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This case was last updated from Los Angeles County Superior Courts on 06/06/2019 at 04:46:03 (UTC).

JUSTIN MORGENTHALER ET AL VS JUAN ANTONIO HAROMARTINEZ ET AL

Case Summary

On 12/01/2017 JUSTIN MORGENTHALER filed a Personal Injury - Other Personal Injury lawsuit against JUAN ANTONIO HAROMARTINEZ. This case was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Courts, Governor George Deukmejian Courthouse located in Los Angeles, California. The Judges overseeing this case are LAURA A. SEIGLE and MARK C. KIM. The case status is Pending - Other Pending.

Case Details Parties Documents Dockets

 

Case Details

  • Case Number:

    ****5348

  • Filing Date:

    12/01/2017

  • Case Status:

    Pending - Other Pending

  • Case Type:

    Personal Injury - Other Personal Injury

  • Court:

    Los Angeles County Superior Courts

  • Courthouse:

    Governor George Deukmejian Courthouse

  • County, State:

    Los Angeles, California

Judge Details

Presiding Judges

LAURA A. SEIGLE

MARK C. KIM

 

Party Details

Plaintiffs and Petitioners

MORGENTHALER JUSTIN

MORGENTHALER SAWYER

MORGENTHALER SARAH

Defendants and Respondents

GENERAL MOTORS COMPANY

GENERAL MOTORS HOLDING LLC

TURBO EXPRESS INC

HAROMARTINEZ JUAN ANTONIO

GENERAL MOTORS LLC

ENTERPRISE RENT A CAR COMPANY OF LA LLC

EAN HOLDINGS LLC

DOES 1-10 INCLUSIVE

ZIRCON CORPORATION

LEAR CORPORATION

LEAR SEATING CORPORATION

TURBO EXPRESS 22 DE RL DE CV A/K/A GRUPO TURBO EXPRESS

FELIX AHUMADA HECTOR A.

HUSSONG MARIA AMALIA

HERNANDEZ IVAN

FELIX HECTOR A.

Guardian Ad Litem

MORGENTHALER SARAH AND INDIVIDUALLY

Plaintiff and Minor

MORGENTHALER SAWYER

3 More Parties Available

Attorney/Law Firm Details

Plaintiff, Petitioner and Minor Attorneys

MCCUNE RICHARD D. ESQ.

WRIGHT DAVID C.

MCCUNE RICHARD DALE ESQ.

TAXMAN MARC A.

BEKKERMAN GERALD J.

KOMYATTE PAUL J.

Defendant Attorneys

RIDLEY EILEEN R. ESQ.

COX JEFFREY J.

FOLEY & LARDNER LLP

COSSE CLAY A.

CASE ANTHONY THOMAS

 

Court Documents

Other -

1/23/2018: Other -

PROOF OF SERVICE SUMMONS

2/13/2018: PROOF OF SERVICE SUMMONS

PROOF OF SERVICE SUMMONS

2/13/2018: PROOF OF SERVICE SUMMONS

PROOF OF SERVICE SUMMONS

2/13/2018: PROOF OF SERVICE SUMMONS

PROOF OF SERVICE SUMMONS

2/13/2018: PROOF OF SERVICE SUMMONS

CORRECTED PROOF OF SERVICE OF SUMMONS

3/23/2018: CORRECTED PROOF OF SERVICE OF SUMMONS

Unknown

4/24/2018: Unknown

APPLICATION FOR ORDER ADMITING MARC A. TAXMAN AS COUNSEL PRO HAC VICE;

5/11/2018: APPLICATION FOR ORDER ADMITING MARC A. TAXMAN AS COUNSEL PRO HAC VICE;

REQUEST FOR DISMISSAL

5/25/2018: REQUEST FOR DISMISSAL

Unknown

1/23/2019: Unknown

Minute Order

2/8/2019: Minute Order

Stipulation and Order

2/27/2019: Stipulation and Order

Case Management Statement

2/28/2019: Case Management Statement

Minute Order

3/20/2019: Minute Order

Minute Order

3/28/2019: Minute Order

Order

3/28/2019: Order

Case Management Statement

4/23/2019: Case Management Statement

Summons

5/23/2019: Summons

48 More Documents Available

 

Docket Entries

  • 06/03/2019
  • at 08:30 AM in Department 4B, Laura A. Seigle, Presiding; Jury Trial - Not Held - Advanced and Vacated

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  • 05/23/2019
  • Summons (on Complaint); Filed by JUSTIN MORGENTHALER (Plaintiff); MORGENTHALER, SARAH AND INDIVIDUALLY (Legacy Party); SAWYER MORGENTHALER (Legacy Party)

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  • 05/23/2019
  • Amended Complaint; Filed by JUSTIN MORGENTHALER (Plaintiff); JUSTIN MORGENTHALER (Plaintiff); Sawyer Morgenthaler (Plaintiff) et al.

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  • 05/23/2019
  • Complaint ( (1st)); Filed by JUSTIN MORGENTHALER (Plaintiff)

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  • 05/17/2019
  • at 10:00 AM in Department 4B, Laura A. Seigle, Presiding; Final Status Conference - Not Held - Advanced and Vacated

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  • 05/08/2019
  • at 08:30 AM in Department S27, Mark C. Kim, Presiding; Case Management Conference - Held - Continued

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  • 05/08/2019
  • Minute Order ( (Case Management Conference)); Filed by Clerk

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  • 05/06/2019
  • Request for Refund / Order; Filed by GENERAL MOTORS COMPANY (Defendant)

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  • 04/24/2019
  • Case Management Statement; Filed by GENERAL MOTORS LLC (Defendant)

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  • 04/23/2019
  • Case Management Statement; Filed by ENTERPRISE RENT A CAR COMPANY OF LA, LLC (Defendant)

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79 More Docket Entries
  • 02/13/2018
  • Proof-Service/Summons; Filed by JUSTIN MORGENTHALER (Plaintiff)

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  • 01/23/2018
  • Order (Transferring Personal Injury Case to independent calendar)

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  • 01/23/2018
  • Other - (Motion/opposition/stipulation to transfer persona injury case to independent calendar court and order)

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  • 01/03/2018
  • SUMMONS

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  • 01/03/2018
  • Summons; Filed by Clerk

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  • 01/03/2018
  • Summons Issued; Filed by Clerk

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  • 12/14/2017
  • Application ; Filed by Plaintiff/Petitioner

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  • 12/14/2017
  • EX PARTE APPLICATION AND ORDER FOR APPOINTMENT OF GUARDIAN AD LITEM-CIVIL

    Read MoreRead Less
  • 12/01/2017
  • Complaint; Filed by JUSTIN MORGENTHALER (Plaintiff)

    Read MoreRead Less
  • 12/01/2017
  • COMPLAINT FOR DAMAGES 1. NEGLIGENCE (AGAINST DEFENDANT FLAROMARTINEZ) ;ETC

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Tentative Rulings

Case Number: BC685348    Hearing Date: September 22, 2020    Dept: S27

  1. Background Facts

Plaintiffs, Justin, Sarah, and Sawyer Morgenthaler filed this action against Defendants, Juan Antonio Haromartinez, Turbo Express, Inc., General Motors LLC, General Motors Company, General Motors Holding LLC, Enterprise Rent-a-Car Company of Los Angeles, LLC, and EAN Holdings, LLC for damages arising out of an automobile accident.

Plaintiff, Justin was permanently paralyzed as a result of the accident. Sawyer is a minor and appearing in the action by and through his mother and GAL, Sarah; Sawyer suffered only very minor injuries as a result of the accident, and sues largely for emotional distress suffered as a result of his father’s serious injuries.

  1. Matters on Calendar Today

There are four matters on calendar today. Primarily, there is a petition to approve the compromise between Sawyer (the minor plaintiff) and all General Motors entities, Enterprise, and EAN. Additionally, there are three motions to seal documents. The documents sought to be sealed are:

  1. Petition to Approve Minor’s Compromise

Plaintiffs have agreed to settle this action with all General Motors entities, as well as with Enterprise and EAN (related rental car defendant entities). Because the petition is the subject of an attendant motion to seal records, the Court will not detail the terms of the settlement. The Court has reviewed the settlement, and finds it is fair and reasonable. Per the terms of the settlement, the entirety of the minor’s settlement proceeds will be used to purchase a single-premium deferred annuity for Sawyer’s benefit. The Court will sign the proposed order on the petition at the time of the hearing.

  1. Motions to Seal

The General Motors Defendants move to seal the various documents detailed above, contending (a) the exhibits to the parties’ discovery motions reflect GM’s trade secrets, and (b) the amount and value of the parties’ settlement is agreed among the parties to be confidential, such that the petition to approve it should be sealed.

  1. Law Governing Motions to Seal

    (1) Scope of Rules. C.R.C., Rules 2.550 and 2.551 apply to trial court records sealed or proposed to be sealed by court order. They do not apply to discovery motions and records in discovery proceedings, but do apply to discovery materials used at trial or submitted for adjudication of matters other than discovery proceedings. (C.R.C., Rule 2.550(a).)

    (2) Records Presumed To Be Open. “Unless confidentiality is required by law, court records are presumed to be open.” (C.R.C., Rule 2.550(c).)

    (3) Findings Required To Seal Records. The court may order that a record be filed under seal only if it expressly finds facts that establish all of the following:

    (a) “There exists an overriding interest that overcomes the right of public access to the record.” (C.R.C., Rule 2.550(d)(1).)

    (b) “The overriding interest supports sealing the record.” (C.R.C., Rule 2.550(d)(2).)

    (c) “A substantial probability exists that the overriding interest will be prejudiced if the record is not sealed.” (C.R.C., Rule 2.550(d)(3).)

    (d) “The proposed sealing is narrowly tailored.” (C.R.C., Rule 2.550(d)(4).)

    (e) “No less restrictive means exist to achieve the overriding interest.” (C.R.C., Rule 2.550(d)(5).)

    (4) What Constitutes an “Overriding Interest?” The Advisory Committee Comment to C.R.C., Rule 2.550 notes that the rule leaves the determination of what constitutes an “overriding interest” to case law and that, in appropriate circumstances, courts have found various statutory privileges, trade secrets, and privacy interests to be “overriding interests.”

    (5) Court Approval Required. A record may not be filed under seal without a court order or based solely on the agreement or stipulation of the parties. (C.R.C., Rule 2.551(a).)

    (6) Motion/Application to Seal Record. Sealing a record is requested by a motion or application for an order sealing the record, supported by a memorandum and a declaration of facts sufficient to justify sealing. (C.R.C., Rule 2.551(b)(1).) If necessary to prevent disclosure, the motion or application and supporting and opposing documents may be filed in a public redacted version and lodged in a complete version conditionally under seal. (C.R.C., Rule 2.551(b)(5).) A copy of the motion or application must be served on all parties who have appeared. A party who already possesses copies of the records to be placed under seal must be served with both a complete unredacted version and a redacted version. (C.R.C., Rule 2.551(b)(2).)

    (7) Lodging Records “Conditionally Under Seal.” When the motion or application is made, the record is lodged “conditionally under seal” unless the record has previously been lodged or good cause exists for not lodging it. (C.R.C., Rule 2.551(b)(4).) A record that may be filed under seal is lodged with the court in a sealed envelope or container labeled “conditionally under seal” with a cover sheet containing the information required on a caption page and stating that the record is subject to a motion or application to file the record under seal. The clerk endorses the cover sheet with the date of receipt and retains the record without filing. (C.R.C., Rule 2.551(d).)

    (8) Procedure for Confidential Documents. A party who files or intends to file documents disclosed during discovery that are subject to a confidentiality agreement or a protective order but does not intend to request sealing must (a) lodge the unredacted records and other documents that disclose their contents conditionally under seal, (b) file redacted copies that do not disclose the contents, and (c) give written notice to the party who produced the records that the records and documents lodged under seal will be placed in the public court file unless that party files a motion or application to seal the records. (C.R.C., Rule 2.551(b)(3)(A).) Within 10 days, the party who receives the notice may file a motion or application to seal the records or to extend the time to file. If the party does so, the documents remain conditionally under seal until the court rules on the application or motion. If the party does not do so, the clerk “promptly” places the documents in the public file. (C.R.C., Rule 2.551(b)(3)(B).)

    (9) Contents of Sealing Order. The order sealing a record must be narrowly tailored, “specifically set forth the facts that support the findings” and “[d]irect the sealing of only those documents and pages, or, if reasonably practicable, portions of those documents and pages, that contain the material that needs to be placed under seal.” All other portions of the documents must be placed in the public file. (C.R.C., Rule 2.550(e).) The order must state whether the order itself, the register of actions, any other court records, or any other records in the case are to be sealed and whether any person other than the court is authorized to inspect the record. (C.R.C., Rule 2.550(e)(2), (e)(3).) Unless the sealing order provides otherwise, the parties may not disclose the contents of any sealed materials in subsequently filed records or papers. (C.R.C., Rule 2.550(e)(4).)

    There must be no less restrictive means to achieve the overriding interests. These findings embody constitutional requirements for a request to seal court records, protecting the First Amendment right of public access to civil trials. (See NBC Subsidiary (KNBC-TV), Inc. v. Superior Court (1999) 20 Cal.4th 1178, 1217-1218; Huffy Corp. v. Superior Court (2003) 112 Cal.App.4th 97, 104; People v. Jackson (2005) 128 Cal.App 4th 1009, 1026 – in determining whether to seal records, courts must weigh constitutional requirements for disclosure against such factors as privacy rights.)

    (10) Grant of Motion or Application. If the court grants the motion or application, the clerk replaces the cover sheet with a file-endorsed copy of the court's order and labels the record “sealed by order of the court on (date).” (C.R.C., Rule 2.551(e)(1).)

    (11) Denial of Motion or Application. If the motion or application is denied, the clerk returns the lodged record to the requesting party and does not place it in the case file unless that party notifies the clerk in writing within 10 days after denial that the record is to be filed. (C.R.C., Rule 2.551(b)(6).)

    (12) Custody of Sealed Records. Sealed records are securely filed and kept separate from the public file in the case. (C.R.C., Rule 2.551(f).) Where voluminous records in the possession of a public agency are to be sealed, the order may direct the agency to maintain the records in a secure fashion. (C.R.C., Rule 2.551(g).)

  2. Trade Secret Confidentiality

    Pursuant to Farrar v. Direct Commerce, Inc. (2017) 9 Cal.App.5th 1257, 1272, a sealing order is appropriate to protect trade secret and proprietary commercial information. Am. Honda Motor Co. v. Superior Court (2011) 199 Cal.App.4th 1367, 1378 considered an issue similar to the one posed here: whether it was appropriate to seal documents relating to internal Honda communications opining concerning potential design defects. The court of appeals affirmed the filing of such documents under seal. The documents at issue in Plaintiffs’ motion to compel and Plaintiffs’ opposition to Defendants’ motion for a protective order are substantially similar documents, such that sealing them is appropriate under the standard above. Notably, the parties have a confidentiality agreement concerning these documents, and the parties lodged all of the documents under seal. Also notably, the parties have now settled the case in its entirety, and the Court never ruled substantively on the discovery motions; thus, the public has little to no interest in the exhibits that were attached to the discovery motions, as the motions were ultimately rendered moot without a ruling.

    The motion to seal the subject exhibits is granted. The lodged, sealed records will be handled by the Judicial Assistant in accordance with the procedure detailed above.

  3. Petition to Approve Minor’s Compromise

    Pursuant to Hinshaw, Winkler, Draa, Marsh & Still v. Superior Court (1996) 51 Cal.App.4th 233, 241, it is in the public interest to uphold the confidentiality of a private settlement. Petitioner lodged an unredacted version of the petition to approve minor’s compromise, and also filed a redacted version. The only difference between the redacted and unredacted version of the petition is the amount of the settlement. The Court finds the redactions are appropriately and narrowly tailored, and therefore grants the motion to seal the unredacted version of the petition.

    Again, the Judicial Assistant will handle the records in accordance with the procedure detailed above.

  1. Conclusion

Petitioner’s petition to approve the compromise of the minor plaintiff is granted. Defendants’ motions to seal (3) are granted.

Moving Defendants are ordered to give notice.

Parties who intend to submit on this tentative must send an email to the court at gdcdepts27@lacourt.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 any party does not submit on the tentative, the party should make arrangements to appear remotely at the hearing on this matter.

Case Number: BC685348    Hearing Date: March 12, 2020    Dept: S27

Facts: On May 25, 2017, Plaintiff, Justin Morgenthaler was injured when a truck rear-ended the 2016 Chevrolet Suburban in which he was a passenger. He suffered “catastrophic and permanently disabling injuries.”

As against Defendant General Motors (“GM”), Plaintiffs allege causes of action for strict products liability, negligence, breach of express and implied warranties, failure to warn/negligent failure to recall, and punitive damages based on the subject suburban containing defective parts.

TR: GRANT

Plaintiff’s request for judicial notice is granted. (Evid. Code § 452.)

Defendant moves the Court for a protective order. Defendant argues that Plaintiffs are not entitled to capture GM’s confidential computer modeling technology and objects to producing the models themselves or any documents or answers to discovery questions that reveal the contends of those models.

Code of Civil Procedure, section 2031.060 provides that “[t]he court, for good cause shown, may make any order that justice requires to protect any party or other person from unwarranted annoyance, embarrassment, or oppression, or undue burden and expense,” including “[t]hat a trade secret or other confidential research, development, or commercial information not be disclosed, or be disclosed only to specified persons or only in a specified way.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 2031.060(b)(5).)

Generally, the burden of proof is on the party seeking the protective order to show good cause for whatever order is sought. (Fairmont Ins. Co. v. Superior Court (2000) 22 Cal.4th 245, 255.) Good cause requires a showing of specific facts demonstrating undue burden or other grounds, and justifying the relief sought. (Goodman v. Citizens Life & Casualty Ins. Co. (1967) 253 Cal.App.2d 807, 819.) Courts have considerable discretion in granting and crafting protective orders. (Raymond Handling Concepts Corp. v. Superior Court (1995) 39 Cal.App.4th 584, 588.)

Good Cause

Good cause is established by submitting an affidavit from a qualified person pursuant to Evidence Code section 1060. (Stadish v. Superior Court (1999) 71 Cal.App.4th 1130, 1144-1445.)[1] To determine whether information is a trade secret, the court considers: (1) the extent to which the information is known outside of his business; (2) the extent to which it is known by employees and others involved in his business; (3) the extent of measures taken by him to guard the secrecy of the information; (4) the value of the information to him and to his competitors; (5) the amount of effort or money expended by him in developing the information; (6) the ease or difficulty with which the information could be properly acquired or duplicated by others. (Uribe v. Howie (1971) 19 Cal.App.3d 194, 208.) Notably, these considerations are not factual elements which must be supported for trade secret protections to apply. (See, ibid.; see also, e.g., McGuan v. Endovascular Techs., Inc. (2010) 182 Cal.App.4th 974, 988-989 [recognizing that documents that detail information regarding a manufacturer’s procedures that may have economic advantage to competitors may be protected].)

Good cause will be shown if a declaration establishes that the documents it must produce contain confidential information or information involving a protectable interest; or that dissemination of the documents to the public would injure the producing party. (Nativi v. Deutsche Bank Nat’l Trust Co. (2014) 223 Cal.App.4th 261, 318.) Contrary to Plaintiff’s assertions, there is no requirement that a particularized “good cause” showing be made as to every possible document falling within the scope of a protective order. In discovery, “absolute precision” is not required in describing trade secrets, but instead “reasonable particularity.” (See Advanced Modular Sputtering, Inc. v. Superior Court (2005) 132 Cal.App.4th 826, 836.)

Here, GM offers the declaration of its Senior Engineering Group Manager in the Engineering Analysis Department of GM’s Global Vehicle Safety Organization, Huizhen Lu, who declares that GM did not create the finite element analysis and there are commercially available software programs that allow engineers with a sufficient level of education and experience to create their own computer modeling technology. These software programs are platforms on which models can be run, similar to how Microsoft Excel allows users to create formulas for certain mathematical calculations. The user must construct the model and GM has created and refined specific methods, techniques, and processes over the last three decades that make GM’s computer modeling technology more accurate than those created by most other engineers, including competitors. (Lu Decl., ¶ 9.)

Lu declares that the computer modeling techniques are not publicly known. (Id. at ¶ 10.) For example, engineers outside GM’s community do not know how GM employs the technology to evaluate designs and how it creates its modeling technology such as the manner in which the models are constructed, the size and way it constructs its finite element mesh, and the unique ways of simulating material properties used by GM are not identical throughout the finite element engineering community or the automotive industry. (Id. at 11.) Lu declares that those methods and techniques are valuable secrets that would be revealed if an engineer had access to GM’s models. (Ibid.) These modeling techniques are not obsolete based on the age of the models at issue because many of these techniques address issues that most engineers in the computer modeling field still do not know how to address. (Ibid.) Disclosure of GM’s computer modeling technology would reveal, for example, how GM simulates contact and load forces, the unique ways of simulating the material properties used by GM, and the impact of the metal forming and welding processes. (Ibid.) These methods and techniques are not necessarily used or even known by other engineers and it has taken GM over three decades to determine, develop, and perfect the various ways to use this technology. (Id. at ¶ 12.) These methods and techniques are a result of years of engineering work and millions of dollars in investment. (Ibid.) GM believes its technology is more advanced than its competitors in this area and disclosure would eliminate the competitive advantage GM has in this area. (Ibid.) The technology is not available outside of GM and GM has security measures used to protect trade secrets. (Id. at ¶ 13.) GM’s computer modeling technology is kept confidential, even within GM as most employees do not have open access to it. (Id. at ¶ 16.) Only the technical and engineering staffs of GM divisions responsible for the designing and evaluating designs have access to the technology, and authorized users are granted a user ID and password to access it. (Ibid.) GM employees without pre-approved entry privileges in GM engineering facilities, and non-GM visitors, must register before entering the buildings where this technology is created and used. (Ibid.) Computers are screened by security when brought in and out of the buildings, and non-approved cameras are not permitted. (Ibid.)

Lu declares that even limited disclosure of GM’s finite element technology to Plaintiff’s experts would allow the expert to discover how GM creates and uses its simulation models. That would threaten the competitive advantage GM has in this area. (Id. at ¶ 23.) Lu declares that a confidentially protective order from this Court requiring the expert not to disclose what he or she has learned would not be sufficient. (Ibid.) Lu declares that he has been involved with many different types of claims of defects relating to the vehicle structure and in every case, the plaintiff’s expert engineer has been able to develop and explain the crashworthiness defect opinion relating to the vehicle structure without using GM’s finite element models. (Id. at ¶ 24.) In cases where finite element modeling was used, the Plaintiff’s experts created their own finite element models from the CAD data provided. (Ibid.) GM’s finite element models will not be used by GM in this litigation. (Id. at ¶ 25.)

GM has shown “good cause” for the issuance of a protective order.

Even if there is good cause based on trade secret for a protective order, a party seeking discovery may obtain the information if they “make a prima facie, particularized showing that the information sought is relevant and necessary to the proof of, or defense against, a material element of one or more causes of action presented in the case, and that it is reasonable to conclude that the information sought is essential to a fair resolution of the lawsuit.” (Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc. v. Superior Court (1992) 7 Cal.App.4th 1384, 1393.) In opposition, Plaintiffs argue that they need the FEM to prepare their case because it contains the best available engineering data that can be used to assess the vehicle’s crash performance. It is the only source of the actual engineering data available to GM’s engineers during the design process. Recreating the FEMs would be cost-prohibitive and practically impossible.

While Plaintiffs show that the models are relevant, Plaintiffs have not established that they are necessary. GM will not use the models and Plaintiff does not establish that the models will show the final design. GM represents that FEA modeling is an early step in a process of evaluating possible options that will not represent the final design. The final design may be found in the CAD data and other materials produced.

Defendant’s motion for protective order is thus GRANTED.


[1] Evidence Code section 1061, subdivision (b)(1) also requires that motions for protective orders based on a claim of trade secret protections be supported by a declaration showing the application of trade secretion protections. Notably, the declaration must include the declarant’s “qualifications to give an opinion concerning the trade secret at issue, identifying, without revealing, the alleged trade secret and articles which disclose the secret, and presenting evidence that the secret qualifies as a trade secret under either subdivision (d) of Section 3426.1 of the Civil Code or paragraph (9) of subdivision (a) of Section 499c of the Penal Code.” (Ibid.) Although Evidence Code section 1061, subdivision (b)(1) expressly applies to criminal proceedings only, its requirements have been held to apply to civil proceedings as well. (See Stadish, supra, 71 Cal.App.4th at 1144-1145.)

Case Number: BC685348    Hearing Date: December 05, 2019    Dept: S27

INTRODUCTION

Defendant, Lear Corporation (“Lear”), specially appears to quash the service of summons upon it on the basis that it lacks minimum contacts with California.

ALLEGATIONS

On May 25, 2017, Plaintiff, Justin Morgenthaler was injured when a truck rear-ended the 2016 Chevrolet Suburban in which he was a passenger. He suffered “catastrophic and permanently disabling injuries.”

As against Lear, the complaint sounds primarily in product defect theories. Lear, a Delaware Corporation, with its principal place of business in Southfield, Michigan, designs and manufactures “seats and seating systems for motor vehicle manufactures.” Then Lear “sells it seats to motor-vehicle manufactures”. In the present case, Lear manufactured and sold seats to General Motors, which later were incorporated by General Motors into a vehicle plaintiff was riding in.

JUDICIAL NOTICE

Plaintiff has requested judicial notice of over thirty documents including annual reports filed by Lear. The court will take notice of the existence of the documents, but not the truth of any of the contents.

“Although the existence of a document may be judicially noticeable, the truth of statements contained in the document and its proper interpretation are not subject to judicial notice if those matters are reasonably disputable. [Citation.]” (Unruh-Haxton v. Regents of University of California (2008) 162 Cal.App.4th 343, 364.)

Judicial Notice is for the most part an inadequate method to prove jurisdiction. The court can infer, based on Lear’s own evidence, that it sells parts to auto manufacturers which in turn sells vehicles nationwide. The bulk of the request for judicial notice is wasted pages and unhelpful to analysis.

DISCUSSION

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment permits state courts to exercise personal jurisdiction over nonresidents who have “minimum contacts” with the forum state. “Minimum contacts” mean the relationship between the nonresident and the forum state is such that the exercise of jurisdiction does not offend “traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice”. International Shoe Co. v. Washington 326 US 310, 316, 66 S.Ct. 154, 158. There are two bases for personal jurisdiction recognized under the Due Process Clause. First, general, or “all-purpose” jurisdiction. Second, specific, or “conduct-linked” jurisdiction.

California courts are authorized by statute to exercise personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant “… on any basis not inconsistent with the Constitution of this state or of the United States.” Code Civ. Proc. $410.10.

When a nonresident defendant moves to quash service of process for lack of personal jurisdiction, a plaintiff has the initial burden of demonstrating facts justifying the exercise of jurisdiction” by a preponderance of the evidence. BBA aviation PLC v. Superior Court (2010) 190 Cal.App.4th 421, 428-429. However, even if the plaintiff meets the initial burden, a court cannot exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant if the defendant can demonstrate that it would be unreasonable. Shisler v. Sanfer Sports Cars, Inc. (2006)146 Cal.4th 1254, 1259.

General jurisdiction

To establish general personal jurisdiction, a plaintiff must determine that defendant’s contacts with a forum state are so “substantial” or “systematic” and “continuous” that the defendant may reasonably defend any suit within the forum state. DVI, Inc. v. Superior Court (2002) 104 Cal.App.4th 1080, 1090 [quoting Perkins v. Benguet Mining Co. (1952) 342 U.S. 437, 445].) The United States Supreme Court has determined that a corporation’s contacts with a forum state are either substantial or systematic and continuous if the corporation is essentially “at home” there. See Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. at 122. Generally, a corporation is considered “at home” in two places: (1) its formal place of incorporation; and (2) its principal place of business. Only in an “exceptional case” court can exercise general personal jurisdiction over a defendant-corporation in any place other than its formal place of incorporation or its principal place of business. Id. at 139, n.19.

Application to this case

In the present case, Russell Davidson, the Director of CTO for Lear, who is over the age of 18, fully competent and personally acquainted to make the declaration, states that Lear was incorporated in Delaware and has its principal place of business in Michigan. Since Lear is not essentially “at home” in California and its contact with California cannot be considered either substantial or systematic and continuous, the Court does not have authority to exercise general personal jurisdiction over Lear.

Further, Lear argues that there is nothing to suggest that this is the type of “exceptional case” in which the court may exercise general personal jurisdiction over a defendant-corporation outside its place of incorporation or principal place of business.

Therefore, the Court may not exercise general personal jurisdiction over Lear because Lear is not essentially “at home” in California.

Specific jurisdiction

Even if a nonresident defendant’s “contacts” with California are not sufficiently “continuous and systematic” to establish general personal jurisdiction, it may still be subjected to a court’s specific personal jurisdiction. For the specific jurisdiction the court considers “the relationship among defendant, the forum, and the litigation.” Elkman v. National States Ins. Co. (2009) 173 Cal.App.4th 1314.

To be subjected to a court’s specific personal jurisdiction “(1)the non-resident defendant must purposefully direct his activities or consummate some transaction with the forum or resident thereof; or perform some act by which he purposefully avails himself of the privilege of conducting activities in the forum, thereby invoking the benefits and protections of its laws; and (2)the claim must be one which arise out of or related to the defendant’s forum-related activities; and (3) the exercise of jurisdiction must comport with fair play and substantial justice, i.e. it must be reasonable.” Freestream Aircraft (Bermuda) v. Aero Law Group (9th Cir. (2018) 905 F.3d 597, 603 (internal quotations omitted).

The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that placing a product into the “stream of commerce” can satisfy the minimum contacts requirement for specific personal jurisdiction. “[I]f the sale of a product of a manufacturer or distributor … is not simply an isolated occurrence but arises from the efforts of the manufacturer or distributor to serve directly or indirectly, the market for its products in other States, it is not unreasonable to subject it to suit in one of those States if its allegedly defective merchandise has there been the source of injury to its owner or to others.” World-Wide Volkswagen (1980) 444 U.S. at 297.

In Bridgestone Corp., the California Court of Appeals held that a defendant’s, Japanese tire manufacturer, sales to a foreign distributor in Japan, regularly made with the expectation that the distributor or another company would ultimately sell those tires to consumers in California and elsewhere in the U.S., constituted purposeful availment of the benefits of doing business in California. Bridgestone Corp. v. Superior Court (2002) 99 Cal.App.4th 767. The Court observed that “if the purchase or use of the product in California generates income to the manufacturer and is not so fortuitous or unforeseeable as to negative existence of an intent on the manufacturer’s part to bring about this result, the manufacturer has obtained the benefits and protections of California’s laws, and the requirement of purposeful availment is satisfied.” Bridgestone, supra, 99 Cal.App.4th at 776-77.

In the present case, Mr. Morgenthaler, the plaintiff, asserts that exercise of jurisdiction over Lear is appropriate under the Supreme Court’s stream of commerce doctrine. As the world’s largest integrated automobile seat manufacture, it is reasonable to conclude that Lear targets the entire U.S. market, including California, with its seating systems. Komyatte Decl., Ex.2 at pp.4-5; Ex.42. Lear conducts its global operations through some 261 facilities in 39 countries, including facilities in San Mateo and Santa Rosa, California. Id., Ex.2 at 12; Ex.5. Further, Lear designs its seats and then provides them to co-defendant General Motors LLC for purposeful inclusion in vehicles sold throughout the U.S., including California.

Additionally, Lear has derived substantial income from the regular sale and distribution of seats in California for years, under circumstances which are hardly fortuitous or unforeseeable. Id., Ex.8, at 7; Ex.9-11. Lear inserted its products into the stream of commerce with the expectation that they would be purchased or used by consumers in California, the primary requirement for specific personal jurisdiction.

Furthermore, Mr. Morgenthaler argues that Lear falsely implies that it lacks California contacts. In fact, Lear’s contacts with California are extensive, further demonstrating its purposeful targeting of the California market. Lear has multiple California facilities (Komyatte Decl., Ex.2 at 23); operates California joint ventures (Id., Ex.14; Ex.15; Ex.16; Ex.40); hires and employs California employees; solicits business and markets its products in California (Id., Ex. 24); receives thousands of imports and makes hundreds of exports through California ports yearly (Declaration of Anthony DiViesti, ¶¶ 7-9, App.1; App.2); participates in other California litigation (Komyatte Decl., Ex.28-31).

Since Lear manufactured and sold the seating system at issue in the course of its efforts to serve California market, the dispute arises out of or is substantially connected to Lear’s California contacts. Mr. Morgenthaler’s injuries arise directly from Lear’s forum-directed conduct including its manufacture and sale of seating systems destined for distribution in California.

Therefore, those direct and extensive California contacts, combined with regular sales of hundreds of thousands of Lear’s seats in California, demonstrate that Lear purposefully put its product in the stream of commerce which allows the Court to exercise specific personal jurisdiction over Lear.

Exercise of jurisdiction over a defendant comports with fair play and substantial justice

The exercise of personal jurisdiction over a defendant must be reasonable, thus it should not “offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” International Shoe Co. v. Washington (1945) 326 U.S. 310, 316. “If plaintiff meets this initial burden, then the defendant has a burden of demonstrating that the exercise of jurisdiction would be unreasonable.” See Moncrief v. Clark (2015) 238 Cal.App.4th 1000 (internal quotation omitted).

To establish whether it is reasonable to exercise the jurisdiction over the nonresident defendant, the court may consider such factors, as: (1) the burden on the defendant of defending in California; (2) California’s interest in settling dispute; (3) a plaintiff’s interest in obtaining relief; (4) “the interstate judicial system’s interest in obtaining the most efficient resolution of the controversy; and (5) the shared interest of several States in furthering fundamental substantive social policies.” Gilmore Bank v. AsiaTrust New Zealand Ltd. (2014) 223 Cal.App.4th 1558, 1574 (internal quotations omitted).

Lear argues it would suffer a “substantial burden” in defending this matter in California and Lear completely lacks litigation-related contacts in California. Litigation-related contacts is not the issue. It is not unreasonable to anticipate litigation in a foreign jurisdiction where a product incorporated into vehicle is alleged to have a defective design, and where the incorporated product is a significant component.

CONCLUSION

The Court does not have personal general jurisdiction over Lear because Lear, which was incorporated in Delaware and has its principal place of business in Michigan. Lear is not essentially “at home” in California.

However, the Court can exercise personal specific jurisdiction over Lear because Lear purposefully put its product in the stream of commerce.

Moreover, Lear did not demonstrate that the exercise of jurisdiction over it by this court would be unreasonable.

Therefore, the court denies Lear’s motion to quash service of summons based on lack of personal jurisdiction.

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