Market-Share Cause of Action Against Automotive Parts Manufacturer Dismissed Without Prejudice to Amend Complaint

The laintiff Gary Farris, brought suit against multiple product manufacturers and distributors alleging that his diagnoses of lung cancer and asbestosis were causally related to asbestos exposure he sustained while 1) working on brakes and clutches in an automotive shop during the summers from 1960 to 1964 and shadetree automotive repairs from the 1960s to 1980s; 2) serving in the United States Navy from 1964 to 1967; and 3) servicing photocopiers from 1967 to 1989. In support of his claims, Farris raised a fifth cause of action for market-share liability, alleging that his injuries from “asbestos-containing motor vehicle friction products that are and were fungible in color, size, shape, texture and function, [and that] said products were indistinct and similar in appearance and composition, and through no fault of the plaintiff these products cannot be traced to a particular defendant or other entity.” He argued that as a result, the named friction product defendants were liable to him in proportion to their respective share of the friction product market. Plaintiff further pled his reliance on Wheeler v. Raybestos-Manhattan, 8 Cal. App. 4th 1152 (1992), which allowed such claims to proceed in a prior case involving asbestos containing brake products.

Defendant Honeywell International, Inc. moved to dismiss the market-share cause of action, by arguing that the Wheeler decision had been implicitly overruled by the California Supreme Court’s later decision in Rutherford v. Owens-Illinois, Inc., 16 Cal. 4th 953 (1997). In his ruling, District Court Judge Jon S. Tigar, wrote that while the court agreed with Honeywell’s contention that Rutherford cast doubt on the continued viability of Wheeler, he was bound to ” follow Wheeler in the absence of convincing evidence that the California Supreme Court would rule differently.” However, the court still dismissed the market-share cause of action on the alternative ground that “[p[laintiffs’ description of ‘asbestos-containing motor vehicle friction products’ as the source of Mr. Farris’s injuries does not identify the goods at issue with sufficient specificity to plausibly assert fungibility, as required to make out a market-share liability claim.” The court did however provide the plaintiffs 30 days to amend their complaint in order to reinstate the market-share cause of action.