Christine Mendiola worked with mentally ill residents in a locked facility at defendant Crestwood Behavioral Health, Inc. When hired, she understood she would be working with clients who were chronically mentally ill but stable. She alleged however that Crestwood concealed that a large portion of the residents had pending felony charges or significant criminal histories.
On July 11, 2011, Mendiola was working the night shift and monitoring three clients on the patio during a smoke break. One of the clients required “line of sight” observation and Mendiola was the only staff member on the patio (a line of sight observation requires a staff member to be assigned to that particular client and only that client in order to keep an eye on him at all times). Another client (Resident G) became agitated, pacing and yelling in Spanish. When she tried to calm him, he turned his agitation towards her. She tried to call for help on a walkie-talkie, but Resident G knocked it out of her hand. He assaulted her, bashing her head against the cinder blocks and throwing her to the ground. For seven minutes she yelled for help. Finally, she directed another client to call for help on her walkie-talkie. That client pulled Resident G off Mendiola before help came.
Resident G had been admitted to Crestwood under a Murphy conservatorship with pending assault and battery charges. He had been found incompetent to stand trial. Crestwood also knew that Resident G had a history of attacking women. Crestwood allegedly kept this information from staff. Mendiola has been unable to work since the attack.
She brought suit against Crestwood for assault, battery, fraudulent inducement and misrepresentation, unlawful business practices (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200), and other claims.
Crestwood moved for summary adjudication as to all claims. It asserted workers’ compensation was the exclusive remedy as to the assault and battery, and there was no triable issue of material fact as to the remaining claims. Crestwood provided documentation that Mendiola had acknowledged in writing that the job required the management of assaultive, disruptive, or suicidal clients.
The trial court found workers’ compensation was the exclusive remedy for the claims of assault and battery. The court denied the motion as to the fraud claim. Focusing on the allegations of Mendiola’s declaration concerning her move to the Dream House, the court found triable issues of fact as to fraudulent inducement. For the same reasons, the court denied summary adjudication of the unfair business practices claim. But later during a motion in limine, the fraud claims were dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and Mendiola appealed. The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal in the unpublished case of Mendiola v. Crestwood Behavioral Health.
Whether the exclusive remedy of the workers’ compensation system in California applies to intentional torts, including fraud, is a “complicated” question. Mendiola’s fraud claims are nearly identical to those in Spratley v. Winchell Donut House, Inc. (1987) 188 Cal.App.3d 1408 and are similar to the first claim that was barred in Johns-Manville Products Corp. v. Superior Court (1980) 27 Cal.3d 465, 475-476.
These claims, whether misrepresentation or concealment, all relate to workplace safety, “an issue contemplated by the workers’ compensation statutory scheme” and “a risk reasonably encompassed within the compensation bargain.”