ground into the air at Magnolia. According to Plaintiffs, the toxic vapors contain chemicals that posed and pose a significant human health risk to Magnolia's occupants, including students like Kaden Porter and Lacey Morales and teachers like Plaintiff Beverly Hoy.

         On May 29, 2015, Plaintiffs filed a class action complaint against Defendants in the Superior Court of the State of California in the County of San Diego. Def. Notice Removal, Dkt. No. 1. On June 25, 2015, Defendants removed the case to federal court under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Id. On August 7, 2015, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint, alleging claims for (1) negligence; (2) gross negligence; (3) public nuisance; and (4) strict liability (ultrahazardous activity). Dkt. No. 21 at 25-28. The complaint sought compensatory and punitive damages as well as medical monitoring costs. Id. at 24-28, 32.

         Soon after, on August 24, 2015, Defendants filed separate motions to dismiss Plaintiffs' first amended complaint. Dkt. Nos. 24 & 25. On November 18, 2015, the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' motions. Dkt. No. 43. It held that Plaintiffs had sufficiently pleaded causes of action for negligence, gross negligence, and public nuisance, but that they had failed to adequately allege a claim for strict liability. Id. The Court, therefore, dismissed only Plaintiffs' fourth cause of action for strict liability (ultrahazardous activity). Id.

         A few months after Defendants answered Plaintiffs' first amended complaint, Dkt. Nos. 51 & 52, and just a week after the parties submitted a joint discovery plan, Dkt. No. 58, Defendants separately moved for entry of a Lone Pine case management order, Dkt. Nos. 59 & 60. In these motions, Defendants asked the Court to issue an order - that is, a Lone Pine order, named after Lore v. Lone Pine Corp., 1986 WL 637507 (N.J. Sup. Ct. Nov. 19, 1986) - requiring Plaintiffs to come forward with “prima facie evidence of exposure and causation before proceeding to expensive and time-consuming discovery and trial.” Dkt. No. 60.

         On June 28, 2016, the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' motions for entry of a Lone Pine case management order. Dkt. No. 71 (“CMO”). The Court found it appropriate to require each named Plaintiff to make a prima facie showing regarding his or her exposure, increased risk of specific injury and causation, but did not require that such an evidentiary showing be made as to any of the putative class members. Dkt. No. 71 at 7. The Court further ordered that each Plaintiff “produce a case-specific report within ninety (90) days of the issuance of the CMO including the following information: (1) the identity of any hazardous substance(s) originating from the Ametek Property to which the Plaintiff was exposed; (2) the level of exposure to substance(s) from the Ametek Property claimed by Plaintiff, and whether such level of exposure presents a human health risk; (3) the route of exposure; (4) the relative increase in the chance of onset of a specific disease(s) in the Plaintiff as a result of the exposure, when compared to (a) the Plaintiff's chances of developing the disease had he or she not been exposed, and (b) the chances of the members of the public at large of developing the disease; (5) the clinical value of early detection and diagnosis with respect to each particular disease(s) that the Plaintiff seeks to screen through medical monitoring; (6) the scientific and medical bases for the expert's opinions and conclusions, including specific reference to the particular scientific and medical literature forming the basis of the expert's opinion. Id. at 7. The Court concluded by noting that “Any Plaintiff who fails to provide the case-specific expert report that complies with this Order . . . will be subject to having his or her claims dismissed with prejudice upon application to the Court by Defendants.” Id. at 8.

         In Defendants' objections to Plaintiffs' Lone Pine submission, filed January 3, 2017, they ask the Court to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims with prejudice for failing to make the required prima facie evidentiary showing and for failing to comply with the Court's Lone Pine order. Dkt. Nos. 84 & 85.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         “Lone Pine orders are designed to handle the complex issues and potential burdens on defendants and the court in mass tort litigation.” Acuna v. Brown & Root Inc., 200 F.3d 335, 340 (5th Cir. 2000). Their “basic purpose is to identify and cull potentially meritless claims and streamline litigation in complex cases, ” McManaway v. KBR, Inc., 265 F.R.D. 384, 385 (S.D. Ind. 2009) (citation omitted), and to achieve that purpose they “require[e] plaintiffs to produce some evidence to support a credible claim, ” Steering Comm. v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 461 F.3d 598, 604 n.2 (5th Cir. 2006). The Ninth Circuit has stated that district courts have authority to enter Lone Pine orders pursuant to their “broad discretion to manage discovery and to control the course of litigation under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 16.” Avila v. Willits Envtl. Remediation Trust, 633 F.3d 828, 833 (9th Cir. 2011); see also Acuna, 200 F.3d at 340 (“In the federal courts, such orders are issued under the wide discretion afforded district judges over the management of discovery under Fed.R.Civ.P. 16.”); Fed.R.Civ.P. 16(c)(2)(L) (authorizing courts to adopt “special procedures for managing potentially difficult or protracted actions that may involve complex issues, multiple parties, difficult legal questions, or unusual proof problems.”). A district court's decision to issue a Lone Pine order, therefore, is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. See Avila, 633 F.3d at 833.

         Factors that courts consider when evaluating a Lone Pine request include (1) the posture of the action, (2) the peculiar case management needs presented, (3) external agency decisions impacting the merits of the case, (4) the availability and use of other procedures explicitly sanctioned by federal rule or statute, and (5) the type of injury alleged by plaintiffs and its cause. In re Digitek Prod. Liab. Litig., 264 F.R.D. 249, 256 (S.D. W.Va. 2010). When courts find that these, or other factors, weigh in favor of exercising their discretion to issue a Lone Pine, they typically require the plaintiffs to make a prima facie evidentiary showing regarding the plaintiffs' exposure to the alleged toxic substances, what injuries they sustained, and how the defendants' actions ...


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