Firm Secures Victory for Utility Client

Spring 2013

At the Willenken Firm, we are always ready and willing to try our cases before a jury. However, we recognize that forcing our opponents to back down before trial saves time and money, and often achieves a more economical result. When two homeowners sued our client, a public utilities company, for substantial damages related to a gas transmission line leak, firm partner Jason Wilson and associate Rebecca Green immediately suspected that the plaintiffs were seeking to extort a well-known corporation for nothing more than their personal financial gain. Jason, an expert in public utilities law, also recognized that most of the plaintiffs' claims were pre-empted by Public Utilities Code section 1759, which prohibits the superior court from interfering with the jurisdiction of the California Public Utilities Commission. Seeing the enormous deficiencies in the plaintiffs' case, the firm executed a two-fold plan of attack to dispose of this lawsuit.

First, the firm filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings based on the superior court's lack of jurisdiction under Section 1759. The motion argued that the plaintiffs' claims were pre-empted because they sought a ruling from the court that the public utilities company's remediation efforts, which complied with Public Utilities Commission regulations, were insufficient. The Willenken firm prevailed, and the plaintiffs' complaint was reduced from ten causes of action to just three.

Second, the firm conducted extensive discovery that brought to light the plaintiffs' numerous false and exaggerated contentions, while exposing the case for what it was: a ruthless attempt to capitalize on a minor, routine gas leak that was promptly fixed and never exposed the plaintiff to any kind of danger. As more and more of the plaintiffs' claims were revealed as meritless, the plaintiffs - unable to come up with any legitimate claim for damages - gradually reduced their settlement demand. Meanwhile, the firm filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the plaintiffs had zero evidence to substantiate any damages on the three remaining causes of action. The firm also served the plaintiffs with a Section 998 offer to compromise. Faced with the prospect of another unfavorable ruling, the plaintiffs accepted the offer, settling for a small fraction of their original demand.