California Appellate Panel Affirms Defense Judgment Under Component Parts Doctrine In Personal Injury Case

California Appellate Panel Affirms Defense Judgment Under Component Parts Doctrine In Personal Injury Case

LOS ANGELES - (Mealey's) A unanimous panel of the Second District California Court of Appeal, Division Three, issued an opinion Feb. 1 affirming summary judgment under the component parts doctrine for the suppliers of raw materials to a metal fabrication company that were sued by an employee for personal injuries he alleges resulted from occupational exposure to metal fumes and dust (John Maxton v. Western Metals, et al., No. B227000, Calif. App., 2nd Dist., Div. 3). 

(Opinion. Document #15-120207-045Z.)


John Maxton sued suppliers of the raw materials to his employer LeFiell Manufacturing, a metal products manufacturer, in the Los Angeles County Superior Court (No. BC403459), according to the record.  Maxton alleges that while working from 1975 to 2007 as a laborer for LeFiell in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., he was exposed to metallic toxins in fumes and dusts created by cutting, grinding, sandblasting, welding, brazing and similar processes. 

Maxton alleges that as a result of exposure to the fumes and dusts, he developed interstitial pulmonary fibrosis. 

Defendants Bohler-Uddeholm Corp., TW Metals Inc., Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co., Earle M. Jorgensen Co., The Boeing Co., Metals Supply Inc., Western States Metals Inc., A.M. Castle & Co., Castle Metals Aerospace, Fry Steel Co., Rolled Alloys Inc., Alcoa Inc., Hi-Temp Metals Inc., Joseph T. Ryerson & Son Inc., Ryerson Inc. and Resco Products Inc. filed demurrers and motions for judgment on the pleadings on the grounds that they are not liable under the component parts doctrine, according to the record. 

The trial court sustained the demurrers and entered judgments in favor of the defendants.  Maxton appealed. 

"The issue on appeal is whether Maxton can maintain his negligence and strict liability causes of action against defendants," Justice Patti S. Kitching wrote for the panel.  "We hold that he cannot." 

"In Artiglio v. General Electric Co. (1998) 61 CalApp.4th 830 (Artiglio), after reviewing relevant legal authorities including a draft of the Restatement Third [Restatement Third of Torts], the court described circumstances under which the supplier of product component[s] could not be held liable," according to the panel.  "The court stated:  '[C]omponent and raw material suppliers are not liable to ultimate consumers when the goods or material they supply are not inherently dangerous, they sell goods or material in bulk to a sophisticated buyer, the material is substantially changed during the manufacturing process and the supplier has a limited role in developing and designing the end product.  When these factors exist, the social cost of imposing a duty to the ultimate consumers far exceeds any additional protection provided to the consumers.' (Id. at p. 839.)." 

"Maxton contends that the metal products involved here are analogous to asbestos, which is inherently dangerous," according to the panel.  "We disagree.  Asbestos itself is dangerous when handled in any form even if it is unchanged by the manufacturer." 

"By contrast, the metal products in this case were not dangerous when they left defendants' control.  They only became dangerous because of the manufacturing process controlled by Maxton's employer." 

The second amended complaint alleges facts that support the conclusion LeFiell was a sophisticated buyer, the raw materials were significantly changed in the manufacturing process and the defendants played no role in the products manufactured by LeFiell, according to the panel.  

"In sum, all factors discussed in Artiglio exist here," according to the panel.  "We thus conclude that the social cost of imposing a duty on the defendants and expanding the strict liability doctrine under the circumstances of this case far exceeds any additional protection provided to users of defendants' products, including Maxton." 

The trial court also did not err when it denied Maxton's motion for leave to amend the second amended complaint, according to the panel.  Maxton suggested at oral argument that he would amend the complaint by alleging that the defendants failed to provide adequate warnings to LeFiell, according to the panel.  This amendment would not cure the defects in the negligence cause of action, according to the panel. 

"We therefore reject Maxton's request for leave to amend because he has not met his burden of showing there is a reasonable possibility that the deficiencies in the second amended complaint can be cured by amendment," according to the panel. 

Justices Joan D. Klein and H. Walter Croskey joined in the opinion. 

Raphael Metzger, Greg Coolidge and Carmen Yates of the Metzger Law Group in Long Beach, Calif., represent Maxton.  Allen B. Grodsky and Courtney Puritsky of Grodsky & Olecki in Santa Monica, Calif., represent Bohler-Uddeholm.  David F. Wood of Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman in Los Angeles, Patrick S. Schoenburg of Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman in Fresno, Calif., and Mark J. D'Argenio of Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman in Concord, Calif., represent TW Metals. 

Wayne S. Grajewski and Andrea T. Prohaska of McKenna, Long & Aldridge in Los Angeles represent Reliance Steel & Aluminum and Earle M. Jorgensen.  Richard C. Coffin, Donald E. Sobelman, Laura S. Bernard and Nicole M. Martin of Barg, Coffin, Lewis & Trapp in San Francisco represent Boeing.  Bradley D. Blakeley and Brooke R. Sanita of Blakeley & Blakeley in New York represent Metals Supply. 

John H. Shaffery, John F. Grannis and Rey S. Yang of Poole & Shaffery in Los Angeles represent Western States Metals.  Jeffrey R. Williams and Nicole S. Magaline of Schiff Hardin in San Francisco represent A.M. Castle and Castle Metals Aerospace. 

Ronald F. Frank and Keiko J. Kojima of Burke, Williams & Sorenson in Los Angeles represent Fry Steel.  Judith A. Zipkin of Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard & Smith in Los Angeles and Jeffrey A. Miller of Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard & Smith in San Diego represent Rolled Alloys. 

P. Gerhardt Zacher of Gordon & Rees in San Francisco and Matthew P. Nugent of Gordon & Rees in San Diego represent Alcoa.  Deidre Cohen Katz, Christopher M. McDonald and Jonathan S. Gulsvig of Walsworth, Franklin, Bevins & McCall in Orange, Calif., represent Hi-Temp Metals.  Thomas C. Corless and Josephine C. Lee-Nozaki of Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Decker in Los Angeles represent Joseph T. Ryerson & Son and Ryerson. 

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