Courtroom, Gavel And Law Books

Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ Complaint Granted in Part

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California

Plaintiffs James and Lucretia Sarjeant brought suit in California state court following Mr. Sarjeant’s diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma. He alleged exposure from asbestos-containing products through his employment at the Todd Shipyards, on the RMS Queen Mary, automotive work, and home renovation projectsfrom the 1960s to 1990s. The plaintiffs alleged multiple products liability and fraudulent concealment claims against the various defendants.

After removal to federal court, defendant Honeywell International, Inc. f/k/a AlliedSignal Inc., successor-in-interest to The Bendix Corporation (Honeywell) moved to dismiss the plaintiffs’ first cause of action for products liability, second cause of action for negligence, and fifth cause of action for fraud. The plaintiffs specifically alleged that work with automotive friction products as well as work around contractors disturbing ship parts that contained asbestos caused his illness. Sarjeant v Foster Wheeler LLC, 2024 US Dist. LEXIS 96395, at *5 [ND Cal May 30, 2024, No. 24-cv-01216-VC. Honeywell argued such allegations were insufficiently specific to plead causation.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted in part and denied in part Honeywell’s motion to dismiss. With regard to the plaintiffs’ allegations as to brakes and contractors, the court found plaintiffs “had done enough at the pleadings stage.” Nevertheless, it found some of the plaintiffs’ negligence claims as insufficiently alleged. The court stated that “[n]egligent management of property, negligent failure to warn of unsafe concealment conditions, and negligent exercise of retained control over safety conditions all require the plaintiff to allege that the defendant had control over some property on which the plaintiff was injured.” Concerning Honeywell, the court determined the plaintiffs never made such allegations. Mr. Sarjeant’s claims that Honeywell contractors worked alongside him on the RMS Queen Mary were insufficient because he never alleged Honeywell exercised control over the ship. Subsequently, the court dismissed this claim.

Turning to the plaintiffs’ fraudulent concealment claim, the court noted “under California law, a claim for fraudulent concealment requires that the plaintiff be in some sort of transactional relationship with the defendant, as there is no duty to disclose information owed to the general public.” Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Com. V. Insomniac, Inc., 223 Cal. App. 4th 803, 831 (2015); Bigler-Engler v. Breg, Inc., 7 Cal. App. 5th 82, 112-15 (2017). Mr. Sarjeant simply stating he was around Honeywell brakes and contractors was insufficient. The court also noted some California courts previously found that the defendant never advertised to consumers such as the plaintiff in situations where no transaction between the parties exists. This is relevant because such advertisement can then form the basis of a sufficient transactional relationship through the sharing of a “misleading half-truth.” The plaintiffs alleged Honeywell made statements that their brakes were “safe.” However, because the plaintiffs neither alleged such statements were “half-truths” nor demonstrated a connection, the court determined Honeywell had no duty to disclose.

As such, the court denied in part and granted in part Honeywell’s motions to dismiss and provided the plaintiffs leave to amend their complaint.

Read the full decision here.