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Norgart v. Upjohn Co.

Supreme Court of California

August 16, 1999, Decided

No. S071633.


 [*389]  [**83]  [***457]    MOSK, J. 

] Under the statute of limitations, a plaintiff must bring a cause of action within the limitations period applicable thereto after accrual of the cause of action. The general rule for defining the accrual of a cause of action sets the date as the time when the cause of action is complete with all of its elements. An exception is the discovery rule, which postpones accrual of a cause of action until the plaintiff discovers, or has reason to discover, the cause of action, until, that is, he at least suspects, or has reason to suspect, a factual basis for its elements.

We granted review to address questions concerning the statute of limitations in the setting of the "controversial" prescription hypnotic or sleeping drug Halcion. ( Ballan v. Upjohn Co. (W.D.Mich. 1994) 159 F.R.D. 473, 477; see, e.g., Carlin v. Superior Court (1996) 13 Cal. 4th 1104, 1109 [56 Cal. Rptr. 2d 162, 920 P.2d 1347].)  [****3]  

The factual background and procedural history of the action before us are each somewhat complex. The matters and events that are of consequence for present purposes may be summarized as follows.

On October 16, 1991, a complaint for damages was filed in the Superior Court of Sonoma County to initiate this action.

As subsequently, and finally, amended into its operative form, the complaint named as plaintiffs Leo and Phyllis Norgart, in their personal capacity, and Leo, in his capacity as administrator of the estate of their deceased adult daughter, Kristi Norgart McBride. It named as defendant The Upjohn Company, a manufacturer and distributor of pharmaceutical products, including  [*390]  Halcion. 1 It purported  [***458]  to name as well Steven McBride, Kristi's husband, but did not make any allegations against him or pray for any relief from his hands.

 [****4]  In the operative complaint, the Norgarts brought causes of action against Upjohn for wrongful death--whose ] elements include (1) a "wrongful act or neglect" on the part of one or more persons that (2) "cause[s]" (3) the "death of [another] person" (Code Civ. Proc., § 377.60)--on legal theories of negligence and strict liability.

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21 Cal. 4th 383 *; 981 P.2d 79 **; 87 Cal. Rptr. 2d 453 ***; 1999 Cal. LEXIS 5308 ****; 99 Daily Journal DAR 8387; 99 Cal. Daily Op. Service 6596; CCH Prod. Liab. Rep. P15,605

LEO NORGART, Individually and as Administrator, etc., et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. THE UPJOHN COMPANY, Defendant and Respondent.

Prior History:  [****1]  Superior Court of Sonoma County. Super. Ct. No. 193265. Laurence K. Sawyer, Judge.

Disposition: For the reasons stated above, we conclude that we must reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeal, and remand the cause to that court for proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion, including review of the superior court's order granting Upjohn's motion for summary judgment against the operative complaint as to the Norgarts' "survival" causes of action for fraud.


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Civil Procedure, Statute of Limitations, Tolling of Statute of Limitations, Discovery Rule, Governments, Legislation, Time Limitations, General Overview, Torts, Wrongful Death & Survival Actions, Pleadings & Proof, Tolling, Equitable Estoppel, Procedural Matters, Defenses, Statute of Limitations, Defenses, Demurrers & Objections, Affirmative Defenses, Pleadings, Amendment of Pleadings, Relation Back, Service of Process, Time Limitations, Judgments, Entry of Judgments, Consent Decrees, Appeals, Reviewability of Lower Court Decisions, Adverse Determinations, Standards of Review, Harmless & Invited Errors, Invited Errors Doctrine, De Novo Review, Summary Judgment Review