Simmons v. Ford Motor Company

Citation592 F.Supp.3d 1262
Decision Date21 March 2022
Docket NumberCASE NO. 18-CV-81558-RAR
Parties Clarence SIMMONS, et al., Plaintiffs, v. FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Florida

Brian W. Toth, Toth Funes PA, Miami, FL, Christopher Scott Sundby, Adam Michael Schachter, Gelber Schachter, Greenberg, P.A., Miami, FL, Alexander Charles Cohen, Eric Scott Dwoskin, Mark Jeffrey Dearman, Ricardo J. Marenco, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, Boca Raton, FL, Caroline F. Bartlett, Pro Hac Vice, James E. Cecchi, Pro Hac Vice, Lindsey Handley Taylor, Carella, Byrne, Cecchi, Olstein, Brody & Agnello, P.C., Roseland, NJ, Daniel Girvan Williams, Steven G. Calamusa, Gordon and Doner PA, Palm Beach Gardens, FL, Rachel Ann Bentley, Robert E. Gordon, Gordon & Partners, PA, Palm Beach Gardens, FL, for Plaintiffs Clarence Simmons, Jorge Arroyave, Joseph Dabbs, Jennifer Dewitt, Anne Erdman, Mark James, Shane Jackson, Mike Tierney, Mark Van Bus Kirk, John Buczynski, Ilja Lopatik, Brian Yarborough, William Macseveny, Ryan Marshall, Allyson Rogers, Peter Tulenko, Greg Lichtenberg.

Brian W. Toth, Toth Funes PA, Miami, FL, Christopher Scott Sundby, Adam Michael Schachter, Gelber Schachter, Greenberg, P.A., Miami, FL, Caroline F. Bartlett, Pro Hac Vice, James E. Cecchi, Pro Hac Vice, Lindsey Handley Taylor, Carella, Byrne, Cecchi, Olstein, Brody & Agnello, P.C., Roseland, NJ, Daniel Girvan Williams, Steven G. Calamusa, Gordon and Doner PA, Palm Beach Gardens, FL, Rachel Ann Bentley, Robert E. Gordon, Gordon & Partners, PA, Palm Beach Gardens, FL, Eric Scott Dwoskin, Mark Jeffrey Dearman, Ricardo J. Marenco, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, Boca Raton, FL, for Plaintiff Brandon Munguia.

Brian W. Toth, Toth Funes PA, Miami, FL, Christopher Scott Sundby, Adam Michael Schachter, Gelber Schachter, Greenberg, P.A., Miami, FL, Mark Jeffrey Dearman, Alexander Charles Cohen, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, Boca Raton, FL, Caroline F. Bartlett, Pro Hac Vice, James E. Cecchi, Pro Hac Vice, Lindsey Handley Taylor, Carella, Byrne, Cecchi, Olstein, Brody & Agnello, P.C., Roseland, NJ, Rachel Ann Bentley, Gordon & Partners, Palm Beach Gardens, FL, for Plaintiff Lynne Minish.

Mark Jeffrey Dearman, Alexander Charles Cohen, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, Boca Raton, FL, Adam Michael Schachter, Christopher Scott Sundby, Gelber Schachter, Greenberg, P.A., Miami, FL, Brian W. Toth, Toth Funes PA, Miami, FL, Lindsey Handley Taylor, Carella Byrne Cecchi Olstein Brody and Agnello, Roseland, NJ, Rachel Ann Bentley, Gordon & Partners, Palm Beach Gardens, FL, for Plaintiff Franklin Navas.

Christine L. Welstead, Bowman and Brooke LLP, Miami, FL, Wendy Frank Lumish, Bowman and Brooke LLP, Coral Gables, FL, Eric C. Tew, Dykema Gossett, PLLC, Washington, DC, Fred J. Fresard, Pro Hac Vice, Ian K. Edwards, Pro Hac Vice, Dykema Gossett PLLC, Bloomfield Hills, MI, John M. Thomas, Pro Hac Vice, Krista L. Lenart, Pro Hac Vice, Dykema Gossett, PLLC, Ann Arbor, MI, for Defendant.

ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFFSMOTION 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) 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 PlaintiffsMotion 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 PlaintiffsMotion for Class Certification [ECF No. 150] is DENIED as set forth herein.

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
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 Yarborough 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 "manifest[ed] 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].

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...

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