A New Jersey federal judge has certified six statewide classes of car buyers in a lawsuit against Volvo Cars of North America. The automaker is accused of selling vehicles with defective sunroof drainage systems. But the judge declined to certify a nationwide class under a New Jersey statute, explaining that the state law couldn’t be applied nationally. U.S. District Judge Dennis M. Cavanaugh granted the Plaintiffs’ motion for certification of six proposed state subclasses, ruling that the Plaintiffs’ class definitions were proper. When certifying the six subclasses, Judge Cavanaugh said in his order:
While plaintiffs’ proposed nationwide class cannot be certified, for the reasons that follow, the court finds that plaintiffs’ proposed state subclasses should be certified at this time and that the law of the state of each subclass should be applied to the subclass’ claims.
The suit was filed by a group of consumers who allege that Volvo knowingly sold vehicles with defective sunroof drains from 2000 to the present, including the S40, S60, S70, S80, V50, V70 and XC90 models. The plaintiffs contend that the defect impacted hundreds of thousands of Volvo customers. It was alleged that the sunroof drain systems easily clog with debris, allowing water to leak into the vehicles’ interior, causing extensive damage. It’s further alleged that Volvo technicians who handled the Plaintiffs’ repairs told them it was a common issue.
The class action accuses Volvo of long-standing knowledge of the alleged design defect and alleges that the carmaker issued several technical service bulletins to address the problems. According to the complaint, the defect manifests shortly after the limited warranty expires. The plaintiffs sought certification of either a nationwide class of all persons or entities in the U.S. who are current or former owners or lessees of a class vehicle, or of six statewide classes consisting of all persons or entities in California, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey who are current or former owners or lessees of a class vehicle.
Volvo challenged the certification bids, contending that the definitions for both the nationwide and statewide classes were too broad because they contain plaintiffs who didn’t notice a defect and that New Jersey law can’t be applied nationally. But Judge Cavanaugh disagreed and denied Volvo’s challenge, saying:
As plaintiffs properly argue, a class need not be limited to consumers who have actually experienced the defect where the product at issue suffers from a uniform design defect.
The judge went a step further, finding that the plaintiffs’ class definitions were adequate because they include former owners. Judge Cavanaugh said in his order:
A reading of the amended complaint reveals that plaintiffs seek relief due to the fact that they would not have purchased the class vehicles or would have paid less for them, and the ‘substantial loss in value and resale value of the vehicles, and other related damage. These injuries apply to both current and former vehicle owners.
In explaining the rationale for his rejection of the bid for nationwide certification under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, because the law couldn’t be applied nationally, Judge Cavanaugh stated in his order:
Plaintiffs’ proposed nationwide class here ignores the state in which the transaction occurred, the state where the purchasers of the vehicles live, and the interests of the states in which the transactions took place.
In granting statewide certification, Judge Cavanaugh denied Volvo’s motion for summary judgment, holding that triable issues of fact exist, such as whether the design of the sunroofs’ drainage systems were defective and whether Volvo knew they were defective but declined to tell consumers, among other things. The Plaintiffs are represented by the law firms of Chimicles & Tikellis in Haverford, Penn., and Mazie Slater Katz & Freeman in Roseland, N.J. The case is Neale v. Volvo Cars of North America LLC, which is in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.