Harrison v. Gen. Motors

Decision Date19 January 2023
Docket Number21-12927
PartiesDANNY HARRISON, et al., Plaintiffs, v. GENERAL MOTORS, LLC, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Michigan


DANNY HARRISON, et al., Plaintiffs,

No. 21-12927

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

January 19, 2023



Danny Harrison, along with 41 other plaintiffs, bought new or pre-owned General Motors vehicles that they believe are defective. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that each of their vehicles (which encompass a variety of GM models and range from model years 2014 to 2021) has a valve-train system that malfunctions in a few ways.

As a result of this defect, Plaintiffs say that they hear noises from the engine, such as a “chirping, squeaking, and/or ticking when the vehicle is not idling.” Eventually, the defect leads to the engine misfiring as valves fail to open and close at the appropriate times. This, say Plaintiffs, causes them to stall, surge, or lose power while driving.

So Plaintiffs sued GM over what they call the Valve-Train Defect. In what is a borderline unwieldy single lawsuit, they bring a host of claims, all on behalf of nationwide or statewide classes, which include fraudulent omission or concealment, unjust enrichment, breach of express warranty, breach of implied warranty, violation


of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, and violations of consumer-protection statutes in 22 states.

GM simultaneously moved to dismiss the complaint and to compel certain plaintiffs to arbitrate their claims. The Court has issued an opinion on the motion to compel arbitration, and as a result, stayed 17 plaintiffs' claims. So it will only consider the claims of the following Plaintiffs in its opinion on the motion to dismiss: Danny Harrison, Melissa Luster, Leon Jordan, Mark Hayford, Ronald and Marilyn Jett, Nataliya and Alexander Purshaga, Daniel Podojil, Jennifer Deery, Christopher Dittman, Michael Scott, Bobby Cheshire, Brian and Tammy Burton, Tony and Robin Reidhar, Paul Mouradjian, Brian Hess, Lisa Saffell, Joseph Attia, Stephanie Speno, and Scott Roller.[1]


The Court provides a broad overview of the factual background of this case here, but given the scope of the case, it will reiterate the relevant facts as to each individual plaintiff in its analysis of their claims.

The 23 plaintiffs who are relevant to this opinion hail from 13 states and have purchased various models of vehicles from GM dealerships from 2014 to 2021. They bring largely the same type of claims, but they do so under the different laws of the states they purchased their car in. They all have one thing in common, however- they all allege that their GM vehicles have a defective valve-train system.


Some background on the valve-train system is helpful. “Every internal combustion engine . . . has a valve train system,” which is “the mechanical system that controls when the intake valves and exhaust valves of the internal combustion chamber open and close.” (ECF No. 27, PageID.2653.) As their names suggest, the intake valves introduce gasoline and air (or just air) into the chamber, and the exhaust valves allow the exhaust to escape. (Id.)

The valve train consists of many smaller parts working together to accomplish the opening and closing of the valves. The figure below helps show how these smaller parts fit together.

(Image Omitted)

(ECF No. 27, PageID.2654.) The rotation of the camshaft opens and closes the valves. (Id. at PageID.2653.) “As a camshaft rotates, its egg-shaped lobes push up on lifters ....The lifters then apply this force to the pushrods, [which are] metal rods that push into the rocker arm, which turns or pivots on its internal bearings, and then opens the valve.” (Id. at PageID.2653-2654.)


There is also a coiled spring, called the valve spring, which closes the valves. (Id. at PageID.2655.)

Plaintiffs say that the engines at issue in this litigation also use either Active Fuel Management (AFM) or Dynamic Fuel Management (DFM). (Id. at PageID.2655.) These management systems “effectively shut off some of the cylinders at certain time[s] during the vehicle's operation in order to save fuel.” (Id.) AFM and DFM are specific to GM vehicles. (Id.) The deactivation of the cylinders is accomplished “by the use of specialized lifters” that lock and unlock so that “the lifter does not transfer the motion of the cam lobe to the pushrod,” which in turn does not move the rocker arm, so the valve remains closed. (Id. at PageID.2656.)

According to Plaintiffs, there are a few issues with how this system operates in their GM vehicles. For one, the lifters collapse “when the lifter is locked or unlocked at the wrong time of the cycle.” (Id. at PageID.2657.) Lifters also become stuck, causing “the roller . . . to freeze into position, creating a furrow on the cam[shaft] lobe and sending pieces of metal circulating through the engine. Collapsed lifters can also cause the pushrods to become bent.” (Id. at PageID.2658.) Plaintiffs also note that while the specialized AFM lifters have some “unique issues, the valve train systems in the Subject Engines are also subject to problems in more traditional valve trains[.]” (Id. at PageID.2661.) These issues include the rocker arms no longer moving in time with the rest of the valve train and the valve springs breaking down and failing prematurely. (Id. at PageID.2661-2662.)


Plaintiffs experience a few different symptoms as a result of the valve train not working. These include “noises, typically chirping, squeaking, and/or ticking” and “[e]ventually, if unremedied, they progress to engine misfire, as the valves fail to open and close at appropriate times.” (Id. at PageID.2662.) Some plaintiffs have also experienced a loss of power while driving, and the vehicle stalling and surging. (Id. at PageID.2663.) But Plaintiffs have not alleged that they were involved in a crash because of the defect or suffered any physical injuries.

As far as GM's culpability, Plaintiffs say GM knew about the Valve-Train Defect and failed to disclose it to consumers when they purchased their vehicles. (ECF No. 27, PageID.2666.) In support of this assertion, Plaintiffs provide numerous bulletins issued by GM to its dealers describing issues with the valve train in various vehicle models and instructing the dealership on how to repair the defect. (Id. at PageID.2670-2706.) They also allege that pre-production testing, complaints to online forums and the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission, and GM's redesign of the valve-train system tend to show that GM knew about the defect. (See, e.g., id. at PageID.2668, 2706-2709, 2711.)

In December 2021, Plaintiffs sued GM over the Valve-Train Defect. (ECF No. 1.) After GM moved to dismiss and to compel certain plaintiffs to arbitrate their claims, Plaintiffs amended their complaint, bringing 71 claims in total, both individually and on behalf of either national or state-specific classes. (ECF No. 27.) GM responded as it did before, and the parties engaged in a lengthy round of briefing


for both the motion to dismiss and the motion to compel arbitration. The motion to dismiss is now before the Court.

Given the extensive briefing, the Court considers the motion to dismiss without further argument. See E.D. Mich. LR 7.1(f).


In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court “construes the complaint in the light most favorable” to Plaintiffs and determines whether their “complaint ‘contain[s] sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” See Heinrich v. Waiting Angels Adoption Servs., Inc., 668 F.3d 393, 403 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). Detailed factual allegations are not required to survive a motion to dismiss, HDC, LLC v. City of Ann Arbor, 675 F.3d 608, 614 (6th Cir. 2012), but they must “raise a right to relief above the speculative level,” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). What is plausible is “a context-specific task” requiring this Court “to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.


A. Standing

The Court begins with GM's argument on Plaintiffs' standing for their nationwide class allegations. See Langfan v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 529 Fed.Appx. 460, 462 (6th Cir. 2013).

There is no federal law of torts or contract. When a plaintiff, like Plaintiffs here, brings a tort claim on behalf of a nationwide class, in reality she does so on


behalf of 50 classes alleging the same type of claim under the relevant laws of each state.

GM argues that Plaintiffs lack standing to bring claims under state laws that do not apply to them. For example, Harrison, who is from Alabama, does not have standing to bring an unjust-enrichment claim on behalf of consumers in Indiana. Yet, Harrison does exactly that when he brings a nationwide class claim for unjust enrichment, which results in him bringing claims under Indiana (and every other state's) law. Applying that to Plaintiffs' claims as a whole, GM argues that they do not have standing to pursue nationwide class claims because they do not reside in every state. Each plaintiff only has standing to bring claims under the laws of the state in which she is from.

Courts have not uniformly addressed this issue. Some courts have deferred this question to the class-certification stage, finding that the issue is best suited to the commonality or typicality analysis under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. See Johnson v. FCA U.S. LLC, 555 F.Supp.3d 488, 499 (E.D. Mich. 2021); Gamboa v. Ford Motor Co., 381 F.Supp.3d 853, 884 (E.D. Mich. 2019).

This Court has previously declined to follow this line of cases. See Withrow v. FCA U.S. LLC, No. 19-13214, 2021 WL 2529847, at *6-9 (E.D. Mich. June 21, 2021). There, the Court provided three main reasons why it would not defer this question to class...

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