This case was last updated from Los Angeles County Superior Courts on 06/03/2022 at 09:36:42 (UTC).

VICTOR AGUIRRE, ET AL. VS STEVE SUNGHO LEE, ET AL.

Case Summary

On 09/15/2021 VICTOR AGUIRRE filed a Personal Injury - Other Personal Injury lawsuit against STEVE SUNGHO LEE. This case was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Courts, Stanley Mosk Courthouse located in Los Angeles, California. The Judges overseeing this case are WESLEY L. HSU and LAWRENCE P. RIFF. The case status is Pending - Other Pending.
Case Details Parties Documents Dockets

 

Case Details

  • Case Number:

    *******4010

  • Filing Date:

    09/15/2021

  • Case Status:

    Pending - Other Pending

  • Case Type:

    Personal Injury - Other Personal Injury

  • County, State:

    Los Angeles, California

Judge Details

Presiding Judges

WESLEY L. HSU

LAWRENCE P. RIFF

 

Party Details

Plaintiffs

AGUIRRE CLAUDIA

AGUIRRE VICTOR

Defendants and Cross Defendants

BIO HAZARD INC A CALIFORNIA CORPORATION

GREEN BUDDAH LLC A CALIFORNIA LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY

L & H LIMITED PARTNERSHIP A CALIFORNIA LIMITED PARTNERSHIP

LAKHANY RAHEELA

LEE STEVE SUNGHO

SATTAR SHAFAQ ASLAM

SL PROPERTY MANAGEMENT I LLC A CALIFORNIA LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY

SL PROPERTY MANAGEMENT II LLC A CALIFORNIA LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY

SMOKE TOKES LLC A CALIFORNIA LIMITED LIABILITY

STELEE INDUSTRIES INC.

VO MINH V.

L&HM LIMITED PARTNERSHIP

ST & COMPANY LLC

DCM DISTRIBUTIONS LLC

MUNYAL DEVENDRA C.

SATTAR SHAFAQ

Defendants and Cross Plaintiffs

LEE STEVE SUNGHO

SL PROPERTY MANAGEMENT I LLC A CALIFORNIA LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY

SL PROPERTY MANAGEMENT II LLC A CALIFORNIA LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY

STELEE INDUSTRIES INC.

L&HM LIMITED PARTNERSHIP

Not Classified By Court

CITY OF LOS ANGELES

9 More Parties Available

Attorney/Law Firm Details

Plaintiff Attorney

CHANG DEBORAH S.

Defendant Attorneys

MENTHE DARREL CHRISTOPHER

MONTEGOMERY JAMES I JR.

MOSS MICHAEL S.

REESE EVAN M.

THOMPSON KIMBERLY ROSE

WHITE STEPHEN EDWARD

Cross Defendant Attorney

REAGAN BARRY JAMES

 

Court Documents

Proof of Service by Substituted Service

10/4/2021: Proof of Service by Substituted Service

Proof of Service by Substituted Service

10/4/2021: Proof of Service by Substituted Service

Proof of Personal Service

10/4/2021: Proof of Personal Service

Proof of Personal Service

10/7/2021: Proof of Personal Service

Proof of Personal Service

10/8/2021: Proof of Personal Service

Proof of Personal Service

10/12/2021: Proof of Personal Service

Certificate of Mailing for - CERTIFICATE OF MAILING FOR [PI GENERAL ORDER], STANDING ORDER RE PI PROCEDURES AND HEARING DATES

10/19/2021: Certificate of Mailing for - CERTIFICATE OF MAILING FOR [PI GENERAL ORDER], STANDING ORDER RE PI PROCEDURES AND HEARING DATES

PI General Order

10/19/2021: PI General Order

Answer

11/19/2021: Answer

Declaration - DECLARATION DECLARATION OF COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT RAHEEL LAKHANY REGARDING MEET AND CONFER EFFORTS IN ADVANCE OF MOTION TO STRIKE THE COMPLAINT PURSUANT TO CODE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE SECTION

11/22/2021: Declaration - DECLARATION DECLARATION OF COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT RAHEEL LAKHANY REGARDING MEET AND CONFER EFFORTS IN ADVANCE OF MOTION TO STRIKE THE COMPLAINT PURSUANT TO CODE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE SECTION

Motion to Strike (not anti-SLAPP) - without Demurrer

11/23/2021: Motion to Strike (not anti-SLAPP) - without Demurrer

Request for Judicial Notice

11/23/2021: Request for Judicial Notice

Motion to Strike (not anti-SLAPP) - without Demurrer

12/14/2021: Motion to Strike (not anti-SLAPP) - without Demurrer

Notice - NOTICE OF ERRATA REGARDING DEFENDANTS MOTION TO STRIKE PORTIONS OF PLAINTIFFS COMPLAINT

12/21/2021: Notice - NOTICE OF ERRATA REGARDING DEFENDANTS MOTION TO STRIKE PORTIONS OF PLAINTIFFS COMPLAINT

Motion to Strike (not anti-SLAPP) - without Demurrer

12/22/2021: Motion to Strike (not anti-SLAPP) - without Demurrer

Notice of Related Case

1/3/2022: Notice of Related Case

Opposition - OPPOSITION PLAINTIFFS' OPPOSITION

1/4/2022: Opposition - OPPOSITION PLAINTIFFS' OPPOSITION

Minute Order - MINUTE ORDER (COURT ORDER)

1/6/2022: Minute Order - MINUTE ORDER (COURT ORDER)

66 More Documents Available

 

Docket Entries

  • 08/22/2023
  • Hearing08/22/2023 at 09:30 AM in Department 51 at 111 North Hill Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012; Jury Trial

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  • 08/10/2023
  • Hearing08/10/2023 at 08:30 AM in Department 51 at 111 North Hill Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012; Final Status Conference

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  • 07/08/2022
  • Hearing07/08/2022 at 09:00 AM in Department 51 at 111 North Hill Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012; Status Conference

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  • 07/08/2022
  • Hearing07/08/2022 at 11:00 AM in Department 51 at 111 North Hill Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012; Informal Discovery Conference (IDC)

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  • 05/18/2022
  • DocketNotice of Change of Address or Other Contact Information; Filed by Deborah S. Chang (Attorney)

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  • 05/16/2022
  • Docketat 09:00 AM in Department 51, Wesley L. Hsu, Presiding; Hearing on Motion to Compel (DEFENDANT BIO HAZARD INC.S COMPLIANCE WITH SUBPOENA ISSUED TO NON-PARTY LOS ANGELES FIRE DEPARTMENT;) - Held

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  • 05/16/2022
  • DocketMinute Order ( (Hearing on Motion to Compel DEFENDANT BIO HAZARD INC.S COMPLI...)); Filed by Clerk

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  • 05/13/2022
  • DocketAnswer; Filed by DCM Distributions, LLC (Cross-Defendant)

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  • 05/13/2022
  • DocketNotice of Posting of Jury Fees (REQUEST FOR TRIAL BY JURY AND NOTICE OF JURY FEE DEPOSIT); Filed by DCM Distributions, LLC (Cross-Defendant)

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  • 05/10/2022
  • DocketNotice of Ruling; Filed by Victor Aguirre (Plaintiff); Claudia Aguirre (Plaintiff)

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75 More Docket Entries
  • 10/04/2021
  • DocketProof of Service by Substituted Service; Filed by Victor Aguirre (Plaintiff); Claudia Aguirre (Plaintiff)

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  • 09/23/2021
  • DocketNotice and Acknowledgment of Receipt; Filed by Victor Aguirre (Plaintiff); Claudia Aguirre (Plaintiff)

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  • 09/23/2021
  • DocketNotice and Acknowledgment of Receipt; Filed by Victor Aguirre (Plaintiff); Claudia Aguirre (Plaintiff)

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  • 09/23/2021
  • DocketNotice and Acknowledgment of Receipt; Filed by Victor Aguirre (Plaintiff); Claudia Aguirre (Plaintiff)

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  • 09/23/2021
  • DocketNotice and Acknowledgment of Receipt; Filed by Victor Aguirre (Plaintiff); Claudia Aguirre (Plaintiff)

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  • 09/23/2021
  • DocketNotice and Acknowledgment of Receipt; Filed by Victor Aguirre (Plaintiff); Claudia Aguirre (Plaintiff)

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  • 09/15/2021
  • DocketCivil Case Cover Sheet; Filed by Victor Aguirre (Plaintiff); Claudia Aguirre (Plaintiff)

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  • 09/15/2021
  • DocketComplaint; Filed by Victor Aguirre (Plaintiff); Claudia Aguirre (Plaintiff)

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  • 09/15/2021
  • DocketSummons (on Complaint); Filed by Victor Aguirre (Plaintiff); Claudia Aguirre (Plaintiff)

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  • 09/15/2021
  • DocketNotice of Case Assignment - Unlimited Civil Case; Filed by Clerk

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Tentative Rulings

Case Number: *******4010 Hearing Date: February 28, 2022 Dept: 51

Superior Court of California

County of Los Angeles

Department 51

VICTOR AGUIRRE, et al.,

Plaintiffs,

v.

STEVE SUNGHO LEE, et al.,

Defendants.

Case No.: *******4010

Hearing Date: 02/28/21

Trial Date: None Set

[TENTATIVE] RULINGS RE:

(1) Lee Defendants’ Motion to Strike

(2) Green Buddha Defendants’ Motion to Strike

(3) Lakhany Motion to Strike

Tentative Ruling: The motions are DENIED. Defendants to file answers within 20 days.

Background

  1. Plaintiffs’ Allegations

On September 15, 2021, plaintiffs Victor Aguirre and Claudia Aguirre filed this action against various defendants alleging the following causes of action:

C/A 1: Civil Code 1714.9

C/A 2: Strict Liability (Ultrahazardous Activity)

C/A 3: Negligence

C/A 4: Premises Liability

C/A 5: Loss of Consortium

C/A 6: Punitive Damages[1]

Plaintiffs’ causes of action arise from a fire that occurred on May 16, 2020 that caused a blast through downtown Los Angeles, ripping apart multiple buildings. The fire occurred in an area that was nicknamed “Bong Row” based on the concentration of retailers selling rolling papers, butane, carbon dioxide and other supplies associated with vaping, tobacco and smoke shops. Mr. Aguirre was a firefighter who was injured during a massive explosion that occurred during that fire, suffering severe burns all over his body. Plaintiff alleges that defendants’ violations of law and illegal, unsafe storage of large quantities of hazardous explosive materials including nitrous oxide and butane caused the fire and Mr. Aguirre’s injuries. Mrs. Aguirre is Mr. Aguirre’s wife.

  1. The Defendants

For ease of reference, the defendants in this action are:

Lee Defendants

Bio Hazard Defendants

Green Buddha Defendants

Smoke Toke Defendants

The Bio Hazard Defendants and Smoke Tokes filed answers to the complaint.

  1. Pending Motions

Three motions to strike the punitive damages allegations in the complaint were filed by: (1) the Lee Defendants, (2) the Green Buddha Defendants and (3) Lakhany. They argue that plaintiffs’ allegations sound in negligence—not an intentional “willful” tort for which punitive damages are available. They argue:

Plaintiffs filed oppositions arguing that their allegations rise to the level of conscious disregard for human safety to entitle them to punitive damages. Defendants filed replies, responding to those arguments.

Punitive Damages Standard

A motion to strike punitive damages is properly granted where a plaintiff does not state a prima facie claim for punitive damages, including allegations that defendant is guilty of oppression, fraud or malice. (Turman v. Turning Point of Cent. California, Inc. (2010) 191 Cal.App.4th 53, 63; Cal. Civ. Code 3294(a); See also, Clauson v. Superior Court (1998) 67 Cal.App.4th 1253, 1255 (“In order to survive a motion to strike an allegation of punitive damages, the ultimate facts showing an entitlement to such relief must be pled by a plaintiff”)).

“‘Malice’ means conduct which is intended by the defendant to cause injury to the plaintiff or despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.” (Cal. Civ. Code 3294(c)(1)). “‘Oppression’ means despicable conduct that subjects a person to cruel and unjust hardship in conscious disregard of that person’s rights.” (Cal. Civ. Code 3294(c)(2)). “‘Fraud’ means an intentional misrepresentation, deceit, or concealment of a material fact known to the defendant with the intention on the part of the defendant of thereby depriving a person of property or legal rights or otherwise causing injury.” (Cal. Civ. Code 3294(c)(3)). “‘Punitive damages are proper only when the tortious conduct rises to levels of extreme indifference to the plaintiff’s rights, a level which decent citizens should not have to tolerate.’ [Citation.]” (Lackner v. North (2006) 135 Cal.App.4th 1188, 1210).

Defendants are correct that: “Mere negligence, even gross negligence, is not sufficient to justify such an award” for punitive damages. (Kendall Yacht Corp. v. United California Bank (1975) 50 Cal.App.3d 949, 958)). However, the law on punitive damages has evolved to allow for recovery of punitive damages for nonintentional torts that have the same characteristics of an intentional tort. (Nolin v. National Convenience Stores, Inc. (1979) 95 Cal.App.3d 279, 285–286).

“A tort having some of the characteristics of both negligence and willfulness occurs when a person with no intent to cause harm intentionally performs an act so unreasonable and dangerous that he knows, or should know, it is highly probable that harm will result. [Citation.] Such a tort ... is most accurately designated as wanton and reckless misconduct. It involves no intention, as does willful misconduct, to do harm, and it differs from negligence in that it does involve an intention to perform an act that the actor knows, or should know, will very probably cause harm. [Citations.] Wanton and reckless misconduct is more closely akin to willful misconduct than to negligence, and it has most of the legal consequences of willful misconduct. Thus, it justifies an award of punitive damages, ...”

(Ibid., citing Donnelly v. Southern Pac. Co. (1941) 18 Cal.2d 863, 869-870 (emphasis in original)). Under this “wanton and reckless misconduct” standard, in the case of an unintentional tort, the “evil motive” for malice is found in “an intention to perform an act that the actor knows, or should know, will very probably cause harm.” (Id. at 286). This standard has also been described as conduct that constitutes a “conscious disregard for the plaintiff’s safety and rights.” (Ibid.) “They all have the same meaning in announcing a rule of law that authorizes an award of punitive damages for a nonintentional tort where defendant's conduct which causes injury is of such severity or shocking character that it warrants the same treatment as that accorded to willful misconduct-conduct in which the defendant intends to cause harm.” (Id. at 286-287).

For example:

Analysis

The court finds that plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged malice under the “wanton and reckless disregard” and/or “conscious disregard for the safety of others” standard. Under these standards, even in the case of an unintentional tort, malice and/or punitive damages are available where a plaintiff can establish that defendant had “an intention to perform an act that the actor knows, or should know, will very probably cause harm.” The court finds that the following allegations sufficiently allege that defendants were aware of the probable dangerous consequences of their conduct, but that they willfully failed to avoid these consequences:

25. This structure fire which resulted in the summoning of firefighters, including Plaintiff VICTOR AGUIRRE, originated in “ordinary combustibles.” It was initially classified as “a routine ventilation limited structure fire” when the firefighters arrived and assessed the situation.

26. Unbeknownst to the firefighters when they were summoned, the PREMISES contained hundreds of illegally and improperly stored butane canisters and thousands of illegally and improperly stored nitrous oxide cylinders (collectively the EXPLOSIVE MATERIALS), within storage that was unsafe. In addition, the manner of storage negligently or intentionally concealed these contents from firefighters by omitting required hazardous materials identification including signs.

40. An extensive search of the structure determined that at the time of the fire, the PREMISES contained floor to ceiling storage including storage of the HAZARDOUS MATERIALS. These floor-to-ceiling storage conditions, in violation of applicable code regulations, created small, restricted aisles and narrow openings. This configuration created a “nozzle-like” effect that funneled the intensified energy of the fireball and explosion event out of the front of the structure - while firefighters were attempting to retreat from the interior and off the roof, including Plaintiff VICTOR AGUIRRE.

    1. 45 (a). Defendants each committed the following overt acts: hazmat storage without proper permits, failure to have hazmat signs, failure to classify hazardous commodities, failure to identify aerosols, illegal storage height, over-height storage, failure to maintain aisles, improper shelf storage, and failure to maintain a safe building.

  1. 66. The LEE Defendants, BIO HAZARD Defendants, GREEN BUDDHA Defendants, and SMOKE TOKES Defendants had actual and/or constructive notice of the dangerous conditions that existed on the PREMISES, including in the illegal and unsafe storage of the EXPLOSIVE MATERIALS, and the illegal and unsafe storage conditions including floor-to-ceiling storage and unsafe aisles.

  2. 67. The LEE Defendants, BIO HAZARD Defendants, GREEN BUDDHA Defendants, and SMOKE TOKES Defendants had actual and/or constructive notice of the criminal conduct that was occurring on the PREMISES, including the violations of laws and regulations set forth above.

68. The LEE Defendants, BIO HAZARD Defendants, GREEN BUDDHA Defendants, and SMOKE TOKES Defendants negligently and unlawfully failed to discovery, remedy, repair, or adequately warn of the dangerous conditions and criminal conduct that existed on the PREMISES.

80. Prior to the SUBJECT INCIDENT, Plaintiffs are informed and believe, and thereon allege that there existed video surveillance equipment in place on the PREMISES that clearly showed and documented the illegal and unsafe storage conditions on the PREMISES, the illegal and unsafe storage of the EXPLOSIVE MATERIALS, and the active and ongoing violations of law occurring on the PREMISES. Despite having access to such video surveillance evidence, each of the Defendants took no action to remedy the dangerous and illegal conditions.

83. The LEE Defendants were charged with 36 counts for violations at 327 Boyd Street and 50 counts for violations at 325 Boyd Street, with maximum penalties for Steve Sungho Lee are up to 68 years in jail and thousands of dollars in fines. Charges against the LEE Defendants are still pending as of the date of filing of this complaint.

84. Two additional buildings, also owned by the LEE Defendants, are 309 South San Pedro Street – where Smoke Tokes also allegedly operated – and 5719 South Avalon Boulevard. Lee has been charged with 46 additional counts for violations at 309 South San Pedro and 3 more counts for violations at 5719 South Avalon.

(Complaint, 25, 26, 40, 45(a), 66, 67, 68, 80, 83, 84). Under Seiman, Taylor, and Nolin, if plaintiff can prove these allegations, a trier of fact could reasonably infer that such conduct constituted more than neglect and rose to the level of wanton disregard. The court finds that plaintiffs’ allegations that firefighters were called in for “a routine ventilation limited structure fire” based on “ordinary combustibles” and that defendants concealed from firefighters that the premises contained hundreds of illegally stored explosive materials, if true, rises to the level of an “extreme indifference to the plaintiff’s rights, a level which decent citizens should not have to tolerate.”

As for defendants’ arguments that plaintiffs’ allegations are conclusory and defendants’ emphasis on the high burden of proof to prove punitive damages, the court finds that these are questions of fact for discovery and trial to uncover. Whether or not plaintiffs can actually prove that defendants’ actions were done deliberately, the extent of defendants’ knowledge/intent of the dangerous conditions, and/or the extent of defendants’ disregard/concealment, these are evidentiary questions that cannot be answered on demurrer. Further, as for which individual and/or entity defendant was responsible for the decisions and/or had the knowledge/concealment of the dangerous conditions that resulted in the explosion, such knowledge of these acts is within the exclusive knowledge of defendants. Whether or not any officer, director, or managing agent actually ratified conduct is a question of fact for discovery to uncover.

At the pleading stage, the court finds that plaintiffs have sufficiently pled grounds for punitive damages at the pleading stage. The motions are denied.

Conclusion

The motions are DENIED. Defendants to file answer within 20 days.

Dated: February 24, 2022

Hon. Lawrence Riff

Superior Court Judge


[1]The court notes that “Punitive Damages” is not a standalone cause of action, but an available remedy for plaintiffs’ other causes of action. As pleadings should be liberally construed, the court will consider these allegations as additional factual allegations to support a punitive damages remedy for plaintiffs’ other causes of action—not a standalone cause of action in and of itself.



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