Sixth Circuit Affirms District Court Order Granting Motion to Certify Class Action Against Car Manufacturer
On August 18, 2006, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a federal district court order certifying a nationwide class action against Ford Motor Company, arising out of an allegedly defective throttle body assembly in Mercury Villager minivans causing the accelerator to stick. Daffin v. Ford Motor Co., 458 F.3d 549 (6th Cir. August 18, 2006). Plaintiff filed suit in state court on her own behalf because the accelerator in her 1999 Villager would get stuck even after Ford repairs to the throttle body assembly. Ford removed the action to federal court, and plaintiff’s lawyer sought certification of a nationwide class action, apparently under Rule 23(b)(2). The district court instead certified a statewide class under Rule 23(b)(3), because the class action complaint sought monetary rather than injunctive relief. Id., at 551-52. Defense attorneys filed an interlocutory appeal of the class certification order under FRCP Rule 23(f). The Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in certifying the class and rejecting defense arguments that “this is a case of ‘certify now, worry later.’” Id., at 552.
Defense attorneys argued that because it provided a “repair or replace” warranty to car purchasers, certain class members may never suffer the damage alleged in the complaint. The Sixth Circuit summarized Ford’s argument as follows: “because the class as a whole cannot recover, the district court abused its discretion by certifying a statewide express warranty class.” Id., at 552. Plaintiff countered that Ford was seeking a ruling “on the merits” and that ultimate success is not a proper basis for denying class certification. Id. The Sixth Circuit concluded that “[plaintiff] has the better of the arguments at this stage of the litigation.” Id.
The Circuit Court analyzed numerosity, commonality and typicality, as well as whether plaintiff would be an adequate class representative. Id., at 552-53. Importantly, the Court concluded, “[Plaintiff’s] claim is typical despite the fact that [she] has experienced sticking and other class members have not, as long as [she] has a viable claim regardless of defect manifestation.” Id., at 553-54. The Court rejected, therefore, Ford’s argument that only owners who have experienced accelerator sticking and unsuccessfully sought to have it repaired could be class members because only they could “prove” a breach of the express warranty claim. Id., at 554.
Finally, the Sixth Circuit analyzed certification under Rule 23(b)(3), and concluded that the district court did not err in certifying the class. Id., at 554.
NOTE: The Sixth Circuit noted that its decision was limited to class certification as to the express warranty provision, but that the briefs of the parties reflected disagreement as to whether the district court order permits other claims to be litigated by the class. The Circuit Court therefore recommended that the district court clarify its order. Id., at 554.