Phillips v. TLC Plumbing, Inc., 172 Cal. App. 4th 1133 (2009)

Trisha Phillips, the daughter and successor in interest of decedent Judith Phillips, filed a complaint against TLC, alleging negligent hiring and retention of James Joseph Cain after Cain, a former employee of TLC, murdered Judith. While Cain was employed as a plumbing service repairman for TLC, he was dispatched on a service call to Judith’s residence on two separate occasions. Shortly thereafter, Cain and Judith began a social relationship that evolved into a romantic one. Approximately a month later, TLC terminated Cain (who was on parole after having been convicted of domestic violence and/or an arson offense involving his wife) for misuse of a company vehicle, drug and alcohol use and for apparently threatening a coworker. Some two years after his termination from TLC, Judith ended the relationship and applied for a restraining order against Cain, who subsequently shot and killed her. The trial court granted TLC’s motion for summary judgment on the ground that there was no employment relationship between TLC and Cain at the time he shot and killed Judith and because “it was not reasonably foreseeable that Cain would enter into a personal relationship with Judith which would later lead to Cain’s shooting and killing her years after he provided plumbing services to her.” The Court of Appeal affirmed. Cf. Burns v. The Neiman Marcus Group, Inc., 173 Cal. App. 4th 479 (2009) (plaintiff, whose secretary spent in excess of $1 million at Neiman Marcus with unauthorized checks drawn on plaintiff’s personal bank account, could not proceed with negligence claim against Neiman Marcus).