Bernede v. City of Costa Mesa
West Coast Arborists, Inc. (“WCA”) is a tree trimming company that contracts with various municipalities to perform tree trimming services across California and Arizona.
Plaintiff was injured while riding a bicycle on a city street in the City of Costa Mesa (“City”). Plaintiff claimed that the street surface was uneven and caused him to lose control of his bicycle. Plaintiff sued the City for damages and the City cross-complained against WCA upon a claim that roots from a tree maintained by WCA caused the uneven road surface.
Before the incident the City knew that the street was uneven and requested that WCA install a root barrier to prevent further damage. WCA dutifully installed the root barrier but the City never repaired the uneven road surface.
Vivian filed an MSJ on plaintiff’s complaint based on the legal theory that WCA did not have a duty to the plaintiff and had met the terms of its contract with the City.
In granting the MSJ the court found that WCA did not own, control or possess the City’s street and that WCA’s only duty was to the City based on its contract. WCA’s duties did not extend to the plaintiff. The court further found that WCA installed a root barrier exactly as the City had requested. Since WCA had no duty to the plaintiff, and because it installed the barrier as requested, the court ruled that WCA cannot be liable either to plaintiff or to any cross complainant on an indemnity claim. As a result, WCA is the prevailing party as to plaintiff’s complaint and the cross complaint of Costa Mesa.