Simmons v. Ford Motor Co.

Decision Date21 March 2022
Docket Number18-CV-81558-RAR
CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
PartiesCLARENCE SIMMONS, et al., Plaintiffs, v. FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Defendant.

CLARENCE SIMMONS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Defendant.

No. 18-CV-81558-RAR

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

March 21, 2022


ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR CLASS CERTIFICATION

RODOLFO A. RUIZ II UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This is a class action suit brought by Plaintiffs on behalf of themselves and similarly situated members of four proposed multi-state classes against Defendant Ford Motor Company alleging design defects, unfair or deceptive warranty, and unjust enrichment related to the purchase of Ford Mustang-, Expedition-, and Explorer-branded vehicles. See Second Am. Class Action Compl. [ECF No. 70] (“Compl.”) at 1-2. The alleged defect causes “the Class Vehicles' aluminum panels to corrode and the exterior paint on the aluminum body parts to bubble, flake, peel, rust and/or blister.” Id. at 2. The unfair or deceptive warranty and unjust enrichment claims stem from Ford's alleged actions concerning this defect, specifically Ford's treatment of claims under their New Vehicle Limited Warranty (“NVLW”)-including Ford's purported failure to repair the vehicles when the defect manifested, and Ford's inclusion of extended warranty provisions that limited claims to perforation of body panels as opposed to simple corrosion. Id. at 2.

Plaintiffs propose four classes: (i) an unfair or deceptive design defect class brought under New York, California, and Florida law; (ii) an unfair or deceptive warranty class related to the perforation requirement of the warranty brought under New York, California, and Florida law; (iii)

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an unfair or deceptive warranty class related to the ineffective repair of Class Vehicles brought under New York, California, and Florida law; and (iv) an unjust enrichment class brought under California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania law.

This action is now before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification [ECF No. 150] (“Motion”).[1] In addition to arguments regarding standing, class action waiver, and personal jurisdiction, the parties disagree as to whether Plaintiffs meet the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. Ford argues that this action is not suited for class certification because individual issues permeate all of Plaintiffs' claims due to factual and legal issues predominating over common questions; variations in state laws; Plaintiffs' lack of an appropriate class-wide measure of damages for all classes; and because a class action would not be a superior method of adjudicating the claims at issue. Plaintiffs, however, assure the Court that this action satisfies the requirements of Rule 23 and posit that Ford's arguments are based on mischaracterizations of Plaintiffs' theory of liability.

After careful review of the record, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have failed to meet their burden. These claims are not suited for class certification due to issues with standing, as well as predominance and superiority under Rule 23(b)(3). Accordingly, it is hereby

ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification [ECF No. 150] is DENIED as set forth herein.

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BACKGROUND

The parties are well-versed in the facts of this case. Below, the Court gives only a brief recitation of the factual and procedural background relevant to the instant Motion.

I. Factual Background

A. Defendant

Ford “is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business at One American Road in Dearborn, Michigan.” Compl. ¶ 55. “Ford and/or its agents (itself and through its related business entities) designed, manufactured, marketed, sold, serviced, distributed, and warranted” Ford Mustang-, Ford Expedition-, and Ford Explorer-branded vehicles, model years 2013-2018. Id. ¶¶ 2, 55.

B. Plaintiffs

The named Plaintiffs are purchasers of alleged Class Vehicles. The Court has summarized the relevant characteristics of the named Plaintiffs in the following chart:[2]

Plaintiff #

Plaintiff Name

Model Purchased

Model Year Purchased

State of Purchase

1

Clarence Simmons

Mustang

2018

GA

2

Franklin Navas

Explorer

2016

CA

3

Jorge Arroyave

Explorer

2017

FL

4

Joseph Dabbs

Explorer

2013

FL

5

Jenniffer Dewitt

Mustang

2016

FL

6

Anne Erdman

Mustang

2014

FL

7

Mark James

Expedition

2014

FL

8

Shane Jackson

Mustang

2017

GA

9

Mike Tierney

Explorer

2013

IN

3

10

Mark Van Bus Kirk

Explorer

2013

IL

11

Lynne Minish

Mustang

2014

MI

12

John Buczynski

Explorer

2015

NJ

13

Ilja Lopatik

Mustang

2015

NJ

14

Brian Yaborough

Mustang

2013

NY

15

William MacSaveny

Mustang

2013

PA

16

Ryan Marshall

Explorer

2015

PA

17

Allyson Rogers

Explorer

2013

PA

18

Peter Tulenko

Mustang

2015

TX

19

Greg Lichtenberg

Mustang

2018

SC

Compl. ¶¶ 19-54. Although Plaintiffs describe themselves summarily as “owners and lessees of Ford Mustang-, Ford Expedition-, and Ford Explorer-branded vehicles, model years 2013-2018, ” id. ¶ 1, the above chart illustrates that said characterization is not so simple. The named Plaintiffs are purchasers or lessees of 2013-2018 Mustangs; 2013, 2015, and 2016-2017 Explorers; and a single Plaintiff who leased, and eventually purchased, a 2014 Expedition. Id. ¶¶ 19-54.

In their Motion, Plaintiffs request that ten of the nineteen named Plaintiffs be named class representatives: Navas, Arroyave, Dabbs, Dewitt, Erdmann, and Yarborough as representatives of the Unfair or Deceptive Design Defect Classes and each of the Unfair or Deceptive Warranty Classes; and Navas, Arroyave, Dabbs, Dewitt, Erdmann, Yarbough, Van Bus Kirk, Tierney, Lopatik, and Marshall as representatives of the Unjust Enrichment Class. These ten proposed class representatives allege that the design defect “manifested] itself [at some point in] time, ” id. at 2, as evidenced by the fact that “each Plaintiff noticed that the paint on the hood bubbled, peeled, or flaked.” Mot. at 3. However, Plaintiffs Arroyave, Lopatik, and Marshall later withdrew their request to be appointed as representatives for any of the proposed classes in this action. [ECF No. 105].

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C. The Class Vehicles

In their Motion, Plaintiffs define the Class Vehicles as model year 2013-2016 Ford Mustangs, model year 2013-2017 Ford Expeditions, and model year 2013-2018 Ford Explorers, Mot. at 2, while Ford describes Plaintiffs' class as “limited to owners of 2013-2016 Mustangs, 2013-2017 Expeditions, and 2013-2018 Explorers, 15 different configurations of models and model years.” Resp. at 2. As discussed below, the factual record indicates that manufacturing differences existed from model to model; model year to model year; and, in some instances, among various production runs within the same model years.

D. The Alleged Defect

Plaintiffs allege that all Class Vehicles' hoods feature a hem which is, as described by Ford, “a fold-over to finish an article.” Dep. Tr. of Kathy Minnich (“Minnich Dep.”) at 36:21. More precisely, “[a] hem is a type of joining method that is applied to the perimeter of automotive closures, including hoods.” Expert Report of Erik Anderson (“Anderson Report”) at 6. The Class Vehicles, Plaintiffs claim, have a “closed” hem along the leading edge of the hood. Id. In this closed-hem design, “the outer panel is designed to . . . touch the inner panel at the trim end of the outer panel.” Dep. Tr. of Mark Nichols (“Nichols Dep.”) at 262:6-10; see also Anderson Report at 6 (“A closed hem design means that, by design, the outer panel is wrapped around the inner panel, with parallel surfaces in contact or near contact with the inner panel, including at the trim end of the outer panel.”). Strategies used to protect against corrosion include “sealing” strategies and “drainage” strategies. Anderson Report 8. In a sealing strategy, “exposure to corrosion-enabling fluid is prevented at susceptible initiation locations.” Id. In a drainage strategy, “corrosion inducing fluids may flow or evaporate away from susceptible initiation locations, to avoid fluid stagnation.” Id. Plaintiffs claim that “because Ford's design does not call for full

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sealing wherever the hem is closed, the design is therefore inadequate to prevent premature corrosion.” Id. at 8-11.

The “design strategy for the leading edges of the Mustang and Explorer hoods (included in the Class Vehicles) was to seal the hem against moisture exposure and stagnation in an attempt to prevent corrosion initiation at the trim edge.” Id. at 9. But Plaintiffs claim that “[o]n the Mustang and Explorer hoods, Ford only applied over-hem sealer to the leading edge of the hoods, not the full perimeter.” Id. “Because there is no drain path from the leading edge hem, when water or condensate enters from other unsealed portions of the hood hem and drains downwards to the front hem section, it becomes entrapped under the over-hem sealer at the leading edge.” Id. Plaintiffs maintain that Ford's design is defective because “the hem on the leading edge of the hoods of the Class Vehicles could not be kept dry without a full-perimeter over-hem sealer.” Id. Finally, “[o]n the subject Expedition vehicles, Ford chose to apply no over-hem sealer at all. While sides of the Expedition hoods feature...

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