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John F. Grannis
Of Counsel
jgrannis@pooleshaffery.com

Los Angeles Office
400 S. Hope Street
Suite 1100
Los Angeles, CA 90071
(213) 439-5390

Education

University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, Juris Doctor
University of Manchester, England, Visiting Student in Philosophy
Bucknell University, Bachelor of Arts in English


Bar and Court Admissions

State Bar of California
United States District Court (Central District)


Recent Articles by John F. Grannis

Dutch Health & Safety Committee Recommends Lower Benzene Limits

In a report published by The Hague in February 2014, the Dutch Expert Committee on Occupational Safety (DECOS) recommended that European countries significantly reduce their exposure limits for benzene, from 1 part per million (1 ppm) to 0.2 ppm, as an 8-hour time weighted average concentration (TWA). This recommendation was based on the Committee's review of the content of scientific publications, regarding the health effects of benzene exposure, prior to October 2013, together with its consideration of the reported adverse health effects of benzene exposure.

Benzene is a sweet-smelling, colorless liquid which is commercially produced from coal and petroleum sources. It is used primarily in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, and also as a gasoline additive. It is also present, in very small amounts, in some automotive products, in some sealants and adhesives, and in some lithographic printing inks and supplies.

Benzene is a known carcinogen when one is exposed to it in large quantities. Benzene exposure in large amounts can be irritating to both the skin and the lungs. It is believed to be toxic to the bone marrow. It long has been associated with an increased risk of leukemia, including acute myeloid leukemia and acute non-lymphocytic leukemia.

In the United States there are three organizations which have established benzene exposure limits. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set a permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 1 ppm (8 hr. TWA for an 8 hour day and a 40 hour work week). It also has set a 15 minute peak exposure limit of 5 ppm. This is same exposure limit now in effect in many European countries, which DECOS has now recommended be lowered.

By contrast, the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) has set a threshold limit value (TLV) of 0.5 ppm (8 hr. TWA), and a peak exposure limit of 2.5 ppm. In addition, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has set a recommended exposure limit (REL) of 0.1 ppm, and a peak exposure limit of 1 ppm. As can be seen, that ACGIH benzene exposure limits are higher than the current OSHA and European exposure limits, while the NIOSH limits are lower.

There is much that is still unknown about the mechanisms by which benzene exposure affects human health, about the exposure levels at which adverse health effects may occur in humans, and about what the extent of those effects may be. However, ever since the first benzene exposure limits were established in the United States, in 1980, the trend has been toward recommendations in favor of lower those exposure limits. It should be noted that industry has generally responded to this trend by reducing or eliminating benzene from products where possible. However, the DECOS report and its recommendation fall in line with the trend toward lower and lower benzene exposure limits. It remains to be seen what effect this will have on industry – and benzene exposure litigation – in the United States.


New Appellate Decision May Weaken the Application of the Component Parts Doctrine

There are now conflicting appellate court opinions as to whether or not, under the component parts doctrine, a defendant who merely supplies raw materials for use in its customer's manufacturing processes may be sued by the customer's employee for injuries allegedly sustained as a result of exposure to the raw materials during those manufacturing processes. In 2012, Division Three of the Second District Court of Appeal answered this question in the negative, in Maxton v. Western States Metals (2012) 203 Cal.App.4th 81. However, last month Division Four of the same court reached the opposite result in Ramos v. Brenntag Specialties, Inc. (Cal. Ct. App. 4th, Div., No. B248038). The resulting conflict may weaken the application of the component parts doctrine.

In Maxton, the trial court had sustained demurrers to the complaint based on its reading of the component parts doctrine. The appellate court affirmed the trial court's order, holding that a worker injured as a result of his employer's manufacturing process could not sue the suppliers of the raw materials used in those processes, so long as certain factors were present. The rationale for this decision was that, where certain factors are present, the employer, not the raw materials supplier, is in the best position, as a matter of public policy, to determine how raw materials will be purchased and safely used in its manufacturing processes.

In Ramos, the appellate court reversed the trial court's order sustaining similar demurrers that also were based on the component parts doctrine under Maxton. The Ramos court flatly disagreed with the Maxton decision, and refused to apply its holding. Instead, the Ramos court held that suppliers of raw materials may be held liable if those materials cause injury to a worker when used as intended in the manufacturer's manufacturing processes.

The facts of these two cases are very similar. John Maxton and Flavio Ramos both suffered from interstitial pulmonary fibrosis. Mr. Maxton worked for his employer as a laborer, a job in which he allegedly was exposed to metallic dusts and fumes arising from the "melting, cutting, grinding, polishing, sanding, sandblasting, machining and soldering" of the defendants' stainless steel bars and other raw materials. Mr. Ramos worked for his employer as a mold maker, machine operator and laborer, jobs which allegedly exposed him to fumes from molten metal, and to dust from the defendants' raw materials (in this case, metal, plaster, sand, limestone, and marble), when they were used in the process of molding and casting metal parts. In both cases, the defendants' raw materials were sold to commercial buyers. In both cases, the raw materials were significantly altered by the employer's manufacturing processes. In both cases, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants' raw materials were used as intended, and that when so used they caused the plaintiffs' injuries. However, in neither case did the defendants have any control over the employer's manufacturing processes.

However similar the facts of these two cases were, the resulting decisions could not have been more different. The Maxton court carefully analyzed the origin and underlying case law of the component parts doctrine, focusing particular attention on the provisions and comments of Restatement Third of Torts: Products Liability § 5, and on the factors discussed in Artiglio v. General Electric Co (1998) 61 Cal.App.4th 830, to wit: (1) the raw materials were not inherently dangerous when they left the defendants' control, (2) the raw materials were sold to a sophisticated buyer, (3) the raw materials were substantially changed during the employer's manufacturing process, and (4) the defendants did not exercise any significant control over the manufacturing process. In Maxton, the appellate court found that all four of the Artiglio factors were satisfied by the allegations of the complaint, and affirmed the trial court's order of dismissal.

By contrast, the analysis of Ramos court began, somewhat dogmatically, with the general principle that manufacturers have a duty to warn consumers about the hazards inherent in their products. The court acknowledged the existence of the component parts doctrine, and of the analyses in both Artiglio and Maxton, but it focused most of its attention on cases, including out-of-state cases, in which courts declined to apply the component parts doctrine to cases involving injured workers such as Mr. Maxton and Mr. Ramos. The Ramos court seems to have gone out of its way to follow those cases, and to avoid following Maxton. Its discussion of the Artiglio factors was cursory at best, and it never discussed the public policy reasons behind the Maxton decision.

It is clear that the Ramos court disliked the result in Maxton. The two decisions, by different divisions within the same appellate district, cannot be harmonized. The Ramos decision is not yet final, and it remains to be seen whether the California Supreme Court will be asked to resolve the conflict. However, until the conflict is resolved, the application of the component parts doctrine is likely to be weakened at every level, from pleading challenges, to dispositive motions, to jury instructions at trial.


Raw Material Supplier Decision is Allowed to Stand

By: John F. Grannis

The California Supreme Court recently declined to review the Court of Appeal’s decision in Maxton v. Western States Metals (2012) 203 Cal.App.4th 81 (Maxton) and denied to de-publish the decision.

In Maxton, the Court of Appeal extended the applicability of the component parts doctrine to not only include personal injury actions brought by users of the finish products, but personal injury actions brought by employees of the manufacturers injured during the manufacturing process. Poole & Shaffery represented the lead defendant (Western), which had supplied stainless steel rod and bar stock to the plaintiff’s employer. Maxton can be cited in future legal actions.

The plaintiff was an employee of Western’s customer, LeFiell Manufacturing. Western’s raw materials were subjected by plaintiff and his co-workers to a variety of severe fabrication activities during the manufacture of the employer’s products. These activities included melting, cutting, grinding, polishing, sanding, sandblasting, machining, and soldering. The raw materials themselves were not alleged to be inherently dangerous; rather, it was alleged that their use, as intended, in the employer’s manufacturing processes, generated toxic airborne metallic fumes and dusts, thereby causing injury to the plaintiff.

Following the publication of the Court of Appeal’s decision in Maxton, the plaintiff sought review of the Court of Appeal’s opinion on several grounds, including that the intermediate court expanded the component parts doctrine too broadly. The plaintiff argued that such an expansion would preclude “thousands of workers in California” from receiving fair and adequate compensation for their occupational injuries from third party manufacturers and suppliers of raw materials and component parts.

In an order consisting of one sentence, the California Supreme Court soundly denied the plaintiff’s petition for review and request for depublication.

The Maxton decision now stands for a significant precedent for all suppliers of raw materials which are not inherently dangerous. The broad language of the opinion suggests that it may be applicable to a wide variety of cases. Taken together with the O’Neil v. Crane Co. (2012) 53 Cal.4th 335 (in which the California Supreme Court held that the manufacturer of a component part which is incorporated into a finished product may not be held liable for injuries arising from the use of the finished product unless the component part itself is defective and causes direct harm to the plaintiff),Maxton provides a strong basis for seeking dismissals of lawsuits against the suppliers of bulk supplies and raw materials that are intended to be used as components in other products. In such cases, according to the Maxtoncourt, the supplier has no duty to warn, and the duty to exercise care in the use of components and raw materials, is much more likely to rest with the manufacturer/employer – not with the component/raw material supplier.


Is Daubert Still Alive and Well?

By: John F. Grannis

For nearly 20 years, the Daubert rule has been used in product liability cases to exclude causation opinions based on so-called “junk science” proffered by plaintiffs’ experts. However, the extent of this rule is now being called into question based on the recent decision by the United States Supreme Court inU.S. Steel Corp. v. Milward (No. 11-316).

On January 9, 2012, the United States Supreme Court declined to review the decision by the United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit, in which it held that the trial court erroneously excluded the opinion testimony of the plaintiffs’ expert, Dr. Martyn Smith, as to the weight of the causation evidence in the case. Specifically, the Court of Appeal found that the trial court had overstepped its function as a “gatekeeper” of reliable expert testimony under the Daubert rule.

The Daubert rule is based on Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, which permits federal trial courts to exclude expert opinion testimony unless the expert’s opinion is (1) based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) formed as the result of the application of those principles and methods to the actual facts of the case.

Dr. Smith was offered to testify that exposure to benzene can cause Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia (APL). Dr. Smith acknowledged that he had not found any scientific studies that had actually found a causal link between benzene exposure and APL. However, he proposed to testify to his opinion regarding general causation based on his view of the “weight of the evidence” in the scientific community.

Dr. Smith relied chiefly on several factors in forming his opinion. First, he cited literature supporting a “weight of the evidence” approach to scientific opinion. Second, he noted that benzene exposure is known to cause other forms of leukemia. Third, he further noted that, although benzene exposure had not yet been liked with a signature genetic mutation associated with APL, benzene exposure was known to cause other genetic mutations. Fourth, he testified that benzene exposure can inhibit the function of an enzyme which allows DNA to replicate without carrying previous genetic damage forward.

Based on these and other factors, Dr. Smith opined – despite the absence of any facts or data specific to the Milward case – that the weight of the scientific evidence supported his general conclusion that benzene exposure can cause APL. Plaintiffs argued at trial that this opinion should go to the jury, but the trial court disagreed and granted the defendants’ motion to exclude Dr. Smith’s testimony.

Where this leaves the Daubert rule is uncertain. Rule 702 is still in force, and will still be cited as authority for excluding opinions based on “junk science.” However, the appellate court’s decision to allow the type of testimony offered by Dr. Smith suggests that, in at least some trial courts, the standards for exclusion of expert opinion testimony under the rule may be relaxed in the future. If that proves to be the case, business defendants may see an increase in lawsuits brought against them without a sound basis in orthodox scientific reasoning.


Court Of Appeal Rejects Consumer Expectation Test

By: John F. Grannis

In virtually every design related product liability case in California, plaintiff's counsel can be expected to put forth two alternate theories of design defect liability: (1) that the product was defective because the benefits of its design were outweighed by its risks; and (2) that the product was defective because it failed to perform as safely as the ordinary consumer would have expected. (See California Civil Instruction ("CACI") No. 1203). California defendants have regularly opposed this instruction by relying on Soule v. General Motors Corp. and Pruitt v. General Motors Corp., which held that the so-called consumer expectation test is to be reserved for cases in which the everyday experience of a product's users would permit a finding that it was defective without the aid of expert testimony. A recent appellate court decision supports this view disfavoring the Consumer Expectation Test.

The holdings in the Soule and Pruitt cases have now been reaffirmed by the recent decision in Mansur v. Ford Motor Company. In that case, a mother of two was killed when the Ford Explorer her husband was driving became involved in a freeway accident. The vehicle rolled over 3-½ times during the accident, and its roof was severely crushed, causing Mrs. Mansur's fatal injuries.

Ford filed a pre-trial motion in limine, seeking to preclude the plaintiffs' requested use of CACI No. 1203. The trial court, relying on the Pruitt decision, granted Ford's motion.

The trial court's reasoning was that the Mansur case was too complicated to permit the use of the consumer expectation test. Calling its decision a close case, the trial court reasoned that the Mansur case involved "a number of areas of expert opinion testimony dealing with roof crush design, the safety restraint systems in place, [and] forces at various locations on the vehicle at various times during the roll of the vehicle." These matters, the trial court concluded, would involve difficult and lengthy direct and cross-examinations of experts in matters well beyond the everyday experience of the ordinary consumer.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld the trial court's decision, rejecting the use of the consumer expectation test in the Mansur case. Although the plaintiffs had provided sufficient non-expert testimony concerning their pre-accident use of the vehicle, and concerning the circumstances of the accident, the appellate court found that the plaintiffs' design defect case depended to a significant degree on expert testimony about objective product features such as roof crush and safety restraint design factors. For this reason, the appellate court held, the consumer expectation test was properly excluded from the trial court's instructions to the jury.

The Mansur decision is a victory for product manufacturers and suppliers who often face consumer expectation design defect claims based on nothing more than 20/20 hindsight. This decision emphasizes that the use or preclusion of the consumer expectation test at trial must focus on the objective features of a product, and the expert testimony needed to demonstrate that it was defective. It is hoped that this renewed focus on such objective factors will lead to an increase in the rejection of the consumer expectation test by California trial courts.


USED MACHINERY SELLER HAS NO DUTY TO WARN

By: John F. Grannis

Occasional sellers of used machinery have received added product liability protection as a result of the decision of California’s Second District Court of Appeal in the case of Garcia v. Becker Brothers Steel.

In 1973, Becker Brothers Steel Company (Becker) bought a system of “slitter line” equipment for use in its steel fabricating business. It continued to operate this machinery, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, until 1999. During that 26-year period, the equipment was used to “slit” approximately 65,000 rolls of steel, all without any injury to employees using the equipment.

In 1999 Becker sold the slitter line equipment to another company, who used it in its own business, then went out of business in 2001. Plaintiff’s employer purchased the equipment that same year, and began using it at the same location formerly occupied by the equipment’s second owner. Plaintiff was injured in 2004, when he suffered a traumatic amputation of his left index finger while operating the equipment.

The plaintiff sued the manufacturer and all previous owners of the equipment, asserting claims for negligence and strict product liability. Among his product liability claims was a claim that Becker had failed to provide warnings about guarding portions of the equipment, based on manufacturer information provided to Becker after the original purchase in 1973. Becker neither guarded the machine nor passed on the guarding warnings suggested by the manufacturer when it sold the equipment in 1999. Plaintiff asserted that Becker had a duty to provide these warnings, and that its failure to do so constituted a “wanton, reckless and conscious disregard of safety.”

The Los Angeles trial court granted summary judgment in Becker’s favor, holding that Becker could not be held liable for failure to provide the warnings suggested by the plaintiff. The Court of Appeal affirmed this ruling, finding that Becker was an “occasional seller,” rather than a retailer, wholesaler, or other commercial seller in the ordinary chain of distribution. As such, the Court held, Becker could not be held strictly liable for the sale of a defective product. With respect to Becker’s alleged duty to disclosure beyond the point of sale to its immediate purchaser, the Court held that no such duty exists, stating “whatever duty an occasional seller may owe to his immediate purchaser, we agree with the trial court that Becker Brothers owed no duty to Garcia – an employee of [a subsequent] purchaser.”

This ruling is one of common sense. It effectively shields occasional sellers of used products from having to anticipate and warn about the possible uses to which those products might beyond the use intended by its immediate purchaser. In future cases, it can be used to provide added protection for occasional sellers of used products against product liability claims from subsequent purchasers and their employees who are beyond the seller’s immediate point of sale.


Climate Change Lawsuit Headed For The Supreme Court

By: John F. Grannis

In 2007 the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, in which it held that the EPA has the power under existing law to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in this country. That case also set very liberal standing requirements for defining those who may sue in a GHG emissions case.

In the wake of Massachusetts v. EPA, three separate lawsuits were filed, in California, Mississippi and Connecticut, alleging various forms of that public nuisance have been created by GHG emitting industries. Such lawsuits, if allowed to go forward, could threaten virtually every industry in America with extremely burdensome and expensive public nuisance lawsuits.

In Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp., a group of private plaintiffs sought damages and other relief for the destruction of their Alaskan village, which they claimed was the result of climate change caused by the energy industry. In Comer v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc., another group of private plaintiffs sought similar relief for property damages suffered in Hurricane Katrina, which they also claimed was the result of climate change caused by the energy industry. In State of Connecticut v. American Electric Power Company, eight states and three private land trusts sued several energy firms under the same basic theory: that is, that the defendants’ industrial activities resulted in GHG emissions, which in turn contributed to global warming, thereby causing quantifiable injuries and damages to the plaintiffs.

All three cases were dismissed by the U.S. District Courts in which they were heard. The dismissal in the Comer case has now become final, and the appeal of the dismissal in the Kivalina case is awaiting oral argument. In the AEP case, however, the Second Circuit reversed the district court dismissal. Subsequently, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted that case for hearing on a writ of certiorari.

The fact that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the AEP case, before final judgment had been rendered in the lower federal courts, begs the question of what particular issues the Court may be most interested in deciding. The Court may want to decide whether the plaintiffs’ public nuisance theory of liability is valid on its merits. It may want to decide whether the broad standing test applied in Massachusetts v. EPA should also be applied in GHG emissions cases, or it may revisit and/or modify that test. It may also want to determine the extent to which such public nuisance lawsuits are precluded by the EPA’s current regulation of GHG emissions. Whatever the Court’s ultimate decision in this new and evolving area of litigation, it is sure to have an effect, for good or ill, on the U.S. industrial climate, and on the American economy.


Top Plaintiff Verdicts of 2010

By: John F. Grannis

“Honesty is the best policy.” Is there anyone who wasn’t taught that as a child? And yet, when the stakes are high, people sometime forget. The stakes are rarely higher than in the presentation of a difficult case. Judges and juries don’t particularly like real or perceived dishonesty, and the results can be significant.

This was particularly so in a number of prominent plaintiffs’ verdicts in 2010. In both the Los Angeles case of Poole v. Picazo ($14.5 million) and the Kern County case ofLanderos v. Torres ($31.6 million), the plaintiffs were sympathetic individuals with disabling motor vehicle accident injuries. The defendants in both cases faced tremendous obstacles at trial. These problems were compounded in both cases, however, by the defendants’ inconsistent trial testimony. In each case, the jury’s disbelief was reflected in a substantial verdict for the plaintiff.

Another Los Angeles jury had an even more extreme reaction to the case presented in Evans v. CertainTeed Corp. There the plaintiff claimed that her mesothelioma was the result of laundering her husband’s asbestos-tainted clothing during his long career working with asbestos cement pipes at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP). She also claimed that CertainTeed recklessly used highly toxic chrysotile asbestos in making its pipes. CertainTeed, or its part, denied that asbestos exposure causes mesothelioma.

The plaintiff’s attorneys’ strategy in Evans was to present a straightforward and factual case on her behalf, and to reveal to the jury many alleged inaccuracies and misrepresentations by the DWP’s witnesses. This strategy apparently worked, because the jury awarded Mrs. Evans a total of more than $208 million - $8 million in general damages against CertainTeed and DWP jointly, and $200 million in punitive damages against CertainTeed. The judgment in that case is now being appealed. The size and proportionality of the punitive damage award, as compared to the general damages (25 to 1), will almost certainly be an issue on appeal.

A simple, straightforward presentation also aided some defendants in 2010, even in some fairly complex cases. One of these was City of Redlands v. Shell Oil Company, in which the plaintiff sued for $46 million in damages allegedly caused by contamination of the City’s groundwater with TCP, a powerful carcinogen. In its defense Shell contended that the groundwater TCP levels were so low that they could not have harmed anyone.

During opening statements Shell’s counsel gave the jury six principles to consider in deciding the case, and a scorecard on which to keep track of them. Shell’s counsel then urged the jury to “judge us accordingly” if Shell failed to prove each one of the six principles. After a four-month trial, during which Shell’s counsel repeatedly reminded the jury of these points, and how they were being proven, the jury agreed with Shell. It returned a defense verdict in Shell’s favor.

Sometimes it takes time for dishonest conduct to be caught and remedied. This was the case in Tellez v. Dole Food Company, where the farm worker plaintiffs claimed to have suffered infertility as a result of chemical exposure on Dole’s Nicaraguan banana plantations. In 2007 a jury had awarded $2.3 million to the Tellez plaintiffs. However, while that judgment was on appeal, two related cases fell apart in 2009, when it was discovered that the plaintiffs’ attorneys had procured false testimony and phony lab results, and had threatened witnesses.

Last year the attorneys in Tellez used this information to persuade the appeals court to transfer the case back to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing – a very rarely used procedure. As a result of that hearing, the appeals court vacated the Tellez verdict and dismissed the entire action, on the grounds that it had been founded on fraud, threats and intimidation, which had violated Dole’s due process rights. No one – neither a judge nor a jury – responds well to dishonesty in the courtroom.


John F. Grannis

John F. Grannis, Of Counsel to the firm, focuses on cases involving asbestos and chemical exposure, products liability, construction defect and mold claims, occupational safety matters, commercial disputes, environmental disputes, construction accidents, and premises liability. Mr. Grannis also handles appellate matters in these cases.

Mr. Grannis has defended hundreds of claims relating to occupational exposures to toxic chemicals, and claims relating to respiratory irritants such as silica, asbestos, and metal particulates. He has litigated cases involving Proposition 65 (the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986), and the federal and California Hazard Communication Standard.

Mr. Grannis also has extensive experience in civil litigation defense, including claims of wrongful death, products liability, catastrophic injuries, premises liability, asbestos litigation, class actions, automobile collisions, wrongful termination, employment discrimination, business disputes, medical malpractice, legal malpractice, breach of contract, indemnity, insurance coverage, and assorted other insured liabilities.

Mr. Grannis is a member of the Los Angeles County Bar Association and the Santa Clarita Valley Bar Association. Mr. Grannis also is active in his community, having volunteered his time as a member of several advisory committees of the City of Santa Clarita. He currently serves on the Newhall Redevelopment Committee.

Prior to joining Poole & Shaffery, LLP, Mr. Grannis worked in general civil practice and served as Administrative Law Judge Pro Tem in the California Office of Administrative Hearings.

Attorneys » John F. Grannis
Practice Areas
Appellate Law
Arbitration & Mediation
Commercial Litigation
General Counsel Services
Premises Liability
Product Liability
Professional Liability
Toxic Torts

Representative Matters


  • Obtained summary judgment in a silica exposure case
  • Successfully tried an HOA suit against the former HOA management company, with recovery of attorney fees and costs
  • Successfully tried an HOA suit against a negligent contractor
  • Successfully tried a commercial lease action, with recovery of attorney fees and costs
  • Obtained client’s dismissal from an environmental clean-up suit
  • Obtained client’s dismissal from a benzene exposure case
  • Obtained favorable settlement of Visalia courthouse mold case