On 10/26/2016 JOSE ALFREDO MALDONADO filed a Personal Injury - Motor Vehicle lawsuit against RAMALINGAM LEELAKANTI. This case was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Courts, Stanley Mosk Courthouse located in Los Angeles, California. The Judge overseeing this case is JON R. TAKASUGI. The case status is Pending - Other Pending.
Pending - Other Pending
Los Angeles County Superior Courts
Stanley Mosk Courthouse
Los Angeles, California
JON R. TAKASUGI
MALDONADO JOSE ALFREDO
DOES 1 TO 100
PV HOLDING CORP.
SOUTHWEST LEGAL GROUP
SMITH LARRY DEAN JR.
MICHAEL A. KRUPPE LAW OFFICES OF
1/4/2018: Minute Order
3/6/2018: DECLARATION OF JOHN LEACH IN SUPPORT OF MOTION TO QUASH SERVICE BY PUBLICATION OF SUMMONS AND COMPLAINT ON BEHALF OF SPECIALLY APPEARING DEFENDANT RAMALINGAM LEELAKANTI
3/20/2018: NOTICE OF CONTINUANCE OF SPECIALLY APPEARING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO QUASH
4/4/2018: Minute Order
4/25/2018: ANSWER TO COMPLAINT ON BEHALF OF DEFENDANT RAMALTNGAM LEELAKANTI
7/12/2018: MOTION FOR COURT ORDER GRANTING LEAVE FOR A SECOND PHYSICAL EXAMINATION OF PLAINTIFF JOSE ALFREDO MALDONADO (ORTHOPEDIC) PURSUANT TO CCP 2032.020(A), 2032.310
9/13/2018: ORDER AND STIPULATION TO CONTINUE TRIAL, FSC, AND RELATED DATES
9/13/2018: NOTICE OF RULING
1/14/2019: Ex Parte Application
1/16/2019: Minute Order
2/7/2019: Ex Parte Application
4/22/2019: Proof of Service (not Summons and Complaint)
1/9/2017: PROOF OF SERVICE SUMMONS
8/14/2017: PROOF OF SERVICE BY PUBLICATION ON DEFENDANT RAMALINGAM LEELAKANTI
Notice of Ruling; Filed by PV Holding Corp. (Defendant)Read MoreRead Less
at 1:30 PM in Department 3, Jon R. Takasugi, Presiding; Hearing on Motion to Compel (Motion to compel Person to Attend Deposition) - Held - Motion GrantedRead MoreRead Less
Order (Granting Motion); Filed by ClerkRead MoreRead Less
Minute Order ( (Hearing on Motion to Compel Motion to compel Person to Attend...)); Filed by ClerkRead MoreRead Less
Reply (Reply in Support of Motion for Order Compelling PMK to Attend Deposition)Read MoreRead Less
Notice (of Filing Proof of Service of Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendants' Motion for an Order Compelling Plaintiff's Employer to Produce a Person Most Knowledgeable for a Deposition and for the Production of Plaintiff's Entire Employment File); Filed by Jose Alfredo Maldonado (Plaintiff)Read MoreRead Less
Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendants Motion for an Order Compelling Employer to Produce; Filed by Jose Alfredo Maldonado (Plaintiff)Read MoreRead Less
Proof of Service (not Summons and Complaint); Filed by PV Holding Corp. (Defendant)Read MoreRead Less
Motion to Compel (Motion to Compel PMK to Attend Depo); Filed by PV Holding Corp. (Defendant)Read MoreRead Less
at 08:30 AM in Department 3, Jon R. Takasugi, Presiding; Jury Trial - Not Held - Advanced and Continued - by CourtRead MoreRead Less
Application for Order to Publish; Filed by Plaintiff/PetitionerRead MoreRead Less
Proof of Service (not Summons and Complaint); Filed by Jose Alfredo Maldonado (Plaintiff)Read MoreRead Less
ANSWER TO COMPLAINTRead MoreRead Less
Answer; Filed by PV Holding Corp. (Defendant)Read MoreRead Less
DEMAND FOR JURY TRIALRead MoreRead Less
PROOF OF SERVICE SUMMONSRead MoreRead Less
Demand for Jury Trial; Filed by PV Holding Corp. (Defendant)Read MoreRead Less
SUMMONSRead MoreRead Less
COMPLAINT-PERS. INJURY, PROP DAMAGE, WRONGFUL DEATH (2 PAGES)Read MoreRead Less
Complaint; Filed by Jose Alfredo Maldonado (Plaintiff)Read MoreRead Less
Case Number: BC638669 Hearing Date: February 23, 2021 Dept: 31
SUPERIOR COURT OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA
FOR THE COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES - CENTRAL DISTRICT
JOSE ALFREDO MALDONADO,
RAMALINGAM LEELAKANTI, ET AL.,
CASE NO: BC638669
[TENTATIVE] ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT PV HOLDING CORP.’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
February 23, 2021
Plaintiff, Jose Alfredo Maldonado (“Plaintiff”) filed the instant action against Defendants, Ramalingam Leelakanti (“Leelakanti”) and PV Holding Corp. (“PV Holding”) (collectively, “Defendants”) for damages arising from a motor vehicle accident. The complaint alleges causes of action for motor vehicle and general negligence against Defendants.
At this time, PV Holding moves for summary judgment asserting that it is the nominee title holder for AESOP Leasing L.P, and AESOP Leasing L.P. leases the vehicles to Avis Budget Car Rental, LLC, which then subleases the vehicles to its subsidiary brand Avis Rent A Car System, LLC for renting to the general public pursuant to rental agreements. (UMF 1.) PV Holding states that on 6/8/15, Leelakanti rented a vehicle from Avis in the normal scope and course of its rental car business, and that on 6/9/15, Plaintiff and Leelakanti were involved in the underlying accident. (UMF 2, 5.) PV Holdings provides that Leelakanti was not PUV Holding’s or Avis’s employee at the time of the accident, that maintenance records confirm the vehicle was properly maintained, and that at all relevant times, PV Holding was the registered owner of the subject vehicle. (UMF 14-16.)
Motion for Summary Judgment
PV Holding contends that the Graves Amendment codified at 49 U.S.C. § 30106 preempts ownership liability statutes in the rental car context and prohibits ownership liability on the part of a rental car company absent a separate theory of independent negligence or criminal action. PV Holding argues Plaintiff cannot prevail on a theory of vicarious liability for operation of its vehicle because the Graves Amendment preempts California Vehicle Code § 17150, et seq. in cases involving rental car companies. Additionally, PV Holding argues Plaintiff fails to provide any evidence of any independent acts of negligence on PV Holding’s part. In particular, PV Holding contends there is no evidence of a defect or malfunction of the vehicle, so Plaintiff cannot prevail on a theory of negligent maintenance; there is no evidence of employment or agency between PV Holding and Leelakanti, so Plaintiff cannot prevail on a theory of respondeat superior, and there is no evidence of Leelakanti being unfit to drive, so Plaintiff cannot prevail on a theory of negligent entrustment.
Plaintiff argues the Graves Amendment does not insulate PV HOLDING from ownership-liability in this matter. Plaintiff asserts that if California Vehicle Code §§ 17150 and 17151 are “financial responsibility” laws, then PV Holding can be held liable for the negligence of the driver who caused Plaintiffs injuries up to a total of $15,000. Plaintiff contends no case has held Vehicle Code §§ 17150 and 17151 are not financial responsibility laws and there are valid reasons for holding they are in fact financial responsibility laws. Further, Plaintiff argues that Vehicle Code §§ 17150 and 17151 should be interpreted to be financial responsibility laws.
Burdens on Summary Judgment
Summary judgment is proper “if all the papers submitted show that there is no triable issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” (Code Civ. Proc. §437c(c).) Where a defendant seeks summary judgment or adjudication, he must show that either “one or more elements of the cause of action, even if not separately pleaded, cannot be established, or that there is a complete defense to that cause of action.” (Id. at §437c(o)(2).) A defendant may satisfy this burden by showing that the claim “cannot be established” because of the lack of evidence on some essential element of the claim. (Union Bank v. Superior Court (1995) 31 Cal.App.4th 574, 590.) Once the defendant meets this burden, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to show that a “triable issue of one or more material facts exists as to that cause of action or defense thereto.” (Ibid.)
The moving party bears the initial burden of production to make a prima facie showing that there are no triable issues of material fact. (Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (2001) 25 Cal.4th 826, 850.) A defendant moving for summary judgment must show either (1) that one or more elements of the cause of action cannot be established or (2) that there is a complete defense to that cause of action. (Id. at §437c(p).) A defendant may discharge this burden by furnishing either (1) affirmative evidence of the required facts or (2) discovery responses conceding that the plaintiff lacks evidence to establish an essential element of the plaintiff's case. If a defendant chooses the latter option he or she must present evidence “and not simply point out that plaintiff does not possess and cannot reasonably obtain needed evidence….” Aguilar, supra, 25 Cal.4th at 865-66,
[A] defendant may simply show the plaintiff cannot establish an essential element of the cause of action “by showing that the plaintiff does not possess, and cannot reasonably obtain, needed evidence.” (Id. at p. 854.) Thus, rather than affirmatively disproving or negating an element (e.g., causation), a defendant moving for summary judgment has the option of presenting evidence reflecting the plaintiff does not possess evidence to prove that element. “The defendant may, but need not, present evidence that conclusively negates an element of the plaintiff's cause of action. The defendant may also present evidence that the plaintiff does not possess, and cannot reasonably obtain, needed evidence—as through admissions by the plaintiff following extensive discovery to the effect that he has discovered nothing” to support an essential element of his case. (Aguilar, supra, at p. 855.) Under the latter approach, a defendant's initial evidentiary showing may “consist of the deposition testimony of the plaintiff's witnesses, the plaintiff's factually devoid discovery responses, or admissions by the plaintiff in deposition or in response to requests for admission that he or she has not discovered anything that supports an essential element of the cause of action.” (Lona v. Citibank, N.A., supra, 202 Cal.App.4th at p. 110.) In other words, a defendant may show the plaintiff does not possess evidence to support an element of the cause of action by means of presenting the plaintiff's factually devoid discovery responses from which an absence of evidence may be reasonably inferred. (Scheiding v. Dinwiddie Construction Co. (1999) 69 Cal.App.4th 64, 83.)
Thus, a moving defendant has two means by which to shift the burden of proof under the summary judgment statute: “The defendant may rely upon factually insufficient discovery responses by the plaintiff to show that the plaintiff cannot establish an essential element of the cause of action sued upon. [Citation.] [Or a]lternatively, the defendant may utilize the tried and true technique of negating (‘disproving’) an essential element of the plaintiff's cause of action.” (Brantly v. Pisaro (1996) 42 Cal.App.4th 1591, 1598.)
(Leyva v. Garcia (2018) 20 Cal.App.5th 1095, 1103.)
Until the moving defendant has discharged its burden of proof, the opposing plaintiff has no burden to come forward with any evidence. Once the moving defendant has discharged its burden as to a particular cause of action, however, the plaintiff may defeat the motion by producing evidence showing that a triable issue of one or more material facts exists as to that cause of action. (Id. at §437c(p)(2).) On a motion for summary judgment, the moving party's supporting documents are strictly construed and those of his opponent liberally construed, and doubts as to the propriety of summary judgment should be resolved against granting the motion. (D’Amico v. Board of Medical Examiners (1974) 11 Cal.3d 1, 21.)
Analysis re: The Graves Amendment
The Graves Amendment provides in pertinent part:
(a) In general. An owner of a motor vehicle that rents or leases the vehicle to a person … shall not be liable under the law of any State … by reason of being the owner of the vehicle … for harm to persons or property that results or arises out of the use, operation, or possession of the vehicle during the period of the rental or lease, if—
(1) the owner … is engaged in the trade or business of renting or leasing motor vehicles; and
(2) there is no negligence or criminal wrongdoing on the part of the owner …
The Graves Amendment also contains the following “savings clause,” however:
(b) Financial responsibility laws. Nothing in this section supersedes the law of any State or political subdivision thereof—
(1) imposing financial responsibility or insurance standards on the owner of a motor vehicle for the privilege of registering and operating a motor vehicle; or
(2) imposing liability on business entities engaged in the trade or business of renting or leasing motor vehicles for failure to meet the financial responsibility or liability insurance requirements under State law.
No published California appellate court decision has addressed whether the Graves Amendment preempts California tort law Veh. Code § 17150 and 17151, while other jurisdictions have already adopted the federal law and concluded that it preempts their own state vicarious liability statutes for lessors or renters of vehicles. (See Garcia v. Vanguard Car Rental USA, Inc. (11th Cir. 2008) 540 F.3d 1242; see also Carton v. General Motors Acceptance Corp. (8th Cir. 2010) 611 F.3d 451.)
Traditionally, California courts have applied California Vehicle Code §§ 17150 and 17151 in allowing plaintiff's recovery from lessors based on vicarious liability. Vehicle Code § 17150 provides that “[e]very owner of a motor vehicle is liable and responsible for death or injury to person or property resulting from a negligent or wrongful act or omission in the operation of the motor vehicle … by any person using or operating the same with the permission, express or implied, of the owner.” However, under Vehicle Code § 17151, where the basis for liability is permissive use and the relationship between the owner and the driver is not that of principal and agent or master and servant, the owner's liability is limited by statute to $15,000 per person, not to exceed $30,000 per accident.
Here, PV Holding argues the Graves Amendment preempts Vehicle Code § 17150, et seq. in actions involving rental car companies and prohibits Plaintiff from recovering damages from PV Holding. After reviewing the briefs and various authorities, the Court concludes that Vehicle Code §§ 17150 and 17151 are not part of the financial responsibility laws, and therefore, are preempted by the Graves Amendment.
The Graves Amendment's savings clause states that it does not supersede state laws imposing “financial responsibility” on the owner for the privilege of registering and operating a motor vehicle. (49 U.S.C. § 30106(b)(1).) While the Graves Amendment does not define “financial responsibility” itself, the Eleventh Circuit interpreted that phrase to mean “state laws which impose insurance-like requirements on owners or operators of motor vehicles, but permit them to carry, in lieu of liability insurance per se, its financial equivalent, such as a bond or self-insurance.” (Garcia, 540 F.3d at 1247.) The savings clause thus appears to “save” only such laws that impose insurance-like requirements and does not “save” state laws that impose vicarious liability on a rental car company- that is liability based on ownership, not direct liability based upon the company's own negligence- such as Vehicle Code § 17150.
Plaintiff argues Vehicle Code §§ 17150 and 17151 are part of the financial responsibility laws of this state based on the usual meaning of the phrase “financial responsibility;” however, such a reading would render the Graves Amendment as a whole meaningless. If those Vehicle Code sections were considered “financial responsibility” laws and, therefore, could still hold owners, including lessors and rental car companies, vicariously liable, then it would thwart the principal intent of Congress and the whole purpose of the Graves Amendment to preclude vicarious liability solely based on ownership. (See Lyles v. Sangadeo-Patel (2014) 225 Cal. App. 4th 759, 764-765 (the court is required to construe a provision “with reference to the entire scheme of law of which it is part so that the whole may be harmonized and retain effectiveness” [citation] and to avoid an interpretation that renders language a nullity [citation].”).)
Furthermore, while Plaintiff cites to Wildman v. Government Emp. Ins. Co. (1957) 48 Cal.2d 31, 39, in arguing former Vehicle Code § 402 was a financial responsibility law and read: “ ‘Every owner of a motor vehicle is liable and responsible for the death of or injury to person or property resulting from negligence in the operation of such motor vehicle, in the business of such owner or otherwise, by any person using or operating the same with the permission, express or implied, of such owner, and the negligence of such person shall be imputed to the owner for all purposes of civil damages.’ “ As PV Holding avers in its reply, Wildman was decided approximately 48 years before the Graves Amendment was enacted, and Wildman did not involve rental car companies’ liability. Consequently, Wildman is inapplicable to this matter.
Moreover, the Graves Amendment’s text refers to “financial responsibility or insurance standards” and “financial responsibility or liability insurance requirements” when it refers to the financial responsibility laws that are preserved. (49 USC §§ 30106(b)(1), (b)(2).) Such financial responsibility laws are codified in Vehicle. Code § 16050 et seq. regarding proof of insurance coverage. On the contrary, Vehicle Code §§ 17150 and 17151, the statutes upon which Plaintiff rests the liability theory, sets forth a means by which a victim in an automobile accident may seek to recover damages vicariously from the owner of a vehicle driven by a permissive user.
Therefore, Vehicle Code §§ 17150 and 17151 are not part of “financial responsibility law” within the meaning of the Graves Amendment.
Analysis: General Negligence
PV Holding further argues Plaintiff fails to provide any evidence of any independent acts of negligence or criminal actions on PV Holding’s part.
First, PV Holding asserts it did not negligently entrust the subject vehicle to Leelakanti as PV Holding complied with Vehicle Code §§ 14604, 14608 and 14609, Leelakanti presented a valid driver’s license at the time of the rental, and Plaintiff has no evidence to dispute these facts. (UMF 3, 4, 9-11.)
“ ‘ “It is generally recognized that one who places or entrusts his [or her] motor vehicle in the hands of one whom he [or she] knows, or from the circumstances is charged with knowing, is incompetent or unfit to drive, may be held liable for an injury inflicted by the use made thereof by that driver, provided the plaintiff can establish that the injury complained of was proximately caused by the driver's disqualification, incompetency, inexperience or recklessness.” ‘ [Citation.]” (Flores v. Enterprise Rent-A-Car Co. (7010) 188 Cal.App.4th 1055, 1063 quoting Osborn v. Hertz Corp. (1988) 205 Cal.App.3d 703, 708.)
In Flores v. Court of Appeal of California (2010) 188 Cal.App.4th 1055, the court addressed the question of rental cars and potential liability for rental car companies. Flores held that a rental car agency was not liable for negligent entrustment where the rental agency had complied with the requirements of Vehicle Code §§ 14604, 14608 and 14609 and the customer did not appear impaired or otherwise unfit to drive at the time of rental. Id. It also held that they were also not required to check DMV records to investigate the driving history that may be relevant to that license status. (Id.)
In this case, Plaintiff does not present any evidence to suggest PV Holding failed to comply with its obligation under any Vehicle Codes or that PV Holding owed a duty to inquire into the driving record of the renter, or any evidence that PB Holding knew Leelakanti was unfit to drive the vehicle.
Second, PV Holding asserts it did not negligently maintain the subject vehicle. PV Holding avers its evidence shows it properly maintained the vehicle, and Plaintiff does not possess any evidence to dispute this fact. (UMF 8-10, 14.) Plaintiff, in opposition, does not submit any evidence to dispute PV Holding’s arguments.
Finally, PV Holding contends it cannot be liable under respondeat superior or agency theories because it is undisputed that at the time of the accident. Leelakanti was not an employee of Avis or its subsidiaries, including PV Holding. (UMF 15.) Plaintiff does not dispute this fact or provide any evidence to raise a triable issue of fact.
Based on the foregoing, PV Holding’s motion for summary judgment is granted.
Moving Defendant is ordered to give notice.
Parties who intend to submit on this tentative must send an email to the court at firstname.lastname@example.org indicating intention to submit on the tentative as directed by the instructions provided on the court website at www.lacourt.org. If the department does not receive an email indicating the parties are submitting on the tentative and there are no appearances at the hearing, the motion may be placed off calendar. If a party submits on the tentative, the party’s email must include the case number and must identify the party submitting on the tentative. If the parties do not submit on the tentative, they should arrange to appear remotely.
Dated this 23rd day of February, 2021
Hon. Thomas D. Long
Judge of the Superior Court
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