United States District Court, S.D. Florida, Miami Division
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO STAY OR
FEDERICO A. MORENO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
class action lawsuit is about whether certain Toyota entities
defrauded consumers and engaged in unfair trade practices by
concealing a defect in the heating, ventilation, and air
conditioning systems installed in 2012-2017 Toyota Camrys and
Camry Hybrids. The Plaintiffs allege the Toyota entities'
fraudulent conduct violates the Racketeering Influenced and
Corrupt Organizations Act, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act,
Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, and
the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act, breaches the implied
warranty of merchantability, and constitutes common law fraud
or fraudulent concealment.
Defendants believe this lawsuit is a "copycat class
action" involving claims substantially similar to those
being litigated in three other ongoing class actions against
Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. that are currently pending
in the Central District of California. For this reason, the
Defendants ask the Court to transfer this action to
California pursuant to the "first-to-file" rule or
the federal transfer statute. The Plaintiffs strongly
disagree and insist this lawsuit belongs in Florida because
there is a named Florida plaintiff, and because there are
Florida statutory and common law claims asserted against
(among others) one Florida defendant, concerning conduct that
occurred in Florida. The Plaintiffs further attest the
proposed classes in this lawsuit do not overlap with the
certified class or proposed classes in the pending California
COURT has considered the moving papers and oral argument, the
pertinent portions of the record, and is otherwise fully
advised in the premises. For the reasons below, the
Defendants' Motion to Stay or Transfer this Action to the
Central District of California (D.E. 25) is DENIED.
Defendants assert there are sufficient grounds to
transfer this action to California pursuant to the
"first-to-file" rule or the federal transfer
statute in 28 U.S.C. Section 1404(a). The Defendants direct
the Court to look at the allegations in three ongoing class
actions against Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. that are
currently pending in the Central District of California:
Salas v. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., No.
2:15-cv-08629-FMO-E (CD. Cal., filed Nov. 4, 2015)
("Salas"); Stockinger v. Toyota Motor Sales,
U.S.A., Inc., No. 2:17-cv-00035-VAP-KS (CD. Cal., filed
Jan. 3, 2017) ("Stockinger"); and Beil
v. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., No.
2:17-cv-07079-VAP-KS, (CD. Cal., filed Sept. 25, 2017)
("Beil") (collectively, the "California
Actions"). Alternatively, the Defendants ask the Court
to stay this lawsuit pending a result in the upcoming class
action trial in Salas.
Defendants point out that each case revolves around the same
alleged heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system
defect (i.e. the system fails to properly remove all
humidity and water; and consequently, emits foul, noxious,
and toxic odors into the vehicle passenger compartment, which
exposes passengers to serious health and safety hazards, such
as mold and other contaminants). The Plaintiffs disagree that
transfer is warranted under either the
"first-to-file" rule or Section 1404(a).
THE "FIRST-TO-FILE" RULE
two actions involving overlapping issues and parties are
pending in two federal courts, there is a strong presumption
across the federal circuits that favors the forum of the
first-filed suit under the first-filed rule." Manuel
v. Convergys Corp., 430 F.3d 1132, 1135 (11th Cir. 2005)
(citations omitted). But, as this Court has recognized, the
first-to-file rule "is not a hard-and-fast rule."
Pompano Imports, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., LLC, No.
15-23491-CIV, 2015 WL 12556151, at *2 (S.D. Fla. Nov. 10,
2015) (citing Manuel, 430 F.3d at 1135). Rather, it
"simply creates a presumption in favor of the forum of
the first-filed action, which can be overcome by compelling
circumstances. Id. As such, the parties objecting to
jurisdiction in the first-filed forum, here the Plaintiffs,
carry the burden of proving the "compelling
circumstances" necessary to justify an exception to the
first-to-file rule. Manuel, 430 F.3d at 1135.
deciding whether the first-to-file rule applies, courts
consider: "(1) the chronology of the two actions, (2)
the similarity of the parties, and (3) the similarity of the
issues." Lianne Yao v. Ulta Beauty Inc., No.
18-22213-CIV-ALTONAGA, 2018 WL 4208324, at *1 (S.D. Fla. Aug.
8, 2018) (citing Women's Choice Pharms., LLC v. Rook
Pharms., Inc., No. 16-cv-62074, 2016 WL 6600438, at *2
(S.D. Fla. Nov. 8, 2016)). Ultimately, courts are afforded
"an ample degree of discretion" in applying the
first-to-file rule. Strother v. Hylas Yachts, Inc.,
No. 12-80283-CV, 2012 WL 4531357, at *1 (S.D. Fla. Oct. 1,
2012) (quoting Merial Ltd. v. Cipla Ltd., 681 F.3d
1283, 1299 (Fed. Cir. 2012) (quoting Kerotest Mfg. Co. v.
C-O-Two Fire Equip. Co., 342 U.S. 180, 183-84 (1952))).
Defendants argue the parties and claims in this lawsuit are
substantially similar to, and overlapping with, the parties
and claims in the California Actions. The Plaintiffs contend
that the Defendants oversell this argument, and maintain this
lawsuit is substantially dissimilar to the California Actions
because this lawsuit involves different classes of
plaintiffs, different defendants, new claims-and in certain
instances, different vehicle makes and models. After full
consideration of the moving papers and oral argument, the
Court finds the Plaintiffs have met their burden of
establishing the "compelling circumstances"
necessary to warrant an exception to the
outset, the proposed classes in this lawsuit differ
significantly from the narrow certified-class in
Salas, and the proposed classes in
Stockinger and Beil. The court in
Salas already certified a "California-only
class consisting of all persons in California who
purchased or leased a 2012-2015 Toyota Camry XV 50 model
vehicle from an authorized Toyota dealer." See Salas
v. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., No. CV
15-8629 FMO (EX), 2019 WL 1940619, at *14 (CD. Cal. Mar. 27,
2019) (emphasis added). And in Stockinger and
Beil, the plaintiffs seek to certify a nationwide
class, multiple statewide sub-classes, and several California
statute based subclasses-but strikingly, these proposed
classes comprise owners and lessees of make and model
vehicles that are not involved in this lawsuit: Beil
involves only 2013-2017 Lexus ES series models, and
Stockinger involves a myriad of 2006-2015 Toyota and
Lexus model vehicles, none of which include any Toyota Camry
models. See Stockinger, No. 2:17-cv-00035-VAP-KS,
ECF No.34 at ¶¶ 2, 73 (CD. Cal. Mar. 24, 2017);
Beil, No. 2:17-cv-07079-VAP-KS, ECF No.1 at
¶¶ 1, 75 (CD. Cal. Sept. 25, 2017).
- As a
notable aside, the Salas court already declined in
separate orders to accept transfer of the Stockinger
and Beil actions into its docket for the precise
reason that those cases "would not entail a substantial
duplication of labor if heard by different judges, "
since those cases involved different vehicle makes, models,
and model years. (See D.E. 33 at 30, 32.) The court
in Salas noted that Beil involved only
2013-2017 Lexus ES vehicles, and described
Stockinger as involving "every other vehicle
manufactured by Toyota, and for vastly different years."
Id. At the time of these denials, the Salas
court was well acquainted with the parties and claims, having
presided over that case for more than a year when it denied
transfer of Stockinger, and nearly two years when it
denied transfer of Beil. Thus, if
Stockinger and Beil were not substantially
similar enough to Salas to warrant an intra-district
transfer, then this lawsuit is certainly not substantially
similar enough to Stockinger and Beil to
transfer it across the country.
back, then, to the proposed classes in this case, the
Plaintiffs seek to certify classes of owners and lessees of
2012-2017 Toyota Camrys and Camry Hybrids. (D.E. 1 at
¶¶ 2, 95.) Thus, the Plaintiffs here seek class
certification regarding vehicles that are not involved in
Stockinger and Beil at all. And while a
class of California owners and lessees of 2012-2015 Toyota
Camry XV 50 models has been certified in Salas,
here, the Plaintiffs made clear at oral argument that in
light of Salas, they are now seeking-in addition to
the Florida and Tennessee statewide classes they sought
before-a nationwide class that excludes California.
Consequently, the proposed classes in this lawsuit do not
overlap with the certified class in Salas, or the
proposed classes in Stockinger and Beil. In
essence, this lawsuit fills the large gap left by the narrow
class that was certified in Salas. Furthermore, to
the extent this lawsuit is similar to Salas because