Thursday, December 27, 2012
Court of Appeal Says:
Judge May Reconsider Forum Non Conveniens Ruling
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A superior court judge may reconsider a prior judge’s denial of a forum non conveniens motion, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
Div. Three yesterday affirmed Orange Superior Court Judge Linda S. Marks’ order staying a products liability suit against Irvine-based Mazda Motor of America, Inc. pending initiation of litigation in Utah.
The suit grew out of a 2002 collision in that state, in which two members of a Utah family were injured and one, sitting in the rear seat, was killed. The complaint, filed in 2004, alleged that the fatality was a result of Mazda having defectively equipped the rear seat with only a two-prong lap belt, rather than a three-prong shoulder belt.
Orange Superior Court Judge Michael Brenner denied Mazda’s motion to stay or dismiss. He found that while the plaintiffs were residents of Utah, the accident occurred there, the vehicle was licensed there, and many of the witnesses were located there, California was an appropriate forum because the vehicle had been moved here, the attorneys were located here, and the case was likely to come down to a “battle of the experts,” making the residence of the percipient witnesses less important.
Brenner subsequently dismissed the action based on an unrelated federal preemption defense, but the U.S. Supreme Court reversed last year and the case was sent back to the trial court and assigned to Marks.
Mazda moved for reconsideration of the denial of its motion to stay or dismiss on forum non conveniens grounds, arguing that there was newly discovered evidence that the decedent, Thanh Williamson, had disregarded warnings regarding proper use of the two-prong belt. The company also argued that the Utah witnesses could give important testimony regarding “causation, comparative fault, product misuse, and other substantive issues.”
Marks concluded she had authority to reconsider Brenner’s ruling, citing various grounds, including Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 410.30, which allows for stay or dismissal of an action when the court finds, on its own motion or that of a party, that the action should be heard outside the state “in the interest of substantial justice.”
Justice William Rylaarsdam, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the provision allowing the court to grant a stay or dismissal on its own motion creates an independent ground for reconsideration, so that the showing required to permit reconsideration under Sec. 1008 need not be made.
He cited Britton v. Dallas Airmotive, Inc. (2007) 153 Cal.App.4th 127, in which the court held that Sec. 410.30 permitted a second judge to hear a renewed motion to stay or dismiss.
The court reasoned that in a forum non conveniens situation, discovery will often result in the disclosure of relevant information that was unknown to the defendant at the time of the original motion.
Ordinarily, Rylaarsdam explained, a motion to reconsider should be heard by the judge who made the original ruling. But because Brenner retired in 2007 and was unavailable, the justice said, it was appropriate for Marks to rule.
The justice went on to say that the defendant made a sufficient showing of changed circumstances to support Marks’ ruling.
The case is Williamson v. Mazda Motor of America, Inc., G046769.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company