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Regina Little, On Behalf of Herself and All Others Similarly Situated v. Kia Motors America

April 2, 2012

REGINA LITTLE, ON BEHALF OF HERSELF AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
KIA MOTORS AMERICA, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County, Docket No. L-0800-01.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Waugh, J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Argued March 14, 2012

Before Judges Cuff, Lihotz, and Waugh.

The opinion of the court was delivered by WAUGH, J.A.D.

On leave granted, defendant Kia Motors America (Kia) appeals from the August 12, 2011 order of the Law Division, which adopted the report of a special master, vacated a portion of the jury's verdict on damages, ordered re-noticing of the class, modified the existing claims procedure, and reserved to the special master the option of considering an award of nominal damages. We reverse and remand.

I.

We discern the following facts and procedural history from the record on appeal.

In 2001, Regina Little sued Kia, alleging that the Kia Sephia she purchased was defective because its design caused repetitive, premature wear of the car's brakes and brake rotors. Little's claims included violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (CFA), N.J.S.A. 56:8-1 to -106, breach of implied warranties of merchantability and an express warranty that the Sephia was free of defects, and violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act, 15 U.S.C.A. § 2310(d)(1).

In 2003, Little sought certification of her complaint as a class action pursuant to Rule 4:32. The motion was granted and the members of the class, New Jersey residents who purchased Sephias between 1997 and 2000, were notified of the action.

In June 2008, the matter was tried before a jury. The jury found that Kia did not violate the CFA. However, it found that Kia had breached its express and implied warranties, and had also violated the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. At Little's request, the jury verdict form with respect to damages for breach of warranty instructed the jury that it could find (1) that "each class member" suffered damages for the diminution in value of the vehicle, (2) that "each class member" suffered damages for repair expenses, or (3) both. The jury found that the class members suffered no diminution in value between the Sephia as warranted and as delivered, but that each class member suffered $750 in repair expenses.

In November 2008, Kia moved for post-verdict relief, including a new trial on the issue of repair damages and class decertification for the purposes of determining the amount of repair damages, if any, suffered by each member. We note that Little did not move for a new trial with respect to the jury's verdict that the class members had not suffered a diminution in value arising from the breach of warranty. See R. 2:10-1 ("In both civil and criminal actions, the issue of whether a jury verdict was against the weight of the evidence shall not be cognizable on appeal unless a motion for a new trial on that ground was made in the trial court.").

The trial judge granted Kia's motion on the issue of repair damages. However, she based the decision on her conclusion that she should not have put the issue of repair damages before the jury on a class-wide basis because each owner's repair costs would be different. She decertified the class for the purpose of implementing ...


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