Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Smith v. Freightliner

November 13, 2006

FRANCIS R. SMITH AND PATRICIA SMITH PLAINTIFFS,
v.
FREIGHTLINER, LLC AND FLEETWOOD MOTOR HOME CORP. DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

This is a Lemon Law case brought under New Jersey law by owners of a Fleetwood Motor Home that sits on a Freightliner chassis. Defendants moved for summary judgment to dismiss plaintiffs' claims and to have plaintiffs' expert disqualified. On October 27, 2006, oral argument was held on defendants' motions for summary judgment, and this Opinion supplements the Court's oral rulings expressed at that hearing. On October 31, 2006, a Daubert hearing was held to conduct an inquiry into the reliability of the proposed testimony of plaintiffs' expert. For the reasons set forth below, the proffered testimony of plaintiffs' expert is excluded. Plaintiffs' Lemon Law, breach of warranty and Magnuson-Moss claims survive summary judgment. Plaintiffs' claim for consumer fraud is withdrawn, and therefore dismissed.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs, Francis H. Smith and Patricia M. Smith, purchased a new 2004 motor home on or about December 3, 2003, from Tom Raper, Inc. in Indiana, an authorized Fleetwood dealer. The chassis of the vehicle was manufactured and warranted by defendant Freightliner, and the non-chassis component, or coach, was manufactured and warranted by defendant Fleetwood. The purchase price was approximately $191,000.00.*fn1 Freightliner provided a three year or 50,000 mile warranty covering the chassis. Fleetwood provided a one year or 15,000 mile limited warranty, and three year structural*fn2 warranty.

The Smiths immediately began experiencing problems with the motor home, including a vibration condition that caused a "harsh ride." The Smiths also complained that various items in the living facilities portion rattled or had come loose. In January 2004, the Smiths took their motor home to Indianapolis for repair to the air bags and "harsh ride." It was also serviced at another Chevrolet dealer for air leaks in the entry door and for drawers not closing. In August 2004, the Smiths returned the motor home to Tom Raper for complaints of the television falling out of the cabinet while in transit.

On November 24, 2004, the Smiths wrote a letter to Tom Raper, Inc. with a laundry list of problems they were experiencing with the motor home. The motor home was kept for service from November 29, 2004 to December 17, 2004. On February 14, 2005, the Smiths wrote another letter to Tom Raper, Inc. stating that certain problems contained in the November 29, 2004 to December 17, 2004 service report had not been resolved. On May 31, 2005, they wrote another letter to Tom Raper, Inc., listing additional problems they were experiencing as well as reiterating the outstanding problems.

On June 27, 2005, the Smiths wrote another letter to Tom Raper, Inc. essentially repeating of the problems listed in their May 31, 2005, letter with the added sentence that the motor home continues to have a rough ride. In addition, they wrote that they were making a second request to repair certain items that were listed in the November 29, 2004 to December 17, 2004 service report.

On March 23, 2005, plaintiffs filed claims in the Superior Court of New Jersey against Freightliner and Fleetwood for breach of warranty, violations under the Federal Magnuson-Moss Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2301, and consumer fraud. The case was subsequently removed to this Court on or about May 4, 2005.*fn3 Freightliner filed a motion for summary judgment and Fleetwood joined in Freightliner's motion as well as filed its own motion for partial summary judgment. For the reasons explained below, defendants motions are granted in part and denied in part.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiffs' Proposed Expert

Defendants moved to have plaintiffs' expert, Charlie Barone, disqualified because he does not possess specialized knowledge relevant to motor homes, and to have Barone's proposed testimony barred because his report does not exhibit that he based his opinion on any discernable methodology. Plaintiffs respond that under Fed.R.Evid. 702, Mr. Barone's experience in automotive body reconstruction and automotive value appraisal provides him with the necessary practical experience and training in a field tangentially related to diminution in value of the motor home at issue. Plaintiffs further respond that Mr. Barone has "good grounds" for his opinion that the motor home suffers a decrease of twenty-five percent in value due to the alleged vibration condition.

Due to the lack of information concerning Mr. Barone's methodology in arriving at the twenty-five percent diminution in value of the motor home, this Court held a Daubert hearing. See Elcock v. Kmart Corp., 233 F.3d 734, 745 (3d Cir. 2000) (a court is not required to conduct a Daubert hearing but can do so if significant reliability questions are raised by the expert's methodology, and if a Daubert hearing would permit a fuller assessment of expert's analytical processes). An examination of Mr. Barone's qualifications satisfied the Court that, under the liberal admissibility requirements under Fed.R.Evid. 702, Mr. Barone possesses the specialized knowledge that could assist a jury as to the diminution in value of a motor home. Elcock v. Kmart Corp., 233 F.3d 734 (3d Cir. 2000) (stating that the specialized knowledge requirement of Rule 702 is interpreted liberally); In re Paoli R.R. Yard PCB Litigation, 35 F.3d 717 (3d Cir. 1994)(same). Mr. Barone has over thirty years experience in the automotive repair industry, and has ASE certifications in vehicle damage appraisal. In addition, he has authored numerous articles in the field of automobile repair and valuation, owns his own automotive appraisal business, and has analyzed vehicles with vibration concerns, or frame concerns. Finally, he has conducted appraisals on approximately 700 vehicles.

Although Mr. Barone has experience in assessing the value of motor vehicles, he does not have experience or expertise regarding the possible impairment of the use or safety of the vehicle. Therefore, Mr. Barone does not qualify as an expert on these topics. See N.J.S.A. 56:12-30, (defining nonconformity under the Lemon Law as "a defect ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.