Today, in a widely anticipated decision, the California Supreme Court held that California’s interest in protecting a current resident does not trump another state’s interest in having its laws applied. This occurred in the context of an asbestos case. The defendant’s conduct occurred in Oklahoma, at a time when plaintiff was present in and a resident of that state, and Oklahoma has its own substantive law – that differs from California’s – governing the defendant’s potential liability for its Oklahoma acts. (McCann v. Foster Wheeler LLC S162435). This decision should limit forum shopping and prevent California from becoming a litigation magnet for plaintiffs who seek to sue for injuries that might otherwise be time-barred.
Terry McCann was an Oklahoma resident in the 1950s. He claimed he was exposed to asbestos from a Foster Wheeler generator at a refinery in Tulsa in 1957. After his alleged exposure, he moved to California in 1975. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2005. He filed suit against Foster Wheeler in California state court.
Oklahoma has a 10-year statute of repose applicable to McCann’s claim, which would bar McCann’s lawsuit had he filed it in Oklahoma. However, McCann’s suit was timely if measured by California’s statute of limitations.
Foster Wheeler sought summary judgment, arguing that the timeliness of the action should be governed by Oklahoma law, rather than California law, and that under Oklahoma law McCann’s cause of action against Foster Wheeler was barred by Oklahoma’s statue of repose. The trial court agreed, finding that Oklahoma law governed the action, and McCann’s claims were barred. The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that McCann’s residence in California at the time of his diagnosis trumped Oklahoma’s interest in limiting liability embodied by its statute of repose.
The California Supreme Court disagreed: California’s interest in affording a remedy to a current resident was insufficient to justify the choice of forum law over the law of another much more significantly involved jurisdiction.