Palo Alto, CA asked in Criminal Law, Personal Injury, Landlord - Tenant and Sexual Harassment for California

Q: Suing a staff who lives and works locally but his company is located in another state, State Court or Federal Court?

An employee of a company had sent by the company to come to work in CA. He works for the company, gets paid from the company, uses the company van for work, and his apartment rent and other utilities bills are also paid by the company that is located in another state. If that employee committed an intentional tort to injure another tenant in the same apartment building, can this injured tenant sue that violator and his company (for the negligence of not managing its employee well and did not take action to rectify its employee's illegal acts)? If the necessity to sue the violator's employer for the monetary compensation is so compulsory and indispensable, should the victim sue both the violator and his company in State Court or Federal Court? With regards to the venue of the lawsuit, should the victim file his lawsuit in Santa Clara County of CA (where the intentional tort had occurred)? Or sue in the County of another state in which the violator 's employer is located?

2 Lawyer Answers
Robert Kane
Robert Kane
  • Criminal Law Lawyer
  • Eagan, MN
  • Licensed in California

A: It is unusual a company would be liable for the intentional tort of an employee, especially if it had nothing to do with his employment. The fact the company pays his bills doesn't mean it's liable. I suggest you discuss this with an attorney before filing anything.

Eric Gene Young
Eric Gene Young pro label Lawyers, want to be a Justia Connect Pro too? Learn more ›
  • Santa Rosa, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: You provided a lot of information and good questions, but there is still a lot of unknowns here.

As a general rule, a company is responsible for the negligent acts of their employees. However, unless an employee was acting in the course and scope of their employment at the time they committed an intentional act, a company is not typically liable for intentional acts by employees. You will find cases where the courts do impose liability for intentional acts, but minimally, the employee must have been doing something that was somehow benefitting the employer. The Mary M. v. County of Los Angeles case is a good example, where a police officer pulls a lady over for some traffic violation, directs her to pull into a gas station so he can write her a ticket, she complies, and the officer subsequently forcibly rapes her. There, the court concluded that the officer was engaged in performing his duties at the time the rape occurred; i.e., he stopped her for a traffic violation and was going to give her a ticket. So, this is a long-winded way of saying, I would need to know what the perpetrator in your case was doing at the time he committed the intentional act and was it conceivably part of his job duties in any way.

Now, if the company that hired this person knew or should have known had they done a reasonable background check that this person had a history of bad acts relevant to the case, such as prior batteries, arrests for crimes of violence, etc., you might be able to argue that the company owed a duty of care not to put the person to work. Again, I would need to know a lot more about the case to state whether this would be a possible argument or not.

Finally, reading between the lines, I am guessing you do not want to go to federal court. It sounds like you would rather file locally. That is definitely possible. In your case, assuming there are no violations of federal law, the federal court system would have jurisdiction over your case based on "diversity of citizenship," meaning litigants from two different states. In that instance, however, the federal system can only exercise jurisdiction if your case has a value of $75,000 or more. Is your case worth $75,000 or more? You may not know the answer to that; it might. However, the way I would go about defeating diversity of citizenship if I wanted to sue locally in Santa Clara is to name both the person who committed the intentional act and the company as a defendant. Diversity must be complete, meaning if there is at least one defendant who shares the same jurisdiction/state with the plaintiff, then the federal court cannot exercise jurisdiction even if another defendant is out of state. This would remain true even if the person who committed the intentional act were later on dismissed from the case. On this point, I would need to know if California is the person's home state, state of residency, did the person relocate from another state, temporarily or permanently before I could opine further.

Good luck

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