Thursday, July 17, 2003
High Court to Hear Redlands Water Contamination Case
By Kenneth Ofgang
Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
The California Supreme Court yesterday agreed to decide whether widespread publicity about possible contamination of the drinking water supply in Redlands placed area residents on notice of possible personal injury claims.
At their weekly conference, the justices voted 6-0 to review the April 30 ruling of the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s Div. Two in Lockheed Martin Corporation v. Superior Court (Adams)(2003) 109 Cal.App.4th 24.
All of the justices, except for the absent Justice Janice Rogers Brown, voted to grant the petition by 28 plaintiffs whose claims for personal injury and wrongful death were held to be time-barred by the Court of Appeal panel.
The plaintiffs are part of a group of test cases in the broader consolidated Redlands Tort Litigation. Some of the state’s best known toxic tort firms have brought suit on behalf of more than 800 named plaintiffs and perhaps as many as 100,000 class members over pollution at a Lockheed Martin plant in Mentone.
Opened in 1950s
The facility was opened in the mid-1950s by Great Central Rocket Company, which was later acquired by Petro-Tex Chemical Corporation. Petro-Tex sold the plant and the surrounding property in the early 1960s to Lockheed Martin, which closed the plant in 1974
The high court’s decision to take the case of the Adams plaintiffs comes on the heels of the 5-2 decision in Lockheed Martin Corporation v. Superior Court (Carillo) (2003) 20 Cal.4th 1096 in which it held that since-retired San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Ben Kayashima abused his discretion in granting class certification to a group of Redlands plaintiffs seeking to recover costs of medical monitoring.
The Adams plaintiffs claim that they were exposed to cancer-causing trichloroethylene, or TCE. But Justice Thomas Hollenhorst, writing for the Court of Appeal panel, said the plaintiffs should have known from articles, television programs, and radio segments that they might have potential claims.
The plaintiffs, the justice noted, subscribed to or regularly read the Redlands Daily Facts, the Riverside Press-Enterprise, and the San Bernardino Sun between 1980, when those newspapers first began reporting on potential contamination, and May 1997, a year before they filed suit.
In other action at the conference, the justices declined to review an unpublished April 1 Third District Court of Appeal ruling overturning an award of more than $100,000 in attorney fees to the Pacific Legal Foundation for its successful challenge to the former makeup of the California Coastal Commission.
That same court held on Dec. 31 in Marine Forests Society v. California Coastal Com., 104 Cal.App.4th 1232, that in allowing the legislative leadership to appoint and remove eight of the 12 commissioners at will, the Legislature violated the state Constitution’s separation of powers. The justices affirmed the trial court on that issue.
But in the later ruling, it held that PLF was not entitled to attorney fees under the “private attorney general” doctrine because its client, which wants to develop an artificial reef off the coast of Newport Beach, had a substantial financial stake in the outcome of the litigation. No Supreme Court justice voted to review the decision.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company