On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, BER-L-9642-00.
Before Judges Carchman, Wecker and Weissbard.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Weissbard, J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Plaintiffs, Brian Flaherty, Barbara Flaherty (the Flahertys) and Yuet Lan Lam (Lam) appeal from an order of summary judgment dismissing their complaint against defendant, Mercedes-Benz U.S.A., LLC, formerly known as Mercedes-Benz U.S.A., Inc. (Mercedes). We reverse.
The original plaintiff in the underlying suit was Kenneth Thiedemann who filed a three count complaint, on his own behalf and on behalf of others similarly situated, asserting: (1) violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, N.J.S.A. 56:8-1 to -20 (CFA); (2) breach of the implied warranty of merchantability set forth at N.J.S.A. 12A:2-314; and (3) violation of 15 U.S.C.A. § 2310(d) of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty-Federal Trade Commission Improvement Act, 15 U.S.C.A. §§ 2301-2312. Defendant denied the key allegations of the complaint and asserted forty-three affirmative defenses. Subsequently, Thiedemann's claims were voluntarily dismissed; Lam and the Flahertys became the new proposed class representatives and also pursued individual claims.
Plaintiffs filed a motion for class certification and a motion to amend the complaint to slightly change the class definition. Defendant filed two motions (one addressing the Flahertys' claims, and one addressing Lam's claims), seeking summary judgment dismissing the complaint.
After hearing oral argument on September 12, 2002, Judge Harris issued a written decision on December 31, 2002, granting summary judgment in favor of defendant dismissing plaintiffs' claims with prejudice, and denying as moot plaintiffs' motions to amend the complaint and for class certification.
Defendant, an agent of Daimler Chrysler AG, with corporate headquarters located in Montville, oversees sales, service, and marketing of Mercedes-Benz vehicles in the United States. It employs numerous workers at various locations throughout the country, and advises and monitors independently owned dealerships that conduct the selling and leasing activities.
In their complaint, plaintiffs described the problem with defendant's vehicles, which they called the"fuel sending unit defect," as"a serious and hazardous latent defect in that the fuel sending unit will, without warning, incipiently and/or prematurely fail, such that the amount of gasoline in the fuel tank will not properly be reflected on the dashboard fuel gauge." This problem results in the sudden, unexpected, and dangerous depletion of fuel causing an operational failure of the vehicle while in use. Plaintiffs asserted in their complaint that a series of Mercedes-Benz models from 1998 to 2000 had fuel-sending unit defects.
Brian and Barbara Flaherty:
The Flahertys are residents of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1999, they purchased a 1999 Mercedes-Benz C-280 in Bayside, New York, from Helms Brothers Mercedes. After experiencing problems with erratic fuel gauge readings that contributed to twice running out of gasoline, in 2000, the Flahertys brought a lawsuit in Pennsylvania under the Pennsylvania Lemon Law. In June 2000, the Flahertys settled the Lemon Law suit and released all claims regarding their 1999 Mercedes-Benz C-280 in a"key for-key" exchange, where they continued to pay their loan on the 1999 car, but received a new replacement 2000 C-280. Upon settling the Pennsylvania case, it became clear that they had not had any out-of-pocket expenses. They did not pay to get the 1999 model repaired, and had received a free loaner car.
The Flahertys obtained their 2000 Mercedes-Benz C-280 in Delaware. After some problems with the fuel-sending unit, they traded it for a 2000 Mercedes-Benz E-320 in September 2000, paying only the difference between the new cost of the models (approximately $11,100) despite having driven the 2000 C-280 7500 miles. All repairs to the 2000 C-280 ...