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Solus Industrial Innovations, LLC v. Superior Court

Filed 2/8/18 IN THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA SOLUS INDUSTRIAL ) INNOVATIONS, LLC, et al., ) ) Petitioners, ) ) S222314 v. ) ) Ct.App. 4/3 G047661 THE SUPERIOR COURT OF ORANGE ) COUNTY, ) ) Orange County Respondent; ) Super. Ct. No. 30-2012-00581868 ) THE PEOPLE, ) ) Real Party in Interest. ) ____________________________________) The Orange County District Attorney brought an action for civil penalties under this state’s unfair competition law (UCL; Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200) and fair advertising law (FAL; id., § 17500) against an employer. The action alleged the employer violated workplace safety standards established by the state occupational safety and health law (Cal/OSHA; Lab. Code, § 6300 et seq.) and attendant regulations. The employer contended, and the Court of Appeal concluded, that the district attorney’s action was preempted by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (federal OSH Act; 29 U.S.C. § 651 et seq.). 1 For the reasons set forth below, we conclude that the federal act does not preempt unfair competition and consumer protection claims based on workplace safety and health violations when, as in California, there is a state plan approved by the federal Secretary of Labor. The district attorney’s use of UCL and FAL causes of action does not encroach on a field fully occupied by federal law, nor does it stand as an obstacle to the accomplishment of the federal objective of ensuring a nationwide minimum standard of workplace protection. In addition, the federal act’s structure and language do not reflect a clear purpose of Congress to preempt such claims. Therefore, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeal. I. Background A. Factual and procedural history Our statement of facts and procedure is based largely on the opinion of the Court of Appeal. Solus Industrial Innovations, LLC (Solus) manufactures plastics at its Orange County facility. In 2007, it installed at the facility an electric water heater that was designed for residential use. In March 2009, the water heater exploded, killing two employees. The Division of Occupational Safety and Health1 investigated and “determined the explosion had been caused by a failed safety valve and the lack of ‘any other suitable safety features on the heater’ due to ‘manipulation and misuse.’ ” In an administrative proceeding, the agency charged Solus with five 1 The Division of Occupational Safety and Health (sometimes hereafter Division) functions within the state Department of Industrial Relations. Sometimes referred to as Cal/OSHA, the Division holds general authority to enforce the state occupational safety and health law. (See p. 9, post.) 2 violations of state occupational safety and health regulations. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, § 467, subd. (a) [failure to provide a proper safety valve]; id., § 3328, subds. (a) [permitting unsafe operation of machinery and equipment], (b) [improper maintenance of machinery and equipment], (f) [failing to use good engineering practices], (h) [permitting unqualified and untrained personnel to operate and maintain machinery and equipment].) The Division also cited Solus with a willful violation for …
Original document
Source: California Supreme Court