Day v. City of Fontana, No. S084616.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtBAXTER, J.
Citation19 P.3d 1196,25 Cal.4th 268,105 Cal.Rptr.2d 457
PartiesRussell Glen DAY, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. CITY OF FONTANA et al., Defendants and Respondents.
Docket NumberNo. S084616.

105 Cal.Rptr.2d 457
25 Cal.4th 268
19 P.3d 1196

Russell Glen DAY, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
CITY OF FONTANA et al., Defendants and Respondents

No. S084616.

Supreme Court of California.

April 5, 2001.


105 Cal.Rptr.2d 458
Law Offices of Wayne McClean, Wayne McClean; Evan D. Marshall; Law Offices of J. Russsell Brown, Jr., and Kevin Campbell, Los Angeles, for Plaintiff and Appellant

Miles, Sears & Eanni, Richard C. Watters, Fairfield, William J. Seiler, Fresno, and Douglas L. Gordon for Michael G. Waski and Eileen Waski as Amici Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Appellant.

Law Offices of Michael J. Piuze, Michael J. Piuze and John Keiser, Los Angeles, for Consumer Attorneys as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Appellant.

Greines, Martin, Stein & Richland, Kent L. Richland, Dana Gardner Adelstein, Beverly Hills; Rinos, Shephard & Martin and Dimitrios C. Rinos for Defendant and Respondent City of Fontana.

Alan K. Marks, County Counsel, and Dennis E. Wagner, Deputy County Counsel, for Defendant and Respondent County of San Bernardino.

Law Offices of Carpenter & Rothans, Louis R. Dumont, Marc P. Miles; Ronald R. Ball, City Attorney (Carlsbad); John L. Cook, City Attorney (Indian Wells); Dave Larsen, Town Attorney (Loomis); William B. Conners, City Attorney (Monterey); Daniel J. McHugh, City Attorney (Redlands); Gregory P. Priamos, Deputy City Attorney (Riverside); Samuel L. Jackson, City Attorney (Sacramento); Jeffrey G. Jorgensen, City Attorney (San Luis Obispo); Phillip H. Romney, City Attorney (Santa Paula); Debra E. Corbett, City Attorney (Tracy); and Paul M. Valle-Riestra, Assistant City Attorney (Walnut

105 Cal.Rptr.2d 459
Creek) for California State Association of Counties and 13 California Cities as Amici Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Respondents

BAXTER, J.

Section 3333.4 of the Civil Code (all further statutory references are to this code unless otherwise indicated) limits the ability of uninsured motorists and convicted drunk drivers to recover losses suffered in certain accidents. The question presented is whether the statute precludes an uninsured motorcyclist injured in a vehicular accident from recovering an award of noneconomic damages against a county and a municipality in an action for nuisance and dangerous condition of public property. Application of settled statutory construction principles leads us to conclude the answer is yes.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Russell Glen Day was driving his motorcycle when a car driven by William Honda struck him in an intersection. Day then filed this action against Honda, Irving Schwartz (the owner of the property adjacent to the intersection), the County of San Bernardino (the County), and the City of Fontana (the City). As against the public entity defendants, plaintiff alleged two theories of recovery. In his cause of action for dangerous condition of public property, plaintiff alleged that the County and the City created or had actual or constructive notice of overgrown vegetation on public and private property surrounding the intersection, and that such vegetation created a vision obstruction for motorists traveling through the intersection. In his nuisance cause of action, plaintiff alleged that the public entities maintained a nuisance on their property by failing to correct, remove, reduce, or warn of the vision obstruction caused by the overgrown vegetation.

At the time of the accident, plaintiff did not have liability insurance on his motorcycle as required by state law. Discovery of that fact prompted the County and the City to file a motion to exclude from trial any evidence of damages for pain and suffering. The trial court granted the motion, finding plaintiffs action subject to the restrictions of section 3333.4.

Plaintiff dismissed his action against Schwartz prior to trial. At trial, a jury determined that plaintiff was not at fault in the accident. The jury awarded him $454,574.21 in economic damages and allocated responsibility for those damages between Honda (52 percent), the County (5 percent), and the City (43 percent). The trial court entered judgment accordingly.

The Court of Appeal affirmed, rejecting plaintiffs arguments that section 3333.4 is inapplicable to actions for nuisance and dangerous condition of public property, that the statute is unconstitutional, and that retroactive application of the statute to his case violated due process. We granted plaintiffs petition for review, limiting our review to the first issue noted.

DISCUSSION

Does section 3333.4 restrict an uninsured driver's recovery of noneconomic damages against local public entities in an action for nuisance and dangerous condition of property? The issue is one of statutory construction.

Our fundamental task in construing a statute is to ascertain the intent of the lawmakers so as to effectuate the purpose of the statute. (Torres v. Automobile Club of So. California (1997) 15 Cal.4th 771, 777, 63 Cal.Rptr.2d 859, 937 P.2d 290.) We begin by examining the statutory language, giving the words their usual and ordinary meaning. (People v. Lawrence (2000) 24 Cal.4th 219, 230, 99 Cal.Rptr.2d 570, 6 P.3d 228.) If there is no ambiguity, then we presume the lawmakers meant what they said, and the plain meaning of the language governs. (Id. at pp. 230-231, 99 Cal.Rptr.2d 570, 6 P.3d 228; People v. Coronado (1995) 12 Cal.4th 145, 151, 48

105 Cal.Rptr.2d 460
Cal.Rptr.2d 77, 906 P.2d 1232.) If, however, the statutory terms are ambiguous, then we may resort to extrinsic sources, including the ostensible objects to be achieved and the legislative history. (People v. Coronado, supra, 12 Cal.4th at p. 151, 48 Cal.Rptr.2d 77, 906 P.2d 1232.) In such circumstances, we "`select the construction that comports most closely with the apparent intent of the Legislature, with a view to promoting rather than defeating the general purpose of the statute, and avoid an interpretation that would lead to absurd consequences.' [Citation.]" (Ibid.; see Escobedo v. Estate of Snider (1997) 14 Cal.4th 1214, 1223, 60 Cal. Rptr.2d 722, 930 P.2d 979.) These rules apply equally in construing statutes enacted through the initiative process. (Horwich v. Superior Court (1999) 21 Cal.4th 272, 276, 87 Cal.Rptr.2d 222, 980 P.2d 927.)

As relevant here, section 3333.4 provides: "(a) Except as provided in subdivision (c) [dealing with convicted drunk drivers], in any action to recover damages arising out of the operation or use of a motor vehicle, a person shall not recover non-economic losses to compensate for pain, suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, disfigurement, and other nonpecuniary damages if any of the following applies: [¶] ... [¶] (2) The injured person was the owner of a vehicle involved in the accident and the vehicle was not insured as required by the financial responsibility laws of this state."1

We have construed section 3333.4 twice in the recent past. In Horwich v. Superior Court, supra, 21 Cal.4th 272, 87 Cal. Rptr.2d 222, 980 P.2d 927, we held the statute did not preclude recovery of damages for loss of care, comfort, and society by a wrongful death plaintiff whose decedent was the uninsured operator of a motor vehicle involved in an accident. In Hodges v. Superior Court (1999) 21 Cal.4th 109, 86 Cal.Rptr.2d 884, 980 P.2d 433 (Hodges), we found it did not limit recovery by an uninsured motorist in a products liability action against a car manufacturer. In both instances, we found the relevant statutory language was "not pellucid" with respect to the particular factual circumstances. (Horwich v. Superior Court, supra, 21 Cal.4th at p. 277, 87 Cal.Rptr.2d 222, 980 P.2d 927; Hodges, supra, 21 Cal.4th at p. 113, 86 Cal.Rptr.2d 884, 980 P.2d 433.) That is, in Horwich v. Superior Court, supra, 21 Cal.4th 272, 87 Cal. Rptr.2d 222, 980 P.2d 927, recovery of noneconomic damages was sought by "a person" who was not the uninsured owner or operator of the vehicle involved in an accident. And in Hodges, supra, 21 Cal.4th 109, 86 Cal.Rptr.2d 884, 980 P.2d 433, there was no necessary connection between the plaintiffs injury and "the operation or use" of the vehicle. We therefore considered the Legislative Analyst's analysis and other legislative history materials for clues as to the statute's intended goals and then construed the language to give effect to the apparent intent of the lawmakers.

In contrast to the factual scenarios presented in those previous decisions, the instant action against the public entity defendants appears to fall squarely within the terms of section 3333.4. First, plaintiff was the owner of an uninsured motorcycle. (§ 3333.4, subd. (a)(2).) Second, plaintiffs action for nuisance and dangerous condition of public property seeks "to recover damages arising out of the operation or use of [that] motor vehicle." (Id., subd. (a).) On this last point, we note the facts

105 Cal.Rptr.2d 461
here are neither parallel nor analogous to those giving rise to the perceived ambiguity in Hodges, supra, 21 Cal.4th 109, 86 Cal.Rptr.2d 884, 980 P.2d 433, for here there was a necessary and causal relationship between the plaintiffs operation of his motorcycle and the accident for which he claimed the public entities were responsible. Since section 3333.4 contains no exception for suits against public entities,2 plaintiff appears statutorily barred from recovering noneconomic damages against the County and the City

Although we might well stop here since the facts do not appear to raise any ambiguity or uncertainty as to the statute's application, we shall, "in an abundance of caution, ... test our construction against those extrinsic aids that bear on the enactors' intent." (Powers v. City of Richmond (1995) 10 Cal.4th 85, 93, 40 Cal. Rptr.2d 839, 893 P.2d 1160.) As we shall demonstrate, the legislative history materials reinforce our conclusion that the statute applies to plaintiffs action.

Section 3333.4 was enacted through passage of...

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284 practice notes
  • Sneed v. Saenz, No. D041472.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • July 27, 2004
    ...the plain meaning of the statute governs, and that meaning must be applied according to its terms. (Day v. City of Fontana (2001) 25 Cal.4th 268, 272, 105 Cal.Rptr.2d 457, 19 P.3d 1196 (Day); Ventura County Deputy Sheriffs' Assn., at p. 492, 66 Cal.Rptr.2d 304, 940 P.2d 891.) When statutory......
  • People v. Connor, No. H024743
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • February 6, 2004
    ...then we presume the lawmakers meant what they said, and the plain meaning of the language governs. (Day v. City of Fontana (2001) 25 Cal.4th 268, 272, 105 Cal.Rptr.2d 457, 19 P.3d 1196.) If, on the other hand, the statutory language is unclear or ambiguous and permits more than one reasonab......
  • Teachers' Retirement Bd. v. Genest, No. C050889.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • August 30, 2007
    ...of a statute, we presume that the Legislature meant what it said and that the plain meaning governs. (Day v. City of Fontana (2001) 25 Cal.4th 268, 272, 105 Cal. Rptr.2d 457, 19 P.3d 1196; People v. Loeun (1997) 17 Cal.4th 1, 9, 69 Cal. Rptr.2d 776, 947 P.2d 1313.) Where ambiguity exists, w......
  • Hunt v. Check Recovery Systems, Inc., No. C05-04993 MJJ.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • March 21, 2007
    ...that would lead to absurd consequences." Leavitt v. County of Madera, 20 Cal.Rptr.3d 578 (2004) (citing Day v. City of Fontana, 25 Cal.4th 268, 272, 105 Cal.Rptr.2d 457, 19 P.3d 1196 (Cal.2001)) (citations and quotation marks omitted). Here, the legislative history, like the statute it......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
284 cases
  • Sneed v. Saenz, No. D041472.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • July 27, 2004
    ...the plain meaning of the statute governs, and that meaning must be applied according to its terms. (Day v. City of Fontana (2001) 25 Cal.4th 268, 272, 105 Cal.Rptr.2d 457, 19 P.3d 1196 (Day); Ventura County Deputy Sheriffs' Assn., at p. 492, 66 Cal.Rptr.2d 304, 940 P.2d 891.) When statutory......
  • People v. Connor, No. H024743
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • February 6, 2004
    ...then we presume the lawmakers meant what they said, and the plain meaning of the language governs. (Day v. City of Fontana (2001) 25 Cal.4th 268, 272, 105 Cal.Rptr.2d 457, 19 P.3d 1196.) If, on the other hand, the statutory language is unclear or ambiguous and permits more than one reasonab......
  • Teachers' Retirement Bd. v. Genest, No. C050889.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • August 30, 2007
    ...of a statute, we presume that the Legislature meant what it said and that the plain meaning governs. (Day v. City of Fontana (2001) 25 Cal.4th 268, 272, 105 Cal. Rptr.2d 457, 19 P.3d 1196; People v. Loeun (1997) 17 Cal.4th 1, 9, 69 Cal. Rptr.2d 776, 947 P.2d 1313.) Where ambiguity exists, w......
  • Hunt v. Check Recovery Systems, Inc., No. C05-04993 MJJ.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • March 21, 2007
    ...that would lead to absurd consequences." Leavitt v. County of Madera, 20 Cal.Rptr.3d 578 (2004) (citing Day v. City of Fontana, 25 Cal.4th 268, 272, 105 Cal.Rptr.2d 457, 19 P.3d 1196 (Cal.2001)) (citations and quotation marks omitted). Here, the legislative history, like the statute it......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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