Southern California Asbestos Cases Recommended to Be Coordinated

Present and Future Asbestos Cases Pending in Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego Counties Recommended to Be Coordinated for All Purposes in Los Angeles

August 16, 2011

On May 16, 2011, the Los Angeles Superior Court filed a Petition to Coordinate the asbestos cases pending in Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego Counties (“LAOSD Cases”).  In accordance with the California Rules of Court, the California Judicial Council appointed a judge to determine if the cases are complex and subject to coordination. Judge Munter of the San Francisco Superior Court presided over the hearing on the Petition for Coordination on August 15, 2011. He issued an order recommending coordination on August 16, 2011.

Finding the LAOSD Cases complex and involving significant common pretrial issues of law and fact, Judge Munter determined that a single judge (“Coordination Trial Judge”) in a single location should hear such cases. Because a majority of these cases are pending in Los Angeles, Judge Munter’s order recommends that the Chairperson of the Judicial Council (Hon. Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Chief Justice of California) authorize the Presiding Judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court (Lee S. Edmon) and her designee (Carolyn B. Kuhl, Supervising Judge of the Civil Division of the Los Angeles Superior Court) to assign a judicial officer of the Los Angeles Superior Court to act as Coordination Trial Judge.  Judge Munter further recommended the Second Appellate District of the California Court of Appeal (Downtown Los Angeles) as the reviewing court having appellate jurisdiction over the coordinated actions.

We do not know how quickly the Coordination Trial Judge will be assigned to the LAOSD cases, but our firm intends to evaluate whether to utilize our sole peremptory challenge at that time.[1]  In the interim (and with the exception of certain cases exempted from the coordinated proceedings because they are set for trial within four months of the Petition hearing date), our asbestos cases pending in Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego counties may be stayed.  (Cal. Rules of Ct., rule 3.529(b) [when an order granting coordination is filed in an included action, all further proceedings in that action are automatically stayed].)  Any party intending to appeal the order must do so within twenty days of entry.  (Code Civ. Proc., § 404.6; Cal. Rules of Ct., rule 3.505.)

The practical effect of this order is the installation of a Coordinated Asbestos Trial Department to preside over the combined asbestos dockets of Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego counties.  The Coordination Trial Judge will act as the judge for all purposes, from law and motion, to discovery disputes, to trial.  However, he or she will have the ability to remand a coordinated action (or any severable claim or issue in that action) to the originating court “at any time.”  ( Cal. Rules of Ct., rule 3.542.)  With 200-plus cases, a number of which will be subject to statutory trial preference, we anticipate that certain cases will be remanded for trial.

The Coordination Trial Judge will have considerable power to reshape asbestos litigation in these three highly populated counties.  It will be in this judge’s discretion to vacate or amend the Asbestos General Orders currently in effect in Los Angeles and Orange counties.  Should issues arise that would impact the litigation globally (like Taylor), the Coordination Trial Judge is empowered to order notice and allow briefing by all parties to the coordinated proceeding, whether active in the case being litigated or not.

As soon as the Coordination Trial Judge is assigned, we may begin to influence how the coordinated cases will be managed on behalf of our clients.  We will be permitted to submit a proposed agenda for the first Case Management Conference, a proposed case management order covering such matters of procedure and discovery as may be appropriate, a recommendation for the submission of preliminary legal questions that might serve to expedite the disposition of the coordinated actions, our thoughts on liaison counsel, etc.  ( Cal. Rules of Court, rule 3.541.) Hawkins Parnell & Young, LLP will use this opportunity to craft a defense-friendly case management order that addresses the issues we highlighted in our Response to the Petition for Coordination.

We will update this article upon receipt of the order assigning the Coordination Trial Judge.

[1]  There is case law construing rule 3.516 of the California Rules of Court to prohibit parties to “add-on” cases (cases coordinated at a later date) from challenging the Coordination Trial Judge.  (Industrial Indemnity Co. v. Superior Court (1989) 214 Cal.App.3d 259).  We will have twenty days from service of the order assigning the Coordination Trial Judge to file a peremptory challenge.  ( Cal. Rules of Ct., rule 3.516).

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