Corpus Christi-Edinburg Daimlerchrysler Corporation v. Inman

Decision Date20 November 2003
Docket NumberNumber 13-02-415-CV.
CourtTexas Supreme Court

On appeal from County Court at Law No. 3 of Nueces County, Texas.

Before Justices YA&ntilEZ, CASTILLO and GARZA


Opinion by Justice GARZA

DaimlerChrysler Corporation has filed and argued an interlocutory appeal with this Court challenging the trial court's certification of two nationwide classes for purposes of suing DaimlerChrysler on claims arising out of its design, manufacture, marketing, and sale of automobiles equipped with defective seatbelts. On appeal, DaimlerChrysler argues that the certification orders must be reversed. We reverse and remand.


The plaintiffs are owners of DaimlerChrysler automobiles equipped with Gen-3 seatbelt buckles, which they allege suffer from a design defect that renders them unreasonably dangerous and unfit for use in automobile passenger restraint systems. The plaintiffs claim that DaimlerChrysler knew or should have known about this defect but did nothing to cure it.

None of the plaintiffs has suffered physical injury. None has flown through a windshield or slammed into a dashboard on account of the Gen-3's failure. Similarly, none alleges that the Gen-3 has caused any external property damage. The two certified classes specifically exclude all plaintiffs who have suffered physical injury or property damage caused by the Gen-3. The classes are limited to owners whose losses are solely economic. The precise definitions of the classes are quoted below.1

I. Standing to Sue

Our jurisdiction over an interlocutory appeal of a class certification order is statutorily conferred. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 51.014(a)(3) (Vernon Supp. 2003). In its first issue, DaimlerChrysler argues that none of the class representatives or class members has standing to bring any of the claims alleged in the class petition. Standing to sue is a justiciability concern. Perry v. Del Rio, 66 S.W.3d 239, 249 (Tex. 2001). A challenge to standing implicates the boundaries of constitutionally legitimate judicial action and, if successful, ultimately compels dismissal for lack of jurisdiction. See, e.g., Tex. Ass'n of Bus. v. Tex. Air Control Bd., 852 S.W.2d 440, 443-46 (Tex. 1993). Standing to sue is a prerequisite to class certification and is properly raised on an interlocutory appeal of a class certification order. See M.D. Anderson Cancer Ctr. v. Novak, 52 S.W.3d 704, 705-06 (Tex. 2001). If the named plaintiffs lack individual standing we will dismiss the entire suit for lack of jurisdiction. See id. at 711. If the named plaintiffs demonstrate individual standing, whether those plaintiffs will then be permitted to represent the classes depends on whether rule 42's requirements are satisfied. See id. With these considerations in mind, we begin by determining whether our jurisdiction extends to the subject matter of this case.See Douglas v. Delp, 987 S.W.2d 879, 882 (Tex. 1999) ("Without subject matter jurisdiction, courts may not address the merits of a case.").

Standing focuses on the question of who may bring an action. Waco Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Gibson, 22 S.W.3d 849, 851 (Tex. 2000). The United States Supreme Court has explained that "[i]n essence, the question of standing is whether the litigant is entitled to have the court decide the merits of the dispute or of particular issues." Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498 (1975).2 A long-established line of Texas Supreme Court precedent explains and applies the requirement of standing to sue in Texas courts.3 Several United States Supreme Court decisions have also influenced Texas jurisprudence on standing to sue, see, e.g., Tex. Ass'n of Bus., 852 S.W.2d at 444 (deferring to "the more extensive federal jurisprudential experience of the federal courts" on the subject of standing), but such influence is not a matter of federal preemption. Perry, 66 S.W.3d at 249 ("The United States Supreme Court has said that `state courts are not bound to adhere to federal standing requirements'") (quoting ASARCO, Inc. v. Kadish, 490 U.S. 605, 617 (1989) (noting that the constraints of Article III of the U.S. Constitution do not apply to state courts)). Such deference exists by exclusive decree of the Texas Supreme Court. See id. Notwithstanding Texas' respect for the federal courts' "more extensive jurisprudential experience" on the issue of standing, see, e.g., Tex. Ass'n of Bus., 852 S.W.2d at 444, some commentators have described the rules of federal standing as a "recent phenomenon." See, e.g., Cass R. Sunstein, What's Standing After Lujan? Of Citizen Suits, "Injuries," and Article III, 91 MICH. L. REV. 163, 169 (1992).4 Thus, at times, the Texas Supreme Court has declined to apply federal precedent, relying instead on Texas jurisprudence to decide issues of standing. See, e.g., W. Orange-Cove Consol. Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Alanis, 107 S.W.3d 558, 583-84 (Tex. 2003) ("The dissent does not explain why any difference between Texas law and federal law [on standing] is reason enough for us not to follow our own recent precedent."). Accordingly, in evaluating the arguments before us, we review the requirements of standing as explained by the Texas Supreme Court, but we also pay deference to the United States Supreme Court by using its precedent to the extent that the Texas Supreme Court has declared it harmonious with our state's law. See, e.g., Brown v. Todd, 53 S.W.3d 297, 305 (Tex. 2001) (looking "to the similar federal standing requirements for guidance").5

In Texas, standing rests on two constitutional foundations: (1) the open courts provision and (2) the separation of powers clause. See Todd, 53 S.W.3d at 302; Tex. Ass'n of Bus., 852 S.W.2d at 443. Both sections are quoted in the margin.6 The open courts provision directly imposes a requirement of standing by granting the right to sue in Texas courts only to those litigants suffering an injury. Tex. Ass'n of Bus., 852 S.W.2d at 444. The separation of powers doctrine, in contrast, indirectly imposes a standing requirement by prohibiting Texas courts from issuing advisory opinions, which is a proper function of the executive branch. See id.; Patterson v. Planned Parenthood, 971 S.W.2d 439, 442-43 (Tex. 1998) (citing cases). Because an opinion rendered in a case brought by a party without standing would be only advisory, Texas courts interpret the separation of powers doctrine as barring such cases. See Tex. Ass'n of Bus., 852 S.W.2d at 444. As the Texas Supreme Court has explained:

The distinctive feature of an advisory opinion is that it decides an abstract question of law without binding the parties. An opinion issued in a case brought by a party without standing is advisory because rather than remedying an actual or imminent harm, the judgment addresses only a hypothetical injury. Texas courts, like federal courts, have no jurisdiction to render such opinions.

Id. (internal citations omitted).

Consistent with these constitutional underpinnings, standing to sue can be predicated upon either statutory or common-law authority. See, e.g., Williams v. Huff, 52 S.W.3d 171,178-79 (Tex. 2001). These two sources of standing, however, invoke different legal standards. See id. Unsurprisingly, common-law rules apply except where standing is statutorily conferred, in which case, the statute granting such authority and the case law interpreting it serve as the proper framework of analysis. See, e.g., Hunt v. Bass, 664 S.W.2d 323, 324 (Tex. 1984) ("[The] general rule of standing is applied in all cases absent a statutory exception to the contrary."). Examples of cases appear in a footnote below.7 The determination of standing thus requires that we first decide whether any statutory authority exists for the individual claims asserted by the plaintiffs. Cf. Huff, 52 S.W.3d at 178 (noting that the general rule applies unless statutory authority for standing exists); Tex. Dep't of Protective & Regulatory Servs. v. Sherry, 46 S.W.3d 857, 861-62 (Tex. 2001) (deciding a challenge to standing under the provisions of the family code rather than using common-law rules); Bland Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Blue, 34 S.W.3d 547, 555-56 (Tex. 2000) (explaining that a plaintiff's standing is determined by reference to common-law rules where no statute otherwise confers standing).

In this case, the named plaintiffs have alleged numerous causes of action against DaimlerChrysler based on the following theories: negligence, negligent misrepresentation, violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act ("DTPA"),8 breach of express warranty,9 breach of the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose,10 and breach of the implied warranty of merchantability.11 Claims of negligence and negligent misrepresentation sound in the common-law of torts. See Fed. Land Bank Ass'n v. Sloane, 825 S.W.2d 439, 442 (Tex. 1991) (declaring that damages for negligent misrepresentation can be recovered to the extent provided by section 552B of the Restatement (Second) of Torts); Nobility Homes of Tex., Inc. v. Shivers, 557 S.W.2d 77, 78 (Tex. 1977) (declaring that economic loss can be recovered under common law negligence). In contrast, claims based on Uniform Commercial Code ("UCC") warranties and DTPA violations are statutorily codified in the Texas Business and Commerce Code. Accordingly, we apply common-law rules for standing to the named plaintiffs' tort claims but look to the Texas Business and Commerce Code in deciding whether the plaintiffs have standing to bring claims based on DTPA violations and UCC warranties. See, e.g., Brown v. Bank of Galveston, 930 S.W.2d. 140, 143 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 1996) (determining whether plaintiff had...

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