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In re Ford Motor Company Ignition Switch Products Liability Litigation

August 27, 1998


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, District Judge.

MDL No. 1112


The Ford ignition switch litigation involves two groups of putative class action suits and one group of insurance subrogation cases, all of which allege that defendant United Technologies Automotive, Inc. ("UTA") manufactured defective motor vehicle ignition switches that have a propensity to spontaneously catch fire, and that defendant Ford Motor Company ("Ford") manufactured and distributed automobiles, light trucks, and utility vehicles of various models from 1985 to 1992 containing those defective ignition switches.

Presently before the court in this litigation are the following motions: (1) the motion by the consolidated MDL consumer plaintiffs (the "Veideman Plaintiffs") for a judgment of lack of jurisdiction, and for vacatur of this court's rulings granting in part various motions to dismiss and denying class certification *fn1 ; and (2) the motion by the Pierce group of MDL plaintiffs to remand the Pierce complaint to state court. For the reasons stated below, the consolidated MDL ("Veideman") plaintiffs' motion for judgment of lack of subject matter jurisdiction shall be denied without prejudice, while their motion to vacate this court's prior rulings shall be denied with prejudice, and the Pierce MDL plaintiffs' motion to remand shall be granted.


A. General Background

For purposes of clarity, the court will provide a brief summary of the three types of cases currently pending in the Ford Ignition Switch Products Liability Litigation, MDL No. 1112.

The first group of plaintiffs in this litigation, called the "Snodgrass Plaintiffs" (formerly called the "Wilks plaintiffs"), *fn2 seek to represent a nationwide class of people whose vehicles have caught fire as a result of the defective ignition. The Snodgrass cases did not come to this court via MDL transfer, but rather were originally filed in this court. The motions addressed in this Opinion do not relate to the Snodgrass cases.

The second type of plaintiff, the "MDL Insurance plaintiffs" are insurance companies who seek to recover the costs of compensating insureds who owned Fords that allegedly suffered ignition switch fires. To date two such cases, one by State Farm Insurance Company and the other by California State Automobile Inter-Insurance, have been transferred to this court by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ("MDL Panel"), pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407.

The third group of plaintiffs, the MDL consumer plaintiffs, are, in general, plaintiffs who seek to represent the owners of Fords in which there has not been a fire, such that the only alleged damages are the need to replace an allegedly defective $75 ignition switch. *fn3 This court started out with one such case, the Veideman case, which had been filed in New Jersey Superior Court and was removed to this court by the defendants. The MDL Panel subsequently transferred to this court all Ford/UTA consumer ignition switch cases which had been filed in or removed to federal courts across the country, and this court now has a total of thirteen such cases before it. *fn4

Upon transfer to this court, several of the MDL consumer plaintiffs (specifically, plaintiffs Veideman, Atkins, Saxe, and Davis) joined together to file a consolidated class action complaint, which was filed on July 19, 1996. *fn5 That case shall be called the "Viedeman case." *fn6 Other MDL consumer plaintiffs, including the plaintiffs in the Pierce case, 96-cv-4912, chose not to join the consolidated case.

In their initial consolidated complaint, the Veideman plaintiffs alleged the following causes of action: (1) violation of state consumer fraud statutes; (2) strict products liability; (3) breach of contract and express warranty; (4) fraudulent concealment; and (5) breach of implied warranty of merchantability. Subsequently, these plaintiffs filed a first amended consolidated complaint, which asserted that this court has federal question jurisdiction arising under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 by virtue of plaintiffs' claims under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2301, et seq.

Several dispositive motions have been decided in that case by this court. This court denied without prejudice the motions for class certification that had been filed in the Veideman case and in the Wilks (now "Snodgrass") case. In re Ford Motor Co. Ignition Switch Products Liability Litigation, 174 F.R.D. 332 (D.N.J. 1997). Defendants also filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint in the Veideman case, which was granted in part and denied in part on September 30, 1997. In re Ford Motor Co. Ignition Switch Products Liability Litigation, MDL No. 1112, Master Civil Action No. 96-3125 (JBS) (Opinion filed Sept. 30, 1997). That motion dismissed claims of representatives on behalf of a putative subclass of approximately eight million vehicle owners whose cars and light trucks had been recalled by Ford in April of 1996 for replacement of the ignition switch, but who had experienced no damage or loss. Of the 119 named plaintiffs in the consolidated complaint, the claims of 44 were dismissed on this ground. (Opinion filed Sept. 30, 1997 at 18-21.) In the course of deciding the motion to dismiss the consolidated amended complaint, the court dismissed the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act claim because the remaining named plaintiffs were of insufficient number to meet that Act's pleading requirements. The MDL plaintiffs assert that the dismissal of the federal claims under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act deprives this court of federal question jurisdiction and requires transfer of the constituent MDL cases to their districts of origin and remand to the state courts of those cases originating in the state courts.

This Opinion addresses two motions filed by plaintiffs in the Veideman case -- specifically, the motion for a judgment of lack of jurisdiction and the motion for vacatur -- as well as a renewed motion filed by the ...

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