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Presbyterian Camp & Conference Centers, Inc. v. Superior Court

Court of Appeal of California, Second Appellate District, Division Six

November 18, 2019, Opinion Filed

No. B297195


 [**71]  TANGEMAN, J.—The law is replete with legal fictions. Among the best known is that corporations are people, with many of the same rights and responsibilities as natural persons. But corporations cannot act on their own; they “‘necessarily act through agents.’ [Citation.]” (Snukal v. Flightways Manufacturing, Inc. (2000) 23 Cal.4th 754, 782 [98 Cal. Rptr. 2d 1, 3 P.3d 286] (Snukal).) Thus the law draws “no distinction between [a] corporation's ‘own’ liability and vicarious liability resulting from [the] negligence of [its] agents.” (Tunkl v. Regents of University of California (1963) 60 Cal.2d 92, 103 [32 Cal. Rptr. 33, 383 P.2d 441].)


In a split decision, our colleagues in the Third Appellate District rejected this principle in the context of Health and Safety Code1 sections 13009 and 13009.1. (Department of Forestry & Fire Protection v. Howell (2017) 18 Cal.App.5th 154 [226 Cal. Rptr. 3d 727] (Howell).) The Howell majority concluded that corporations cannot be held liable for the costs of suppressing and investigating fires their agents [***2]  or employees negligently set, allow to be set, or allow to escape. (Id. at pp. 175–182.)  [**72]  Justice Robie disagreed, concluding that sections 13009 and 13009.1 do permit vicarious corporate liability. (Howell, at pp. 204–208 (dis. opn. of Robie, J.).)

We agree with Justice Robie.

The Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) sued Presbyterian Camp and Conference Centers, Inc. (PCCC), to recover costs arising from a fire allegedly started by a PCCC employee. PCCC demurred, arguing that Howell precludes liability. The trial court disagreed, and overruled the demurrer.

PCCC challenges the trial court's order in a petition for writ of mandate. It contends the court erroneously overruled its demurrer because sections 13009 and 13009.1 do not permit it to be held liable for an alleged employee's negligent or illegal acts. We disagree, and deny the petition.

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42 Cal. App. 5th 148 *; 255 Cal. Rptr. 3d 69 **; 2019 Cal. App. LEXIS 1138 ***


Notice: As modified Dec. 9, 2019.

  THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA GRANTED REVIEW IN THIS MATTER (see Cal. Rules of Court, rules 8.1105(e)(1)(B), 8.1115(e)) January 22, 2020, S259850.

Subsequent History: Modified by, Rehearing denied by Presbyterian Camp & Conference Centers, Inc. v. Superior Court, 2019 Cal. App. LEXIS 1231 (Cal. App. 2d Dist., Dec. 9, 2019)

Review granted by, Stay granted by, Request denied by Presbyterian Camp & Conf. Ctrs., Inc. v. Superior Court, 257 Cal. Rptr. 3d 591, 456 P.3d 415, 2020 Cal. LEXIS 512 (Cal., Jan. 22, 2020)

Request granted Presbyterian Camp & Conference Centers, Inc. v. Superior Court, 2020 Cal. LEXIS 1257 (Cal., Feb. 20, 2020)

Request granted Presbyterian Camp & Conf. Ctrs. v. S.C., 2020 Cal. LEXIS 1952 (Cal., Mar. 17, 2020)

Prior History:  [***1] Superior Court County of Santa Barbara, No. 18CV02968, Thomas Pearce Anderle, Judge.


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Civil Procedure, Responses, Defenses, Demurrers & Objections, Demurrers, Writs, Common Law Writs, Mandamus, Appeals, Standards of Review, Standards of Review, De Novo Review, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation, Business & Corporate Law, Corporate Existence, Powers & Purpose, Powers, Acts Through Agents, State & Territorial Governments, Claims By & Against, Duties & Liabilities, Negligent Acts of Agents, Liability of Principals, Corporations, Corporate Formation, Corporate Existence, Powers & Purpose