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Ledeaux v. Motorola Inc.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Second Division

February 20, 2018

MARCUS LEDEAUX, a Disabled Person, by His Co-Guardians and Conservators, LISA LEDEAUX, MARK LEDEAUX and LYNDRA LEDEAUX; ELIZABETH BRYAN, a Minor, by Her Father and Next Friend GEORGE BRYAN; HUNTER CONSTANT; TANYA CORTEZ; SARINA FINZER, a Minor, by Her Father and Next Friend HARLAN FINZER; JOHN GALL; RAY SOLAREZ; GABRIEL ERNESTO TREVINO; DIANA HILL; FRANK MARTINEZ VALDEZ III; JENNIFER BERNARD; ROSE LYKO; ENRIQUE DANIEL MARIN ARBALLO; JASON COAR; MITCHELL SMITH' MONICA ELIAS; EDUARDO ROMERO, a Minor; by His Father and Next Friend HECTOR ROMERO; MEG FERNANDEZ; JEREMY HARDISON, a Minor, by His Father and Next Friend ERIC HARDISON SERENITY MILLER, a Minor, by Her Mother and Next Friend MISTY EVERTS; ROBERT EVAN TORREZ, a Minor, by His Mother and Next Friend JANAN ADAMS; ELIZABETH MENSING; LISA LEDEAUX; MARK LEDEAUX; GEORGE BRYAN; CYNTHIA BRYAN; BRANDON CONSTANT; WENDY CONSTANT; LEILANI CORTEZ; JOE CORTEZ; HARLAN FINZER; SARAH FINZER; MARY MARK; ROSA MARIN-ARBALLO; HENRY ARBALLO; HECTOR ROMERO; ALICIA ROMERO; JOSIE SOLAREZ; ARMANDO FERNANDEZ; SHACHICO FERNANDEZ; ERIC HARDISON; CHERYL HARDISON; VINCENT MILLER; MISTY EVERTS; ROBERT TORREZ; EVELYN TORREZ; STEVEN ADAMS; JANAN ADAMS; ANGELA MENSING; Plaintiffs,
v.
MOTOROLA INCORPORATED, Defendant-Appellee. SARINA FINZER, a Minor, by Her Father and Next Friend, HARLAN FINZER; HARLAN FINZER; SARAH FINZER; JEREMY HARDISON, a minor, by His Father and Next Friend, ERIC HARDISON; ERIC HARDISON; and CHERYL HARDISON; Plaintiffs-Appellants

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois No. 10 L 8503 Honorable Irwin J. Solganick, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE MASON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Neville and Justice Hyman concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          MASON JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 Plaintiffs Sarina Finzer and Jeremy Hardison were born with severe birth defects that they asserted were sustained in utero and caused by their fathers' exposure to toxic chemical products and substances during their employment at Motorola Inc.'s semiconductor manufacturing facilities in Arizona and Texas, respectively. Seeking damages for their birth defects, Sarina through her parents, Harlan and Sarah Finzer, and Jeremy through his parents, Eric and Cheryl Hardison, sued Motorola, Inc. for (1) negligence, (2) strict liability, (3) breach of an assumed duty, (4) willful and wanton misconduct, and (5) loss of child consortium relating to the children's birth defects and impairment to the parent-child relationship. Finding that plaintiffs could prove no set of facts that would entitle them to relief, the trial court dismissed plaintiffs' complaint pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2010)).

         ¶ 2 Plaintiffs appeal the dismissal, asserting that the trial court erred in finding that (1) the exclusive remedy provision of the respective state workers' compensation laws barred their claims, (2) no duty was owed to a not-yet conceived child, and (3) proximate cause could not be established as a matter of law, given that the fathers did not sustain an injury. Plaintiffs also claim that the trial court erred in dismissing the willful and wanton misconduct count and the Finzers' loss of child consortium count, which depended on pleading a viable cause of action for negligence. Construing the allegations in the complaint in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, we reverse the trial court's dismissal of plaintiffs' complaint. We find that plaintiffs properly pled a cause of action for negligence and willful and wanton misconduct under Arizona and Texas law and loss of child consortium under Arizona law, and we remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         ¶ 3 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 4 Plaintiffs' case is one of eight separate personal injury cases filed against Motorola, relating to severe birth defects in children of former Motorola employees who were exposed to toxic chemical products and substances that Motorola provided or approved of while working in semiconductor manufacturing "clean rooms, " where semiconductor wafers, microchips, and boards were manufactured. A "clean room" is a controlled environment used for manufacturing high technology products. Lucent Technologies, Inc. v. Mid-West Electronics, Inc., 49 S.W.3d 236, 239 n.2 (Mo.Ct.App. 2001). Clean rooms are designed to prevent airborne contaminants from contacting semiconductor components during the manufacturing process. Motorola Solutions, Inc. v. Zurich Insurance Co., 2015 IL App (1st) 131529, ¶ 6.

         ¶ 5 Motorola is headquartered in Illinois and has semiconductor manufacturing plants in Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale, Tempe, and Chandler, Arizona, as well as a facility in Austin, Texas.

         ¶ 6 Sarina was born on April 5, 1999. From approximately 1997 until 1998, her father Harlan worked at Motorola's semiconductor manufacturing plant in Mesa, Arizona.[1] Jeremy was born on April 4, 2000. Jeremy's father Eric worked at Motorola's semiconductor manufacturing plant in Austin, Texas, from 1991 to 2001. Both Sarina and Jeremy were born with birth defects: Sarina has a clubfoot, and Jeremy has an underdeveloped jaw. Both alleged these birth defects resulted from their fathers' repeated and prolonged exposure to toxic chemicals in Motorola's clean rooms.

         ¶ 7 On July 23, 2010, plaintiffs filed a combined complaint against Motorola, asserting counts for (1) negligence, (2) abnormally dangerous and ultra hazardous activity, (3) willful and wanton misconduct, and (4) loss of child consortium. In the complaint, plaintiffs alleged that the fathers sustained injuries to their reproductive systems as a result of their exposure to toxic chemicals, which in turn caused minor plaintiffs' injuries, i.e., their severe birth defects. Plaintiffs amended their complaint a month later to include an additional plaintiff.

         ¶ 8 After plaintiffs filed their amended complaint, a Delaware trial court decided Peters v. Texas Instruments Inc., C.A. No. 10-C-06-043 JRJ, 2011 WL 4686518 (Del. Super. Ct. Sept. 30, 2011), aff'd by memorandum, 58 A.3d 414 (Del. 2013). Peters is an unpublished Delaware state court decision that applied Texas substantive law. Id. The minor plaintiff in Peters brought a similar negligence action, asserting that his father's exposure to toxic chemicals in the workplace injured his father's reproductive system (his sperm) leading to the minor's birth defects. Id. at *1. The employer defendant argued that the child's negligence claim was barred by the exclusive remedy provision of Texas workers' compensation law because the plaintiff alleged an injury to his father's reproductive system, and the child's injury was entirely dependent on the injury to his father. Id. at *3. The court dismissed the action finding that the exclusive remedy provision barred the child's negligence claim because the validity of his claim depended on the validity of his father's claim, and his father's claim was subject to the exclusive remedy provided under workers' compensation laws. Id. at *6.

         ¶ 9 After filing their second amended complaint and evidently attempting to plead around Peters, plaintiffs filed a third amended complaint, which no longer alleged an injury to the fathers' reproductive systems. In fact, plaintiffs pled that the fathers did not sustain "a direct injury or cause of action as a result of their exposure to some or all of the aforesaid chemical products and substances, but make[ ] only a claim for loss of consortium which is wholly derivative of the direct cause of action of his/her injured child."

         ¶ 10 In response to plaintiffs' third amended complaint, Motorola moved to dismiss pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2010)).[2] Motorola asserted, in part, that despite alleging no direct injury to their fathers, the children's injuries were nonetheless derivative of a work-related injury to their fathers' reproductive systems, and a claim under the workers' compensation law was the children's exclusive remedy. To the extent that minor plaintiffs did not allege an injury to their fathers, Motorola asserted that they could not establish proximate cause because the children were never present in the clean rooms and, thus, were never directly exposed to the toxic chemicals. Motorola's position was that the complaint failed to establish causation because although plaintiffs asserted that the minors were injured as a result of their fathers' workplace exposure, they pled no injury to their fathers and failed to explain how the exposure was the proximate cause of the children's injury absent an injury to their fathers. Motorola further alleged that because the exposure to the toxic chemicals allegedly occurred preconception, plaintiffs were asserting a preconception tort, which is not recognized under either Arizona or Texas law.

         ¶ 11 After Motorola filed its motion, plaintiffs filed a fourth amended complaint, which pled counts for (1) negligence, (2) willful and wanton misconduct, (3) strict liability, (4) breach of an assumed duty, and (5) loss of child consortium. In the fourth amended complaint, plaintiffs alleged that Motorola had (1) a duty of care to its employees and their offspring to provide a safe workplace and (2) a duty to warn its employees of the potential for injury to their offspring, but failed to do so and, instead, provided its employees with misleading information regarding the safety of working in clean rooms. Minor plaintiffs' causation theory was that the toxic chemicals entered their fathers' reproductive systems and temporarily remained there leading to either (1) some temporary alteration of the sperm or (2) the sperm carrying the toxic chemicals to the mother's egg, which, in turn, resulted in their birth defects. Other than the transitory effect on their fathers' reproductive system, minor plaintiffs asserted that the chemical exposure did not otherwise result in any diagnosable or permanent injury to their fathers. Motorola stood on its motion to dismiss in response to the fourth amended complaint.

         ¶ 12 After a hearing on Motorola's motion to dismiss, the trial court granted the dismissal with prejudice, finding that there were no well-pled facts that supported any of plaintiffs' causes of action. The trial court denied plaintiffs' oral motion to amend on the basis that no amendment could change the result. The trial court's order included section 304(a) language finding no just reason to delay enforcement or appeal. Plaintiffs timely appeal the dismissal of their complaint.[3]

         ¶ 13 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 14 Plaintiffs appeal the dismissal of the counts of their complaint for (1) negligence, (2) willful and wanton misconduct under Arizona and Texas law, and (3) loss of child consortium under Arizona law. The parties agree that we are to apply Arizona and Texas law to the substantive issues, but that Illinois law governs procedural issues, such as whether plaintiffs satisfied pleading requirements sufficient to withstand a section 2-615 motion to dismiss. In Illinois, a section 2-615 dismissal motion challenges the legal sufficiency of the complaint based on defects apparent on the face of the pleading. Simpkins v. CSX Transportation, Inc., 2012 IL 110662, ¶ 13. The relevant inquiry on a section 2-615 motion to dismiss is whether the allegations, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, are sufficient to state a claim. Sheffler v. Commonwealth Edison Co., 2011 IL 110166, ¶ 61. A court must accept all well-pleaded facts in the complaint, as well as any reasonable inferences that flow from those facts, as true. Cochran v. Securitas Security Services USA, Inc., 2017 IL 121200, ¶ 11. A trial court should not dismiss a cause of action under section 2-615 unless it is clear from the pleadings that no set of facts can be proven that would entitle the plaintiff to recover. Id. We review the trial court's order dismissing a complaint under section 2-615 de novo. Schweihs v. Chase Home Finance, LLC, 2016 IL 120041, ¶ 27; Kean v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 235 Ill.2d 351, 361 (2009).

         ¶ 15 A. Plaintiffs' Negligence Claim Against Motorola

         ¶ 16 Plaintiffs first challenge the trial court's dismissal of their negligence claim under section 2-615 for failure to state a claim based on the trial court's conclusion that (1) the exclusive remedy provisions of the Arizona and Texas workers' compensation laws barred their claims, (2) ...


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