City of Pasadena v. Superior Court (Reyes Jauregui), (June 26, 2017, Second Civil B280805), ___ Cal.Rptr. 3d ___, 2017 WL 2729836.

Foley & Mansfield’s Los Angeles defense team of Joseph V. Macha, M. Amadea Groseclose, and Margaret Johnson succeeded in obtaining writ relief for the City of Pasadena, resulting in a rare published opinion that helps define California law for public entities sued for asbestos exposure.

Plaintiff Sandra Reyes Jauregui was diagnosed with mesothelioma in September 2015.  She filed her complaint for personal injuries in October 2015.  The complaint alleged that her mesothelioma was caused by “take home” exposure to asbestos she suffered from products with which her father worked.  Although the complaint identified the City of Pasadena as one of the exposure sites, it did not name the City as a defendant.  Plaintiff waited until August 2016 – 11 months after her diagnosis and 10 months after she filed her original complaint, to present a Government Tort Claim to the City.  The claim was denied as untimely because it was not filed within the six months of the accrual of her cause of action as required by Government Code section 911.2.  Plaintiff did not file an application to present a late claim; instead, she filed her First Amended Complaint adding the City as a defendant.

The City demurred, arguing that Plaintiff had not demonstrated compliance with the Government Tort Claims Act, as the Plaintiff’s cause of action against the City accrued no later than her diagnosis in September 2015, and her claim was presented more than six months later. 

Plaintiff asserted that there was no time limit on her claim presentation.  Plaintiff argued that the six-month claim presentation period (established under Government Code section 901) never began to run, because her cause of action never accrued under the applicable statute of limitations, Code of Civil Procedure section 340.2.  Under Code of Civil Procedure section 340.2, the statute of limitations for a personal injury action does not begin to run until the plaintiff is “disabled” – defined as “loss of time from work as a result of such exposure which precludes the performance of the employee’s regular occupation.”  Thus, Plaintiff argued that because she was not employed at the time of her diagnosis (and, therefore, had not lost time from work), she was not “disabled”, so her claims never ‘accrued’ for purposes of filing a government claim.  Plaintiff further argued that “accrual” has two different meanings – (1) “‘ripeness’” and (2) “‘beginning of the limitations period’” – and “accrual” as used in Government Code section 901 meant the latter.

The trial court overruled the City’s demurrer and the City sought writ review.  The Court of Appeal ordered an immediate stay of all trial court proceedings, issued an Order to Show Cause, and set the matter for oral argument. 

The Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District issued a peremptory writ of mandate directing the trial court to vacate its order overruling the City’s demurrer and enter a new order sustaining the demurrer in its entirety.  The appellate court concluded that for purposes of Government Code section 901, “accrual” is the date on which the cause of action became actionable.  And it agreed with the City that “accrual” for purposes of the six month claims presentation statute is the date Plaintiff “discovered or should have reasonably discovered” that she suffered from an asbestos-related disease – which, in this case, was no later than the date of her diagnosis.  Thus, Plaintiff’s complaint against the City was barred by her failure to comply with the claims presentation deadline.