Hartwell Corporation v. Superior Court

Decision Date04 February 2002
Docket NumberNo. S082782.,S082782.
Citation38 P.3d 1098,27 Cal.4th 256,115 Cal.Rptr.2d 874
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
PartiesHARTWELL CORPORATION et al., Petitioners, v. The SUPERIOR COURT of Ventura County, Respondent; Kristin Santamaria et al., Real Parties in Interest, And eight other cases.

Carroll, Burdick & McDonough, N. Kathleen Strickland, Donald T. Ramsey, Jack T. Friedman, Elizabeth L. Zepeda, San Francisco; Holland & Knight, N. Kathleen Strickland, Donald T. Ramsey and Devin C. Courteau, San Francisco, for Petitioners The Hartwell Corporation, Rubber Urethanes, Inc., Screwmatic, Inc., J.H. Mitchell & Sons Distributors, Fairchild Industries, Azusa Land Reclamation Company, Inc., and Oil and Solvent Process Company.

Beveridge & Diamond, James L. Meeder, Janet C. Loduca, San Francisco; Allen Matkins Leek Gamble & Mallory, James L. Meeder and Alexander C. Crockett, San Francisco, for Petitioners Mobil Oil Corporation, Lockheed-Martin Corporation and The Valspar Corporation.

Law Offices of David C. Solinger, David C. Solinger, Corvina; Resolution Law Group, Philip C. Hunsucker, Michael 0. Nelson and Andrea J. Greenberg, Lafayette, for Petitioners Whico Machine, Inc., Donald White and John White.

Gallagher & Gallagher, Timothy V.P. Gallagher, Thomas C. Sites and Martin N. Refkin, Los Angeles, for Petitioner Oil and Solvent Process Company. Engstrom, Lipscomb & Lack, Walter J. Lack, Gary A. Praglin, Joy L. Robertson, Michele Hitt, Los Angeles; Girardi & Keese, Thomas V. Girardi, Los Angeles; DeWitt, Algorri & Algorri and Mark Steven Algorri, Pasadena, for Petitioners and Real Parties in Interest Christine Boswell et al., Loretta Celi et al., and Jeff Adler et al.

McKenna & Cuneo and Joseph F. Butler, Los Angeles, for Petitioners and Real Parties in Interest Covina Irrigating Company and California Domestic Water Company.

Lagerlof, Senecal, Bradley & Swift and Andrew D. Turner, Pasadena, for Petitioner and Real Party in Interest California Domestic Water Company.

Lemieux & O'Neill, W. Keith Lemieux and Steven P. O'Neill, Westlake Village, for Petitioners and Real Parties in Interest San Gabriel County Water District and Valley County Water District.

Proskauer Rose, Aaron P. Allan, Barry C. Groveman, Gregory J. Patterson, Los Angeles; Musick, Peeler & Garrett, Barry

C. Groveman, Los Angeles; Timothy J. Ryan, Los Angeles; Chapin Shea McNutt & Carter and Steven J. Renshaw, for Petitioner and Real Party in Interest San Gabriel Valley Water Company.

Haight, Brown & Bonesteel, Gary C. Ottoson, Rita Gunasekaran, Santa Monica; Bacalski, Byre & Koska, William K. Koska, San Diego; Hatch & Parent, Steven A. Amerikaner and Scott S. Slater, Santa Barbara, for Petitioner and Real Party in Interest Southern California Water Company.

Daniels, Baratta & Fine, Daniels, Fine, Israel & Schonbuch, Mary Hulett, Mark A. Vega, Paul Fine, Los Angeles; Ragsdale Liggett and Mary Hulett, Raleigh, NC, for Petitioners and Real Parties in Interests Suburban Water Systems and Southwest Water Company, Inc.

Crosby, Heafey, Roach & May, Randall D. Morrison and Joan M. Haratani, Oakland, for Petitioner and Real Party in Interest Baxter Healthcare Corporation. Shapiro, Mitchell & Dupont, Shapiro & Dupont, Shapiro, Borenstein & Dupont and Norman A. Dupont, Santa Monica, for Petitioner and for Real Party in Interest Reichhold.

No appearance for Respondent Superior Court.

McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen, John R. Reese, Barry P. Goode, Jill F. Cooper, Eric F. Pierson and Lonnie Finkel, Los Angeles, for Real Party in Interest Wynn Oil Company.

Christensen, Miller, Fink, Jacobs, Glaser, Weil & Shapiro, Patricia L. Glaser, Terry Avchen, David A. Giannotti and Jan Jensen, Los Angeles, for Real Party Interest Huffy Corporation.

Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, Jeffrey N. Brown, Steven J. Oppenheimer and Wendy K. Kilbride, Los Angeles, for Real Party in Interest Avery Dennison Corporation.

Munger, Tolles & Olson and Peter R. Taft, Los Angeles, for Real Party in Interest Aerojet General Corporation.

Belcher, Henzie & Biegenzahn, E. Lee Horton, John S. Curtis, Scott J. Leipzig, Los Angeles; Steefel, Levitt & Weiss, Lenard G. Weiss, Mark Fogelman, San Francisco; and Jan S. Driscoll, San Diego, for Real Party in Interest California-American Water Company.

Rose, Klein & Marias, Barry I. Goldman, Dennis J. Sherwin, David A. Rosen, Christopher P. Ridout and Arlyn M. Latin, Los Angeles, for Real Parties in Interest Kristin Santamaria et al.

Horvitz & Levy, Frederic D. Cohen and David S. Ettinger, Encino, for California Water Association as Amicus Curiae.

CHIN, J.

Plaintiffs, residents of the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California, filed lawsuits in superior court, alleging, inter alia, that certain water companies provided them unsafe drinking water causing death, personal injury, and property damage. Public Utilities Code section 1759,2 however, precludes superior court jurisdiction to review any order or decision of the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) or to interfere with the PUC in the performance of its official duties. We granted review in this case to determine whether section 1759 bars the superior court actions. As explained below, we conclude that the PUC's regulation of water quality and safety does not preempt damage claims alleging violations of federal and state drinking water standards against the water providers subject to PUC regulation, but that the remaining claims against those water providers are preempted. We further conclude that the causes of action against those defendants not subject to PUC regulation are not barred.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY
A. Superior Court Actions
1. Adler, Celi and Boswell Actions

Three groups of plaintiffs, Jeff Adler and over 100 coplaintiffs, Loretta Celi and about 20 other plaintiffs, and Christine Boswell and 13 other plaintiffs, each filed separate actions for damages in the Los Angeles County Superior Court. The Adler complaint named as defendants Southern California Water Company, California American Water Company, and eight corporate parties that are not water providers or regulated by the PUC (hereafter referred to as industrial defendants). The Celi complaint named as defendants San Gabriel Valley Water Company and the same eight industrial defendants. The Boswell complaint named as defendants Suburban Water Systems, Southwest Water Company, Covina Irrigating Company, California Domestic Water Company, and the same industrial defendants named in the Adler and Celi complaints. Southern California Water Company, California American Water Company, San Gabriel Valley Water Company, Suburban Water Systems, and Southwest Water Company are water providers subject to PUC regulation (hereafter referred to as regulated utilities). Covina Irrigating Company and California Domestic Water Company are public water districts and mutual water companies not subject to PUC regulation (hereafter referred to as nonregulated water providers).

The complaints sought damages based on causes of action for negligence, strict liability, trespass, public and private nuisance, and fraudulent concealment. Some plaintiffs also sued for wrongful death. These causes of action were based on the following allegations: that defendant water companies had provided the contaminated well water to plaintiffs, longtime residents of the San Gabriel Valley, over a period of years; that the water contaminants included trichloroethylene, perchloroethene, carbon tetrachloride, and perchlorates; and that as a result, plaintiffs suffered physical and mental pain and suffering, including fear of cancer, and property damage. The complaints further alleged that the industrial defendants disposed of toxic substances in the ground.

2. Santamaria Action

Kristin Santamaria and some 300 coplaintiffs filed a separate action in Los Angeles County against many of the same defendants. The complaint named additional industrial defendants, as well as nonregulated water providers Valley County Water District and San Gabriel County Municipal Water District. In addition to the same causes of action contained in the Adler, Boswell and Celi complaints, the Santamaria complaint alleged conspiracy, battery, and nine causes of action for unfair business practices based on the same kinds of conduct and toxic substances in the drinking water as alleged in the other lawsuits. The Santamaria plaintiffs prayed for damages, as well as injunctions against disposing toxic materials, supplying contaminated water, and engaging in unlawful business practices. They also sought medical monitoring, a constructive trust against defendants' property to pay for plaintiffs' injuries, and an order compelling defendants to disgorge profits and restore money acquired through unlawful business practices.

The court changed the venue of the Santamaria action to Ventura County on motion of several defendants.

B. PUC Investigation

In response to the lawsuits filed against the regulated water utilities, the PUC filed an order instituting an investigation on March 12, 1998. (Cal.P.U.C. Order Instituting Investigation No. 98-03-013 (Mar. 12, 1998) [1998 Cal.P.U.C. Lexis 73].) Concerned that the complaints "raise public concerns over the safety of the drinking water supplies of these utilities," (id., 1998 Cal.P.U.C. Lexis 73 at p. 2) the PUC instituted "a full-scale investigation" (id., 1998 Cal.P.U.C. Lexis 73 at p. 3) to determine (1) whether current drinking water standards adequately protect the public health and safety; (2) whether the regulated water utilities have complied with those standards; (3) what remedies should apply for noncompliance with safe drinking water standards; and (4) whether the occurrence of temporary excursions of contaminant levels above regulatory thresholds are acceptable "taking into consideration economic, technological, and public health and safety issues, and compliance with Public Utilities Code Section 770." (Cal. P.U.C. Order No....

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