Evangelatos v. Superior Court, No. S000194

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtARGUELLES; KAUFMAN
Citation753 P.2d 585,246 Cal.Rptr. 629,44 Cal.3d 1188
Parties, 753 P.2d 585, 56 USLW 2627, Prod.Liab.Rep. (CCH) P 11,762 Gregory EVANGELATOS, Petitioner, v. The SUPERIOR COURT of Los Angeles County, Respondent, VAN WATERS & ROGERS, INC., et al., Real Parties in Interest. VAN WATERS & ROGERS, INC. Petitioner, v. The SUPERIOR COURT of Los Angeles County, Respondent, Gregory EVANGELATOS et al., Real Parties in Interest.
Docket NumberNo. S000194
Decision Date21 April 1988

Page 629

246 Cal.Rptr. 629
44 Cal.3d 1188, 753 P.2d 585, 56 USLW 2627,
Prod.Liab.Rep. (CCH) P 11,762
Gregory EVANGELATOS, Petitioner,
v.
The SUPERIOR COURT of Los Angeles County, Respondent,
VAN WATERS & ROGERS, INC., et al., Real Parties in Interest.
VAN WATERS & ROGERS, INC. Petitioner,
v.
The SUPERIOR COURT of Los Angeles County, Respondent,
Gregory EVANGELATOS et al., Real Parties in Interest.
No. S000194.
Supreme Court of California.
April 21, 1988.
Rehearing Denied June 23, 1988.

[44 Cal.3d 1192]

Page 630

[753 P.2d 586] Daniel C. Cathcart, Deborah Mitzenmacher and Magana, Cathcart, McCarthy & Pierry, Los Angeles, for petitioner in No. B021968 and real parties in interest in No. B022000.

No appearance for respondent.

Michael J. Bonesteel, Roy G. Weatherup, Dennis K. Wheeler, Thomas M. Moore, Jose H. Garcia, Haight, Dickson, Brown & Bonesteel, Santa Monica, Steven C. Smith and Rich & Ezer, Los Angeles, for petitioner in No. B022000 and real parties in interest in No. B021968.

Browne Greene, Los Angeles, Douglas DeVries, Sacramento, Harvey R. Levine, San Diego, Charles O'Reilly, Los Angeles, Sanford Gage, Beverly Hills, Don Caffray, Long Beach, Leonard Sacks, Encino, James R. McGrath, Glendale, Ian Herzog, Los Angeles, Bryce C. Anderson, Concord, Burton Danziger and Steven Kazan, Oakland, as amici curiae on behalf of petitioner in No. B021968 and real party in interest in No. B022000.

Michael J. Breining, Sacramento, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, Malcolm E. Wheeler, Charlotte A. Lowell, Los Angeles, Fred J. Hiestand, Kelly C. Wooster, Stephen M. Snyder, Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, San Francisco, Howard J. Privett, Bill E. Schroeder, Richard A. Goette, Jonathan M. Gordon, McCutchen, Black, Verleger & Shea, Los Angeles, Michael J. Brady, Redwood City, Paul D. Herbert, James K. Hahn, City Atty. (Los Angeles), John T. Neville, Sr. Asst. City Atty., Richard M. Helgeson, Asst. City Atty., Los Angeles, Ronald A. Zumbrun, John H. Findley and Sharon L. Browne, Sacramento, as amici curiae on behalf of petitioner in No. B022000 and real parties in interest in No. B021968.

ARGUELLES, Associate Justice.

In June 1986, the voters of California approved an initiative measure, the Fair Responsibility Act of 1986 (Civ.Code, §§ 1431 to 1431.5)--popularly known as, and hereafter referred to, as Proposition 51--which modified the traditional, common law "joint and several liability" doctrine, limiting an individual tortfeasor's liability for noneconomic damages to a proportion of such damages equal to the tortfeasor's own percentage of fault. 1 Just a few weeks after the election, the underlying [44 Cal.3d 1193] personal injury action in this case--which arose out of a July 1980 accident and which had been pending for nearly five years prior to the June 1986 election--was assigned for trial. Before the trial began, the parties requested the trial court to determine, inter alia, whether the newly revised joint and several liability doctrine would apply to this case. Plaintiff contended that the new legislation should not be applied for a number of reasons, maintaining (1) that Proposition 51 is unconstitutional on its face, and (2) that, in any event, the measure does not apply retroactively to causes of action which accrued prior to its [753 P.2d 587] effective date. 2 Defendants contested both arguments.

The trial court concluded (1) that Proposition 51 is constitutional on its face and (2) that it should be applied to all cases coming

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to trial after its effective date, including this case, regardless of when the cause of action accrued. Reviewing the trial court's ruling in these consolidated pretrial writ proceedings, the Court of Appeal upheld the trial court's determination in all respects, declining--with respect to the retroactivity issue--to follow another recent Court of Appeal decision, Russell v. Superior Court (1986) 185 Cal.App.3d 810, 230 Cal.Rptr. 102, which had concluded that Proposition 51 does not apply retroactively to causes of action which arose prior to the initiative's effective date. Because of the importance of the issues and the conflict in Court of Appeal decisions on the retroactivity question, we granted review.

As we shall explain, we have concluded that the Court of Appeal judgment should be affirmed in part and reversed in part. On the constitutional question, we agree with the Court of Appeal that plaintiff's facial constitutional challenge to Proposition 51 is untenable. Past decisions of this court make it quite clear that the initiative measure--in modifying the common law rule governing the potential liability of multiple tortfeasors--violates neither the due process nor equal protection guaranties of the state or federal Constitution. Although the proposition's language leaves a number of issues of interpretation and application to be decided in future cases, those unsettled questions provide no justification for striking down the measure on its face.

On the question of retroactivity, we conclude that the Court of Appeal erred in ruling that Proposition 51 applies to causes of action which accrued before the measure's effective date. It is a widely recognized legal principle, specifically embodied in section 3 of the Civil Code, that in the absence of a clear legislative intent to the contrary statutory enactments apply [44 Cal.3d 1194] prospectively. The drafters of the initiative measure in question, although presumably aware of this familiar legal precept, did not include any language in the initiative indicating that the measure was to apply retroactively to causes of action that had already accrued and there is nothing to suggest that the electorate considered the issue of retroactivity at all. Although defendants argue that we should nonetheless infer a legislative intent on the part of the electorate to apply the measure retroactively from the general purpose and context of the enactment, the overwhelming majority of prior judicial decisions--both in California and throughout the country--which have considered whether similar tort reform legislation should apply prospectively or retroactively when the statute is silent on the point have concluded that the statute applies prospectively. Reflecting the commonsense notion that it may be unfair to change "the rules of the game" in the middle of a contest, these authorities persuasively demonstrate that the general legal presumption of prospectivity applies with full force to a measure, like the initiative at issue here, which substantially modifies a legal doctrine on which many persons may have reasonably relied in conducting their legal affairs prior to the new enactment.

Contrary to the extravagant rhetoric of the dissenting opinion, our conclusion that Proposition 51 must properly be interpreted to apply prospectively does not postpone or delay the operative effect of Proposition 51 and is in no way inconsistent with the fact that the measure was adopted in response to a liability crisis. As we explain, the new legal doctrine established by Proposition 51 [753 P.2d 588] went into effect the day following the passage of the initiative and could immediately be relied on by insurance companies to reduce insurance premiums and by potential tort defendants to resume activities they may have curtailed because of the preexisting joint and several liability rule. Indeed, although the dissenting opinion vigorously asserts that Proposition 51's relationship to a liability crisis proves that the electorate must have intended that the measure would be applied retroactively, that assertion is clearly belied by the numerous recent tort reform statutes, adopted in other states in response to the same liability crisis, which, by their terms, are expressly prospective in operation. (See post, p. 650 of 246 Cal.Rptr., at 606 of 753 P.2d.) As these statutes demonstrate,

Page 632

a prospective application of Proposition 51 is totally compatible with the history and purpose of the initiative measure.

I.

In July 1980, plaintiff Gregory Evangelatos, an 18-year-old high school student, was seriously injured in his home, apparently while attempting to make fireworks with chemicals purchased from a retail store. In July 1981, plaintiff filed an action for damages against the retailer (Student Science [44 Cal.3d 1195] Store, Inc.), the wholesale distributor (Van Waters & Rogers, Inc.), and four manufacturers of the chemicals he was using, alleging that defendants were liable for his injuries on both negligence and strict liability theories. The causes of action against three of the manufacturers were dismissed on summary judgment and plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the action against the fourth manufacturer. The case proceeded against the retailer and the wholesale distributor of the chemicals.

On June 23, 1986, almost five years after the action had been filed, the case was assigned for trial. Before the trial began, plaintiff and the two remaining defendants filed motions with the trial court seeking a determination whether Proposition 51, which had been approved by the voters just three weeks earlier at the June 3, 1986, election, would be applied in this case. The motions sought a determination of the constitutional validity of the proposition and, if valid, a resolution of various questions relating to the applicability and proper interpretation of the measure.

After briefing, the trial court issued a lengthy written statement, ruling on five separate issues. The court concluded (1) that Proposition 51 was validly enacted and is not unconstitutional on its face, (2) that the measure applies to all cases, including the present proceeding, which had not gone to trial before June 4, 1986, the date on which the initiative measure became effective, regardless of when the cause of action arose; (3) that in determining each defendant's "several" liability for a portion of plaintiff's noneconomic damages under...

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581 practice notes
  • Preston v. State Bd. of Equalization, No. S083632.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • April 2, 2001
    ...provisions of the statute as well as from extrinsic sources, including the legislative history. (See Evangelatos v. Superior Court (1988) 44 Cal.3d 1188, 1210, 246 Cal.Rptr. 629, 753 P.2d 585 With respect to sections 6011(c)(10) and 6012(c)(10), the pertinent legislative materials reveal an......
  • Nisei Farmers League v. Cal. Labor & Workforce Dev. Agency, F075102
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • January 4, 2019
    ...fashion,’ by reference to the language and purposes of the statutory schemes as a whole." ( Evangelatos v. Superior Court (1988) 44 Cal.3d 1188, 1202, 246 Cal.Rptr. 629, 753 P.2d 585.)In Acuna , supra , 14 Cal.4th 1090, 60 Cal.Rptr.2d 277, 929 P.2d 596, the California Supreme Court set fort......
  • Rope v. Auto-Chlor Sys. of Wash., Inc., B242003
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • January 29, 2014
    ...extrinsic sources that the Legislature or the voters must have intended a retroactive application.” (Evangelatos v. Superior Court (1988) 44 Cal.3d 1188, 1209, 246 Cal.Rptr. 629, 753 P.2d 585 (Evangelatos ).) To overcome the strong presumption against retroactivity, the Legislature must sho......
  • Kaufman v. Acs Systems, Inc., No. B155804.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • July 22, 2003
    ...(2002) 100 Cal.App.4th 129, 138, 122 Cal.Rptr.2d 425, citations and italics omitted; accord, Evangelatos v. Superior Court (1988) 44 Cal.3d 1188, 1200-1201, 246 Cal.Rptr. 629, 753 P.2d 585.) In Kaufman, supra, No. BC222588, plaintiffs propounded requests for admissions, asking defendants Da......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
582 cases
  • Preston v. State Bd. of Equalization, No. S083632.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • April 2, 2001
    ...provisions of the statute as well as from extrinsic sources, including the legislative history. (See Evangelatos v. Superior Court (1988) 44 Cal.3d 1188, 1210, 246 Cal.Rptr. 629, 753 P.2d 585 With respect to sections 6011(c)(10) and 6012(c)(10), the pertinent legislative materials reveal an......
  • Nisei Farmers League v. Cal. Labor & Workforce Dev. Agency, F075102
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • January 4, 2019
    ...fashion,’ by reference to the language and purposes of the statutory schemes as a whole." ( Evangelatos v. Superior Court (1988) 44 Cal.3d 1188, 1202, 246 Cal.Rptr. 629, 753 P.2d 585.)In Acuna , supra , 14 Cal.4th 1090, 60 Cal.Rptr.2d 277, 929 P.2d 596, the California Supreme Court set fort......
  • Rope v. Auto-Chlor Sys. of Wash., Inc., B242003
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • January 29, 2014
    ...extrinsic sources that the Legislature or the voters must have intended a retroactive application.” (Evangelatos v. Superior Court (1988) 44 Cal.3d 1188, 1209, 246 Cal.Rptr. 629, 753 P.2d 585 (Evangelatos ).) To overcome the strong presumption against retroactivity, the Legislature must sho......
  • Kaufman v. Acs Systems, Inc., No. B155804.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • July 22, 2003
    ...(2002) 100 Cal.App.4th 129, 138, 122 Cal.Rptr.2d 425, citations and italics omitted; accord, Evangelatos v. Superior Court (1988) 44 Cal.3d 1188, 1200-1201, 246 Cal.Rptr. 629, 753 P.2d 585.) In Kaufman, supra, No. BC222588, plaintiffs propounded requests for admissions, asking defendants Da......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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