Tappana v. Am. Honda Motor Co.

Decision Date05 July 2022
Docket NumberCV 21-9046 DSF (PLAx)
Citation609 F.Supp.3d 1078
Parties Mary TAPPANA et al., Plaintiffs, v. AMERICAN HONDA MOTOR CO., INC., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Central District of California

Adam E. Polk, Jordan Elias, Mikaela M. Bock, Simon S. Grille, Girard Sharp LLP, San Francisco, CA, Benjamin F. Johns, Pro Hac Vice, Chimicles Schwartz Kriner and Donaldson-Smith LLP, Haverford, PA, David Ali Tashroudian, Tashroudian Law Group APC, Studio City, CA, Geoffrey S. Stahl, Pro Hac Vice, Gordon and Partners, PA, Palm Beach Gardens, FL, Steven G. Calamusa, Pro Hac Vice, Gordon and Doner PA, Palm Beach Gardens, FL, Joseph B. Kenney, Pro Hac Vice, Matthew D. Schelkopf, Pro Hac Vice, Sauder Schelkopf LLC, Berwyn, PA, for Plaintiffs Mary Tappana, Darryl Roberts, Dustin Fulcomer.

Mikaela M. Bock, Simon S. Grille, Adam E. Polk, Girard Sharp LLP, San Francisco, CA, for Plaintiffs Mark Cabrera, Andrew Coleman, Holly Prouty, Alischa Wilson.

Amir M. Nassihi, Shook Hardy and Bacon LLP, San Francisco, CA, for Defendant.

Order DENYING Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 39)

Dale S. Fischer, United States District Judge Defendant American Honda Motor Co., Inc. moves to dismiss claims asserted by Plaintiffs and putative class members Mary Tappana, Mark Cabrera, Jeffery Edelheit, Dustin Fulcomer, Holly Prouty, Darryl Roberts, Alischa Wilson, and Andrew Coleman. Dkt. 39-1 (Mot.). Plaintiffs oppose. Dkt. 43 (Opp'n). The Court deems this matter appropriate for decision without oral argument. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78 ; Local Rule 7-15. Honda's motion is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

Honda is headquartered in Torrance, California and distributes, markets, services, repairs, and sells Honda and Acura vehicles, including the ones purchased by Plaintiffs. Dkt. 32 (FAC) ¶ 64. Plaintiffs are individuals who purchased or leased new Honda and Acura vehicles from authorized Honda and Acura dealers, and whose sunroofs allegedly "spontaneously exploded." Tappana resides in Missouri. Id. ¶ 7. Cabrera and Coleman reside in Illinois. Id. ¶¶ 14, 56. Edelheit, Prouty, and Wilson reside in California. Id. ¶¶ 21, 35, 49. Fulcomer resides in Florida, id. ¶ 28, and Roberts resides in Washington, id. ¶ 42.

Plaintiffs allege that 2015-2022 Honda and Acura vehicles (the Class Vehicles) include sunroofs, which are pieces of glass embedded in the roof of motor vehicles. Id. ¶ 67. The Class Vehicles’ sunroofs are made of tempered glass, which is "generally made by shaping and cutting a piece of annealed glass that is then heated and rapidly cooled." Id. ¶¶ 68-69. "This tempering process creates an outer layer of compression that is shrink-wrapped around the middle of the glass, which is constantly pressing outwards," and "[i]f the outer layer is compromised then the entire piece of glass explosively shatters" and "can explode suddenly, causing thousands of pieces of glass to rain down at once onto the driver and occupants of the vehicle, as well as those nearby." Id. ¶¶ 69-70. The tempered glass used by Honda in the Class Vehicles includes sodium carbonate and calcium oxide, known as "soda-lime glass," which is a lighter-weight glass that reduces the weight of the vehicles and can increase fuel efficiency. Id. ¶ 74. Plaintiffs allege the manufacturing process of soda-lime glass is "substandard, dangerous, and inadequate" and that an "insufficient manufacturing process results in sunroofs with significant calcium inclusions, which creates a heightened risk of spontaneous breakage." Id. ¶ 76. Plaintiffs further allege that "[i]n the Class Vehicles, Defendants failed to utilize an appropriate manufacturing process of the sunroof panels, thereby causing significant calcium inclusions to be contained within the Sunroofs" (the Defect). Id. ¶ 77.

Plaintiffs bring claims as a putative class action for breach of the implied warranty of merchantability under the law of several states; breach of express warranty; breach of implied warranty under the Song-Beverly Act; violation of the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA); California Unfair Competition Law; Missouri Merchandising Practices Act; Washington Consumer Protection Act (WCPA); Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act; Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act; fraudulent concealment; and unjust enrichment. Id. ¶¶ 126-263.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Rule 12(b)(6) allows an attack on the pleadings for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. "[W]hen ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007) (per curiam). However, a court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) ). "Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s] devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.’ " Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ). A complaint must "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955. This means that the complaint must plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937. There must be "sufficient allegations of underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively ... and factual allegations that are taken as true must plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief, such that it is not unfair to require the opposing party to be subjected to the expense of discovery and continued litigation." Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011).

Ruling on a motion to dismiss will be "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense. But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged – but it has not ‘show[n]‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.’ " Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (alteration in original) (citation omitted) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) ).

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b), fraud claims must be pleaded with particularity. Kearns v. Ford Motor Co., 567 F.3d 1120, 1126 (9th Cir. 2009). "[A] plaintiff must set forth more than the neutral facts necessary to identify the transaction." In re GlenFed, Inc. Sec. Litig., 42 F.3d 1541, 1548 (9th Cir. 1994). Fraud allegations must "be specific enough to give defendants notice of the particular misconduct so that they can defend against the charge and not just deny that they have done anything wrong." Vess v. Ciba-Geigy Corp. USA, 317 F.3d 1097, 1106 (9th Cir. 2003).

III. DISCUSSION
A. Plaintiffs Plausibly Pleaded the Defect

All of Plaintiffs’ claims are based on the presence of an alleged defect. Honda argues Plaintiffs’ claims should be dismissed because they failed to identify the alleged defect. Mot. at 8.

To survive a motion to dismiss, Plaintiffs must describe the alleged defect in sufficient detail. In Wilson v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 668 F.3d 1136, 1143 (9th Cir. 2012), a consumer class action brought against HP for allegedly concealing a design defect in its laptop computers, the circuit held the district court "did not err in requiring Plaintiffs to allege that the design defect caused an unreasonable safety hazard" and noted the plaintiffs "describe[d] the design defect in some detail."

Plaintiffs allege that the Defect is caused by Honda's use of tempered glass in the sunroofs of the Class Vehicles, which is "generally made by shaping and cutting a piece of annealed glass that is then heated and rapidly cooled." FAC ¶ 69. "This tempering process creates an outer layer of compression that is shrink-wrapped around the middle of the glass, which is constantly pressing outwards. If the outer layer is compromised then the entire piece of glass explosively shatters" and can "explode suddenly, causing thousands of pieces of glass to rain down at once onto the driver and occupants of the vehicle, as well as those nearby." Id. ¶¶ 69-70. Plaintiffs allege that the tempered glass used by Honda in the Class Vehicles includes sodium carbonate and calcium oxide, known as "soda-lime glass," which is a lighter-weight glass that reduces the weight of the vehicles and can increase fuel efficiency. Id. ¶ 74. They allege the manufacturing process of soda-lime glass is "substandard, dangerous, and inadequate" and that an "insufficient manufacturing process results in sunroofs with significant calcium inclusions, which creates a heightened risk of spontaneous breakage." Id. ¶ 76. Plaintiffs contrast Honda's use of tempered glass to some other automakers’ use of laminated glass for sunroofs, which "can reduce the risk of sudden explosions." Id. ¶ 71.

Honda also argues Plaintiffs failed to identify whether the Defect is one in manufacturing or design and that "Plaintiffs are only speculating as to what the defect might be" and therefore cannot "describe it consistently, much less with particularity." Mot. at 10. However, the Court finds Plaintiffs’ allegations are sufficiently specific as to the nature of the alleged defect, and Plaintiffs may seek the specific mechanical details of the defect during discovery. See Cholakyan v. Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC, 796 F. Supp. 2d 1220, 1237 n.60 (C.D. Cal. 2011) ("Plaintiff is not required to plead the mechanical details of an alleged defect in order to state a claim."). In Johnson v. Nissan N. Am., Inc., another case involving exploding sunroofs, the district court explained that the defendant vehicle manufacturer "could not have intended for the panoramic sunroofs to explode" and "[t]he numerous examples of exploding sunroofs in the First Amended...

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