Karyne T. Ghantous of Ghantous Law Corporation in San Ramon, California, obtained a dismissal with prejudice for her clients, after prevailing on two legal challenges to a wrongful death action filed in Alameda County Superior Court. The firm used a “demurrer” to support its position that the lawsuit was improperly filed and should be dismissed as a matter of law (by the court and, in this case, before the lawsuit even begins).
A demurrer tells the court that the lawsuit should not be permitted to go forward because the facts alleged do not support a legal cause of action or cannot be used to establish a case against the defendant named in the lawsuit.
On August 18, 2013, an adult male with known mental health issues, committed suicide by jumping off the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge. Plaintiff, decedent’s father, sought relief as an interstate heir, filing a wrongful death action against the family members and roommates of decedent’s wife for general negligence and intentional tort. Plaintiff alleged conspiracy theories, amongst other claims, seeking recovery for the loss of care, comfort and society, and earning capacity and punitive damages for the wrongful death of his son.
California Code of Civil Procedure (“CCP”) section 377.60 permits a cause of action for the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another by any of the following persons or by the decedent’s personal representative on their behalf:
- The decedent’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and issue of deceased children, or, if there is no surviving issue of the decedent, the persons, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner, who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession.
- Whether or not qualified under subdivision (a), if they were dependent on the decedent, the putative spouse, children of the putative spouse, stepchildren, or parents. As used in this subdivision, “putative spouse” means the surviving spouse of a void or voidable marriage who is found by the court to have believed in good faith that the marriage to the decedent was valid.
- A minor, whether or not qualified under subdivision (a) or (b), if, at the time of the decedent’s death, the minor resided for the previous 180 days in the decedent’s household and was dependent on the decedent for one-half or more of the minor’s support.
Relying primarily on the express language of the statute, Ghantous Law Corporation successfully demurred to the initial complaint, and thereafter, the amended complaint after asserting that the plaintiff did not have the legal capacity to sue under the provisions of CCP section 377.60. The defense also argued that the complaint and conspiracy theories should fail as a matter of law because plaintiff could not establish that the defendants owed any legal duty to either the decedent or the plaintiff. The Court agreed, sustaining the demurer to the second amended complaint without leave to amend pursuant to CCP section 430.10(b), (e) and (f).