Marteney v. Elementis Chems. Inc., B283411

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtMANELLA, P.J.
Citation240 Cal.Rptr.3d 1,28 Cal.App.5th 862
Parties Bruce MARTENEY et al., Plaintiffs and Respondents, v. ELEMENTIS CHEMICALS INC., Defendant and Appellant.
Docket NumberB283411
Decision Date05 October 2018

28 Cal.App.5th 862
240 Cal.Rptr.3d 1

Bruce MARTENEY et al., Plaintiffs and Respondents,
ELEMENTIS CHEMICALS INC., Defendant and Appellant.


Court of Appeal, Second District, Division 4, California.

Filed October 5, 2018

Dehay & Elliston, William H. Armstrong, Jennifer D. Fitzpatrick, and Catherine M. Reichhold, Walnut Creek, for Defendant and Appellant.

Weitz & Luxenberg, Benno Ashrafi, and Josiah Parker, Los Angeles, for Plaintiffs and Respondents.


240 Cal.Rptr.3d 7
28 Cal.App.5th 867

In the underlying action, Marty and Marie Marteney prevailed on their personal injury and loss of consortium claims against appellant Elementis Chemicals, Inc. (Elementis). While Elementis’s appeal from the judgment on those claims was pending, Marty Marteney died, and respondents became parties to the action in order to assert wrongful death claims against Elementis. After a jury found that respondents were entitled to damages, the trial court determined Elementis’s liability for damages in light of prior settlements ( Code Civ.Proc., § 877 ),1 and rendered a judgment in respondents’ favor. Elementis contends the court lacked jurisdiction to enter that judgment, and erred in valuing the settlement credits to which Elementis was entitled. We reject those contentions and affirm.


Respondents Bruce Marteney, Steve Marteney, and Chrystal Dahlstein are the adult children of Marty and Marie, who were the original plaintiffs in the underlying action.2 We summarize the proceedings culminating in the judgment in favor of Marty and Marie before describing the events relevant to the appeal before us.

A. Trial and Judgment on Original Complaint

In August 2012, Marty and Marie commenced the action, asserting claims for negligence, breach of warranties, strict liability, and loss of consortium

28 Cal.App.5th 868

against Elementis, Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), and other defendants involved in the manufacture and marketing of asbestos-containing products. Their complaint alleged that Marty suffered from mesothelioma due to his exposure to asbestos from the defendants’ products.

Prior to trial, Marty and Marie entered into settlements with several defendants totaling $2,390,000. As a result of the settlements and other dispositions, at the commencement of jury selection, UCC and Elementis were the only defendants to appear at trial. In July 2013, a jury returned special verdicts in favor of Marty and Marie on their claim for strict liability, and awarded them damages totaling $1,525,000. That sum comprised $400,000 in economic damages to Marty and Marie, $375,000 in noneconomic damages to Marty, and $750,000 in noneconomic damages to Marie. The jury also allocated UCC a five percent share of comparative fault, and Elementis a three percent share of comparative fault.

In August 2013, Marty and Marie sought determinations of UCC’s and Elementis’s liability for damages. The trial court (Judge John J. Kralik) found that 20 percent of the settlement funds were reasonably allocated to future wrongful death claims. In view of that allocation, the court found that the settlement credits to which UCC and Elementis were entitled reduced their liability for economic damages "to zero" ( § 877 ). The court also ruled that

240 Cal.Rptr.3d 8

UCC’s and Elementis’s shares of comparative fault -- but not the existence of the settlement funds -- determined their liability for noneconomic damages ( Civ. Code, § 1431.2 ).3

In October 2013, the trial court entered a judgment awarding damages totaling $56,250 against UCC, and damages totaling $33,750 against Elementis, reflecting its determinations that they were liable solely for noneconomic damages proportionate to their respective shares of comparative fault. Later, in December 2013, the judgment was amended to include an award of costs. UCC and Elementis noticed an appeal from the judgment.

B. Proceedings Regarding Respondents’ Complaint

On January 16, 2015, while that appeal was pending, Marty died. In July 2015, Marie, acting as an individual and as representative of Marty’s estate, together with respondents, filed a first amended complaint for wrongful death (FAC) against UCC and Elementis, asserting claims for negligence, breach of warranties, and strict liability.

28 Cal.App.5th 869

After Elementis answered the FAC, the parties stipulated to a stay of proceedings regarding the FAC until remittitur issued in the appeal. Later, in an unpublished opinion (Marteney v. Union Carbide Corporation, et al. ) (Oct. 10, 2015, B252711), we affirmed the judgment in favor of Marty and Marie. Our remittitur issued on December 31, 2015.

Prior to trial on the FAC, Marie voluntarily dismissed her wrongful death claims, and respondents settled their claims against UCC for $75,000. In early September 2016, following a trial, a jury found that respondents suffered economic damages totaling $195,000 and noneconomic damages totaling $163,000. The jury allocated the damages as follows: to Bruce Marteney, $87,000 in economic damages and $44,000 in noneconomic damages; to Steve Marteney, $54,000 in economic damages and $44,000 in noneconomic damages; and to Chrystal Dahlstein, $54,000 in economic damages and $75,000 in noneconomic damages.

On September 27, 2016, the trial court (Judge Charles F. Palmer) entered judgment in favor of respondents on their wrongful death claims against Elementis. The judgment awarded economic damages totaling $195,000, subject to further adjustment due to prior settlements. The judgment also awarded noneconomic damages totaling $4,890, predicated on the jury’s findings and the prior allocation of a three percent share of comparative fault to Elementis. The noneconomic damages were apportioned as follows: to Bruce Marteney, $1,320; to Steve Marteney, $1,320; and to Chrystal Dahlstein, $2,250.

In October 2016, Elementis requested a determination of settlement credits ( § 877 ). After concluding that Elementis was entitled to a credit based solely on respondents’ settlement with UCC -- and not on Marty’s and Marie’s settlements -- the trial court found that Elementis was liable for economic damages totaling $154,149.25. In February 2017, the court amended the judgment to reflect that finding.

In March 2017, Elementis filed a motion to vacate the judgment in favor of respondents

240 Cal.Rptr.3d 9

as void, contending the appeal from the 2013 judgment in favor of Marty and Marie foreclosed all proceedings relating to the FAC. On March 29, 2017, the trial court denied Elementis’s motion. This appeal followed.


Elementis contends (1) that the 2017 judgment in favor of respondents is void, and (2) that the trial court erred in determining the settlement credits to which Elementis was entitled. For the reasons discussed below, we reject those contentions.

28 Cal.App.5th 870

A. 2017 Judgment

We begin with Elementis’s challenge to the 2017 judgment, which Elementis contends is void for "lack of jurisdiction."

1. Standard of Review

In order to demonstrate that a judgment is void, a party may file a motion to vacate the judgment in the pertinent action or an independent action in equity. ( Preston v. Wyoming Pacific Oil Co. (1961) 197 Cal.App.2d 517, 527, 17 Cal.Rptr. 443.) Here, Elementis chose to attack the 2017 judgment by means of a motion under section 473, subdivision (d), which provides in pertinent part: "The court ... may, on motion of either party after notice to the other party, set aside any void judgment or order."

Under subdivision (d) of section 473, a party may challenge judgments that are " ‘ "absolutely void." ’ " ( Tearlach Resources Limited v. Western States Internat., Inc. (2013) 219 Cal.App.4th 773, 779, 162 Cal.Rptr.3d 110 ( Tearlach ), quoting Andrews v. Superior Court (1946) 29 Cal.2d 208, 214-215, 174 P.2d 313 ( Andrews ).) That defect occurs when the trial court rendering the judgment lacked jurisdiction in the "fundamental sense," that is, lacked authority over the subject matter or parties. ( OC Interior Services, LLC v. Nationstar Mortgage, LLC (2017) 7 Cal.App.5th 1318, 1330, 213 Cal.Rptr.3d 395.) Such a judgment " ‘ "is, in legal effect, no judgment. ... Being worthless in itself, all proceedings founded upon it are equally worthless. [Citation.]" ’ [Citation.]" ( Rochin v. Pat Johnson Manufacturing Co. (1998) 67 Cal.App.4th 1228, 1240, 79 Cal.Rptr.2d 719, quoting Bennett v. Wilson (1898) 122 Cal. 509, 513-514, 55 P. 390.) Because an absolutely void judgment is a nullity, it " ‘may be attacked anywhere ... whenever it presents itself.’ " ( Andrews , supra , 29 Cal.2d at p. 214, 174 P.2d 313, quoting Estate of Pusey (1919) 180 Cal. 368, 374, 181 P. 648.)

Subdivision (d) of section 473 also permits challenges to judgments that are voidable, rather than absolutely void. ( Rodriguez v. Cho (2015) 236...

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