MARK K. ADAMS and JOANIE ADAMS and NELSON KOON SUNG NG and ZINNIA K. L. NG, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
DOLE FOOD COMPANY, INC., DOLE FRESH FRUIT COMPANY, STANDARD FRUIT COMPANY, STANDARD FRUIT AND STEAMSHIP COMPANY, PINEAPPLE GROWERS ASSOCIATION OF HAWAII, AMVAC CHEMICAL CORPORATION, SHELL OIL COMPANY, THE DOW CHEMICAL COMPANY and OCCIDENTAL CHEMICAL CORPORATION, Defendants-Appellees.
APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE FIRST CIRCUIT (CIVIL NO. 07-1-1204)
Scott M. Hendler (HendlerLaw, P.C.) Jonathan Massey (Massey & Gail LLP) Leslie S. Fukumoto, AAL, ALC for Plaintiffs-Appellants
Melvin M. Miyagi Ross T. Shinyama Angela T. Thompson (Watanabe Ing LLP) Andrea E. Neuman (Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP) for Defendants-Appellees Dole Food Company and Dole Fresh Fruit Company
FOLEY, PRESIDING JUDGE, LEONARD AND GINOZA, JJ.
Plaintiffs-Appellants Mark K. Adams (Adams), Joanie Adams, Nelson Koon Sung Ng (Ng), and Zinnia K.L. Ng (collectively "Plaintiffs") appeal from a Revised Final Judgment filed on July 14, 2010 by the Circuit Court of the First Circuit (circuit court) which entered judgment in favor of Defendants-Appellees Dole Food Company, Inc. and Dole Fresh Fruit Company (Dole Defendants) and against Plaintiffs.
The Revised Final Judgment was entered in light of the circuit court's grant of the Dole Defendants' motion to dismiss the claims asserted against them (Motion to Dismiss) and the circuit court's denial of the Plaintiffs' motion to amend their complaint (Motion to Amend). Following the circuit court's rulings on the Motion to Dismiss and the Motion to Amend, the circuit court granted the Plaintiffs' motion pursuant to Hawai'i Rules of Civil Procedure (HRCP) Rule 54 (b) for certification and entry of final judgment as to the Dole Defendants.
On appeal, the Plaintiffs contend that the circuit court erred by granting the Motion to Dismiss and abused its discretion in denying their Motion to Amend.
For the reasons set forth below, we hold that: (1) the circuit court did not err in dismissing the claims against the Dole Defendants based on the allegations in the complaint; but (2) the circuit court abused its discretion in denying the Plaintiffs leave to amend their complaint.
I. Case Background
The Plaintiffs filed the complaint on June 29, 2007 against the Dole Defendants, the Pineapple Growers Association of Hawaii (PGAH), Amvac Chemical Corporation (Amvac), Shell Oil Company (Shell), The Dow Chemical Company (Dow), and Occidental Chemical Corporation (Occidental). Plaintiffs seek recovery for alleged damages to their health, welfare, and lives resulting from exposure to a chemical pesticide, dibromochloropropane (DBCP), which was allegedly manufactured by the defendants or utilized by the defendants on commercial pineapple farms where Adams and Ng worked during the 1970s.
According to the complaint, Adams was exposed to DBCP between 1974 and 1975, while employed as a pineapple field worker by the Dole Defendants, their subsidiaries or agents in Wahiawa, O'ahu. As a result of this exposure, Adams alleges he suffered serious and permanent injuries, including, but not limited to, testicular cancer.
The complaint alleges that Ng was exposed to DBCP between 1971 and 1973, while employed as a pineapple harvester by the Dole Defendants, their subsidiaries or agents at the Dole Pineapple Plant located in Lana'i City, Maui County. As a result of this exposure, Ng alleges he suffered serious and permanent injuries including, but not limited to, severe injury to his reproductive capacities and testicular cancer.
The complaint alleges claims for negligence, conspiracy, strict liability, intentional tort, and breach of implied warranty, and requests compensatory and punitive damages.
B. Procedural Background
Amvac, Occidental, Dow, Shell, and PGAH filed answers from December 2007 to February 2008.
The Dole Defendants did not file an answer and instead, on March 3, 2008, filed the Motion to Dismiss, seeking dismissal of the claims against them or, in the alternative, a more definitive statement of certain claims.
A little over four months later, on July 21, 2008, and while the Motion to Dismiss was pending, the Plaintiffs filed the Motion to Amend. A combined hearing on both motions was held on December 2, 2008, wherein the circuit court orally granted the Motion to Dismiss and denied the Motion to Amend.
On April 20, 2009, the circuit court entered separate written orders granting the Motion to Dismiss and denying the Motion to Amend.
On July 14, 2010, the circuit court entered its Revised Final Judgment,  from which the Plaintiffs timely appealed.
On appeal, Dow, Occidental, and Shell each filed Notices of Being Nominal Appellee, stating that they have no interest in the outcome of this appeal and would not be filing an answering brief.
II. Standards of Review
A. Motion to Dismiss
We review the circuit court's ruling on a motion to dismiss de novo. Kamaka v. Goodsill Anderson Quinn & Stifel, 117 Hawai'i 92, 104, 176 P.3d 91, 103 (2008).
A complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his or her claim that would entitle him or her to relief. This court must, therefore, view a plaintiff's complaint in a light most favorable to him or her in order to determine whether the allegations contained therein could warrant relief under any alternate theory. Consequently, in reviewing the circuit court's order dismissing the plaintiffs' complaint in this case, our consideration is strictly limited to the allegations of the complaint, and we must deem those allegations to be true.
Kahala Royal Corp. v. Goodsill Anderson Quinn & Stifel, 113 Hawai'i 251, 266, 151 P.3d 732, 747 (2007) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).
B. Motion to Amend
We review the denial of leave to amend a complaint under the abuse of discretion standard. Gonsalves v. Nissan Motor Corp. in Hawaii, Ltd., 100 Hawai'i 149, 158, 58 P.3d 1196, 1205 (2002); see also Dejetley v. Kaho'ohalahala, 122 Hawai'i 251, 269, 226 P.3d 421, 439 (2010). "An abuse of discretion occurs where the trial court has clearly exceeded the bounds of reason or disregarded rules or principles of law or practice to the substantial detriment of a party litigant." Dejetley, 122 Hawai'i at 269, 226 P.3d at 439 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). "The trial court abuses its discretion if it bases its ruling on an erroneous view of the law or on a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence." Id. at 270-71, 226 P.3d at 440-41 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
A. The Motion to Dismiss Was Properly Granted
In the order granting the Motion to Dismiss, the circuit court states that it dismissed the claims against the Dole Defendants "for all of the reasons set forth in the Motion and other related submissions by the Dole Defendants, in the Dole Defendants' Memorandum in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion to Amend Complaint . . . and in the argument related thereto[.]"
In its Motion to Dismiss, the Dole Defendants argued that the Plaintiffs' claims were barred by the exclusivity provision of Hawaii's Workers' Compensation Law (WCL), set forth in Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) § 386-5 (1993), and that the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' claims under HRS § 386-73 (Supp. 2012). Additionally, the Dole Defendants argued that the conspiracy and intentional tort claims should be dismissed because the Plaintiffs failed to state cognizable causes of action. In the alternative, the Dole Defendants moved for a more definite statement as to both of these claims under HRCP Rule 12 (e) .
On appeal, the Plaintiffs argue that the circuit court erred in dismissing their complaint because (1) only one employing entity can claim the protection of the WCL exclusive remedy; (2) the civil conspiracy claim does not involve "work injuries" and thus should not be barred by HRS § 386-5; and (3) the intentional tort claim also is not barred by HRS § 386-5.
The applicable standard of review regarding a motion to dismiss requires that we construe the complaint's allegations as true and view them in the light most favorable to the non-movant Plaintiffs. See Kahala Royal Corp., 113 Hawai'i at 266, 151 P.3d at 747. The relevant allegations set forth in the Plaintiffs' complaint are as follows:
6. .... Dole Food Company, Inc. is the successor in interest to Castle & Cooke, Inc.
12. .... Dole Food Company, Inc. is the ultimate parent corporation of Standard Fruit Company, Standard Fruit and Steamship Company, and Dole Fresh Fruit Company (collectively "the Dole Defendants"). These subsidiaries are so integrated and controlled by Dole Food Company, Inc. that they are alter egos of Dole Food Company, Inc. The Plaintiffs are suing the Dole Defendants for the tortious activities performed at the behest, and under the control of, Dole Food Co., Inc. and/or its predecessors-in-interest.
15. .... Dole Fresh Fruit Company is an alter ego of Standard Fruit Company, Standard Fruit and Steamship Company and/or Dole Food Company, Inc. These subsidiaries are so integrated and controlled by Dole Fresh Fruit Company that they are alter egos of Dole Fresh Fruit Company.
16. Defendants The Dow Chemical Company, Occidental Chemical Corporation, Shell Oil Company, Standard Fruit Company, Standard Fruit and Steamship Company, Dole Food Company, Inc., Dole Fresh Fruit Company, The Pineapple Growers Association, their subsidiaries and/or affiliates or predecessors-in-interest, developed, manufactured, sold, distributed, and used nematocides containing the chemical dibromocholoropropane, commonly known as DBCP.
19. Plaintiff Mark Adams alleges he was exposed to Defendants' products between 1974 and 1975 and, as a result, has suffered serious and permanent injuries including, but not limited to, testicular cancer. He discovered his injuries were related to DBCP exposure less than 2 years prior to filing this Complaint (or a complaint in another jurisdiction tolling the statute of limitations), ...