O'Connor v. Boeing North American, Inc.

Decision Date28 March 2000
Docket NumberNo. CV 97-1554 ABC (RCX).,CV 97-1554 ABC (RCX).
Citation92 F.Supp.2d 1026
PartiesLawrence O'CONNOR, et al., Plaintiffs, v. BOEING NORTH AMERICAN, INC. and Rockwell International Corporation, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Central District of California

A. Barry Cappello, Leila J. Noel, J. Paul Gignac, Kim A. Seefeld, Troy A. Thielemann, Cappello & McCann, Santa Barbara, CA, Tina B. Nieves, Hector Gancedo, Gancedo & Nieves, Pasadena, CA, for plaintiffs.

John Reding, William Schofield, Barry Endick, Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, San Francisco, CA, for defendants.


COLLINS, District Judge.

Defendants Boeing North American, Inc. and Rockwell International Corporation filed a motion for summary judgment on December 27, 1999. The motion raises the issue of whether most of Plaintiffs' claims are barred because Plaintiffs should have known of their claims outside of the applicable limitations period. After reviewing the materials submitted by the parties, argument of counsel, and the case file, the Court concludes that, as to 69 Plaintiffs asserting personal injury or wrongful death claims, the question of whether they should have known of their claims earlier depends on factors that vary among the Plaintiffs. Accordingly, the Court GRANTS the motion as to certain Plaintiffs and DENIES it as to other Plaintiffs. The Court also concludes that Defendants have failed to meet their initial burden of proof as to the class claims. Accordingly, the Court DENIES Defendants' motion as to the class claims.

I. Procedural Background

On March 10, 1997, Plaintiffs filed an initial complaint in this action. The complaint was amended several times. The operative complaint is now the Fourth Amended Complaint ("FoAC") which was filed on March 30, 1998. Plaintiffs consist of 68 individuals and the estates of eleven decedents. These 79 Plaintiffs assert claims on their own behalf.1 The FoAC also asserts claims on behalf of three classes. The three classes are defined as follows:

Class I: All persons (1) presently residing or working within the Class Area or who have resided or worked in the Class Area at any time since 1946, and (2) who have not been diagnosed with certain serious illnesses.

Class II: All persons who own real property located within the Class Area.

Class III: All persons presently residing or working within the Class Area or who own real property located within the Class Area.

The Class I representatives are Harold Samuels and Joyce Samuels. The Class II and Class III representatives are Lawrence O'Connor, Margaret O'Connor, Mary Jane Vroman, Robert Grandinetti, Donald Reed, and William Rueger. The three classes were conditionally certified on July 13, 1998.

The FoAC asserts personal injury or wrongful death claims on behalf of 75 Plaintiffs. The FoAC also asserts medical monitoring claims on behalf of Class I and its class representatives. Various property damage claims are asserted on behalf of Class II and its representatives. Finally, the FoAC asserts a CERCLA claim and a California Unfair Business Practices claim on behalf of Class III and its representatives.

On December 27, 1999, Defendants filed the present motion for summary judgment. Defendants move for summary judgment against:

(1) all Plaintiffs asserting personal injury claims except for Plaintiffs Terri Aungst, LaVerne Barina, Sharon Grandinetti, and Nicky Pelaez;

(2) all Plaintiffs asserting wrongful death claims except for the estate of Eugene Mauck;

(3) all Class I and Class III claims; and

(4) all Class II claims except for the continuing trespass and nuisance claims.

Plaintiffs filed an opposition to the motion on February 14, 2000. On that same date, a stipulation dismissing the claims of Plaintiff Emily Sadjady was entered. Defendants filed a response on February 28, 2000.2

II. Summary Judgment Standard of Review

It is the burden of the party who moves for summary judgment to establish that there is "no genuine issue of material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R.Civ.P. 56(c); British Airways Bd. v. Boeing Co., 585 F.2d 946, 951 (9th Cir. 1978). If the moving party has the burden of proof at trial (the plaintiff on a claim for relief, or the defendant on an affirmative defense), the moving party must make a showing sufficient for the court to hold that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party. Calderone v. United States, 799 F.2d 254, 259 (6th Cir.1986) (quoting W. Schwarzer, Summary Judgment Under the Federal Rules: Defining Genuine Issues of Material Fact, 99 F.R.D. 465, 487-88 (1984)). This means that, if the moving party has the burden of proof at trial, that party must establish beyond peradventure all of the essential elements of the claim or defense to warrant judgment in that party's favor. Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780 F.2d 1190, 1194 (5th Cir.1986).

If the opponent has the burden of proof at trial, then the moving party has no burden to negate the opponent's claim. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). In other words, the moving party does not have the burden to produce any evidence showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548. "Instead, ... the burden on the moving party may be discharged by `showing'— that is, pointing out to the district court — that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Id.

Once the moving party satisfies this initial burden, "an adverse party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleadings ... [T]he adverse party's response ... must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) (emphasis added). A "genuine issue" of material fact exists only when the nonmoving party makes a sufficient showing to establish the essential elements to that party's case, and on which that party would bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548. "The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which a reasonable jury could reasonably find for plaintiff." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505. The evidence of the nonmovant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in favor of the nonmovant. Id. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

III. Factual Background3
A. The Present Lawsuit.
1. The Plaintiffs in this action.

The initial complaint in this action was filed on March 10, 1997. (Pls.' Stmnt. of Gen. Issues In Opp. ("Facts") ¶ 1.) In addition to the plaintiff classes, four individual plaintiffs joined the initial complaint: Mary Christine Crilley, Kathy Hecker, L. O'Connor, and Nicky Pelaez. (Id. at ¶ 9a.) Plaintiffs M. O'Connor and Vroman were also class representatives in the original complaint. (See Original Complaint.)

A First Amended Complaint was filed on May 8, 1997. A Second Amended Complaint followed on June 27, 1997. (Facts ¶ 1.) The following Plaintiffs joined the case with the Second Amended Complaint: Carmela Anzilotti, Faith Arnold, Lila Arnold, the Estate of Edward J. Barina, Laverne F. Barina, Linda Blaustein, Howard Bleecker, Melissa Bolster, Ashlie Bryant, Jennifer Cady, Heather Cass, Briana Alys Chappell, Mark Davis, Madeline Felkins, Sharon Grandinetti, Robert Grandinetti, Norman Gross, Mary McKeever Hellerstein, Susan Hemming, Julie King, Margaret Kirby, Joy E. Lee, Helen Pasquini, Laurel Peyton, Rosemary Pitts, Donald Reed, Emanuel Rubin, William Rueger, Pauline Sablow, Harriet Spero, Donna Stone, Jerry Stone, Mildred Strausburg Jacqueline Teicher, Miles Teicher, Ralph Tremonti, Jr., and Victor Wollman.

A Third Amended Complaint was filed on December 22, 1997. (Facts ¶ 1.) The following Plaintiffs joined the case with the Third Amended Complaint: Terri Aungst, Kathleen Brucato, Gerald Creinin, Ruby Diamond, Louise Marjorie Extract, Roy Fischman, Grace Highfield, Miriam Hintz, the estate of Jason Hudlett, the estate of Bernard Hudson, Heather Hultgren, Patricia Lev, Joan Mann, the estate of Eugene Mauck, Shirley Orban, the estate of Marrilee Fay Reed, Marion Rosen, Denise Seth-Hunter, Jody Smith, Maralyn Soifer, the estate of Marjorie Taaffe, the estate of Ralph Tremonti, Sr., the estate of Robin Lynn Trench, Randall Trench, Don Varley, Cheryl Wernke, Helen White, Carol Wolfsen, and Stephanie Zakarian.

The FoAC was filed on March 30, 1998. (Facts ¶ 1.) The following Plaintiffs joined the case with the FoAC: the estate of Archibald Cameron, the estate of HaiChou Chu, Carlene Getter, Emily Sadjady, and the estate of Paula Jean Trevino. Plaintiffs Harold and Joyce Samuels also joined the FoAC as class representatives.

2. The FoAC's allegations.

Plaintiffs' action is based on activities conducted by the Defendants at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory ("SSFL"), the Canoga Facility, the DeSoto facility, and the Hughes facility (collectively, the "Rocketdyne facilities").4 (Facts ¶ 2.) Plaintiffs allege that Defendants' activities over the last fifty years at the Rocketdyne facilities have resulted in the release of radioactive contaminants and hazardous non-radioactive contaminants into the environment, the air, the soil, and the groundwater. (Id. at ¶¶ 3 & 4.)

The FoAC identifies certain specific releases of radioactive and hazardous substances from the Rocketdyne facilities. The FoAC alleges that radiation was released into the groundwater, surface waters, soil and air from the 1959 nuclear meltdown and from SSFL water leaks during the 1960's and 1970's. (Facts ¶¶ 12a & 12b.) The FoAC also alleges that (1) TCE was released into the ground at SSFL between 1953 and 1961, (Id. at ¶ 12c), (2) monomethyl hydrazine was regularly vented from SSFL in the late 1980's and early 1990's, (Id. at ¶ 12f),...

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