Judge: Michael E. Whitaker, Case: 22STCV11105, Date: 2022-08-08 Tentative Ruling

Case Number: 22STCV11105    Hearing Date: August 8, 2022    Dept: 32

PLEASE NOTE:   Parties are encouraged to meet and confer concerning this tentative ruling to determine if a resolution may be reached.  If the parties are unable to reach a resolution and a party intends to submit on this tentative ruling, the party must send an email to the Court at sscdept32@lacourt.org indicating that party’s intention to submit.  The email shall include the case number, date and time of the hearing, counsel’s contact information (if applicable), and the identity of the party submitting on this tentative ruling.  If the Court does not receive an email indicating the parties are submitting on this tentative ruling and there are no appearances at the hearing, the Court may place the motion off calendar or adopt the tentative ruling as the order of the Court.  If all parties do not submit on this tentative ruling, they should arrange to appear in-person or remotely (which is highly encouraged).  Further, after the Court has posted/issued a tentative ruling, the Court has the inherent authority to prohibit the withdrawal of the subject motion and adopt the tentative ruling as the order of the Court. 







August 8, 2022




Motion to Strike Punitive Damages


Defendant Michael Torre


Plaintiff Kenta Okiyama




Plaintiff Kenta Okiyama sued defendant Michael Torre based on a motor vehicle collision.  Defendant moves to strike Plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages in the first amended complaint.  Plaintiff opposes the motion.




Any party, within the time allowed to respond to a pleading, may serve and file a motion to strike the whole pleading or any part thereof.  (Code Civ. Proc., § 435, subd. (b)(1); Cal. Rules of Court, rule 3.1322, subd. (b).)  On a motion to strike, the court may: (1) strike out any irrelevant, false, or improper matter inserted in any pleading; or (2) strike out all or any part of any pleading not drawn or filed in conformity with the laws of California, a court rule, or an order of the court.  (Code Civ. Proc., § 436, subds. (a)-(b); Stafford v. Shultz (1954) 42 Cal.2d 767, 782.)


In ruling on a motion to strike punitive damages, “judges read allegations of a pleading subject to a motion to strike as a whole, all parts in their context, and assume their truth.”  (Clauson v. Superior Court (1998) 67 Cal.App.4th 1253, 1255.)  To state a prima facie claim for punitive damages, a plaintiff must allege the elements set forth in the punitive damages statute, Civil Code section 3294.  (College Hosp., Inc. v. Superior Court (1994) 8 Cal.4th 704, 721.)  Per Civil Code section 3294, a plaintiff must allege that the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice.  (Civ. Code, § 3294, subd. (a).)   As set forth in the Civil Code,


(1) “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.  (2) “Oppression” means despicable conduct that subjects a person to cruel and unjust hardship in conscious disregard of that person's rights.  (3) “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.


(Civ. Code, § 3294, subd. (c)(1)-(3), emphasis added.)  


Further, a plaintiff must assert facts with specificity to support a conclusion that a defendant acted with oppression, fraud or malice.  To wit, there is a heightened pleading requirement regarding a claim for punitive damages.  (See Smith v. Superior Court (1992) 10 Cal.App.4th 1033, 1041-1042.)  “When nondeliberate injury is charged, allegations that the defendant’s conduct was wrongful, willful, wanton, reckless or unlawful do not support a claim for exemplary damages; such allegations do not charge malice.  When a defendant must produce evidence in defense of an exemplary damage claim, fairness demands that he receive adequate notice of the kind of conduct charged against him.” (G. D. Searle & Co. v. Superior Court (1975) 49 Cal.App.3d 22, 29 [cleaned up].)  In Anschutz Entertainment Group, Inc. v. Snepp, the Court of Appeal noted that the plaintiffs’ assertions related to their claim for punitive damages were “insufficient to meet the specific pleading requirement.”  (Anschutz Entertainment Group, Inc. v. Snepp (2009) 171 Cal.App.4th 598, 643 [plaintiffs alleged “the conduct of Defendants was intentional, and done willfully, maliciously, with ill will towards Plaintiffs, and with conscious disregard for Plaintiff's rights. Plaintiff's injuries were exacerbated by the malicious conduct of Defendants. Defendants' conduct justifies an award of exemplary and punitive damages”]; see also Grieves v. Superior Court (1984) 157 Cal.App.3d 159, 166 [“The mere allegation an intentional tort was committed is not sufficient to warrant an award of punitive damages.  Not only must there be circumstances of oppression, fraud, or malice, but facts must be alleged in the pleading to support such a claim”].) 


In Taylor v. Superior Court, the California Supreme Court held:  “We consider whether punitive damages are recoverable in a personal injury action brought against an intoxicated driver.  As will appear, we have concluded that the act of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated may constitute an act of “malice” under section 3294 if performed under circumstances which disclose a conscious disregard of the probable dangerous consequences.”  (Taylor v. Superior Court (1979) 24 Cal.3d 890, 892 [cleaned up].)  The California high court further held that “[o]ne who voluntarily commences, and thereafter continues, to consume alcoholic beverages to the point of intoxication, knowing from the outset that he must thereafter operate a motor vehicle demonstrates, in the words of Dean Prosser, “such a conscious and deliberate disregard of the interests of others that his conduct may be called wilful or wanton.”  (Id. at p. 899.)  But the California high court also stated, “Although the circumstances in a particular case may disclose similar wilful or wanton behavior in other forms, ordinarily, routine negligent or even reckless disobedience of traffic laws would not justify an award of punitive damages.”  (Id. at pp. 899-900, emphasis added.) 


Here, Defendant argues the first amended complaint fails to allege facts to establish malice, fraud, or oppression on the part of Defendant.  In opposition, Plaintiff asserts that paragraphs 28-31 of the first amended complaint allege sufficient facts to support the claim for punitive damages.  Plaintiff’s first amended complaint alleges, in relevant part:


“in his own words, [Defendant] was so intoxicated that he could not even see the intersection at all as he was driving, thus he was unable to see or view and keep a proper vision of the road but decided to drive nevertheless…Even after getting into his car…and then realizing that he could not see the road due to his highly debilitating intoxicated state, [Defendant] made the affirmative decision second after second to continue to drive instead of stopping his car and getting out and calling a Taxi or waiting to become sober enough to see the roads and intersections…Further despite being unable to see due to his intoxicated state [Defendant] made an affirmative decision to illegally speed in his vehicle, thus driving recklessly at a high speed while his mental and physical faculties were severely compromised due to the amount of alcohol in his system.”


(First Amended Complaint, ¶¶ 28-29, 31.)  Finally, paragraph 34 alleges, in part, “[Defendant] was driving his vehicle without a valid California Driver’s license at the time of the collision[.]”


The Court finds Plaintiff’s allegations establish “malice” on the part of Defendant in which he is alleged to have engaged in “despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.”  For pleading purposes, Plaintiff’s allegations are sufficient to withstand the motion to strike.   




Therefore, the Court denies Defendant’s motion to strike the claim for punitive damages. The Court orders Defendant to file and serve an answer to the first amended complaint within 20 days of the hearing.   


Defendant shall provide notice of the Court’s orders and file a proof of service of such.