Solus Industrial Innovations, LLC v. Super. Ct.Annotate this Case
The issue this case presented for the Court of Appeal's review centered on whether federal law preempted the effort by a district attorney to recover civil penalties under California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) based on an employer’s alleged violation of workplace safety standards. Petitioners Solus Industrial Innovations, Emerson Power Transmission Corp., and Emerson Electric Co. (collectively Solus) argued the trial court erred by overruling their demurrer to two causes of action filed against them by Respondent, the Orange County District Attorney, alleging a right to recover such penalties. Solus argued that federal workplace safety law (Fed/OSHA) preempted any state law workplace safety enforcement mechanism which has not been specifically incorporated into the state workplace safety plan approved by the U.S. Secretary of Labor. The district attorney argued that once a state workplace safety plan has been approved by the Secretary of Labor, the state retains significant discretion to determine how it will enforce the safety standards incorporated therein, and thus the state may empower prosecutors to enforce those standards through whatever legal mechanism is available when such a case is referred to them. The trial court agreed with the district attorney and overruled Solus’s demurrer. But the court also certified this issue as presenting a controlling issue of law suitable for early appellate review under Code of Civil Procedure section 166.1. Solus then filed a petition for writ of mandate asking the Court of Appeal to review the trial court’s ruling. After the Court summarily denied the petition, the California Supreme Court granted review and transferred the case back to the Court of Appeal with directions to issue an order to show cause. In the course of its opinion, the Court of Appeal noted that the UCL was not even in effect when California’s plan was approved. The California Supreme Court then granted review, and transferred the matter back to the Court of Appeal with directions to reconsider the matter in light of former Civil Code section 3370.1 repealed by stats. 1977, ch. 299, sec. 3, p. 1204. Having done so, the Court of Appeal again concluded that the district attorney’s reliance on the UCL to address workplace safety violations was preempted.