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Weiss v. General Motors LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

October 22, 2019

Douglas Weiss, Plaintiff,
General Motors LLC, Defendant.


          Robert N. Scola, Jr. United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's motion to dismiss the Plaintiff's complaint. (ECF No. 11.) The Plaintiff has filed a response (ECF No. 24) and the Defendant timely replied. (ECF No. 28.) Upon review of the record, the parties' briefs, and the relevant legal authorities, the Court grants in part and denies in part the Defendant's motion. (ECF No. 11.)

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Weiss purchased a new 2015 General Motors Chevrolet Silverado from Auto Nation Chevy in Coral Gables, Florida on September 10, 2015. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 124.) According to the Plaintiff, GM vehicles are equipped with defective drivelines. (Id. at ¶ 2.) The defective drivelines cause the GM vehicles to shake violently when they reach certain interstate cruising speeds. (Id.) The defect is often referred to as the “Chevy Shake.” (Id.) The cause of the defect is a defective drive shaft. (Id. at ¶¶ 2-3.) The drift shaft is an aluminum tube that runs the length of the interior, transmitting torque and rotation from the engine to the wheels. (Id. at ¶ 3.) When the output shaft of the transmission rotates, it spins the drive shaft, turning the differential ring gear to rotate the wheels. (Id.) Drivers have reported that the defect makes the vehicles feel unstable at high speeds and can cause a loss of control. (Id. at ¶ 4.) Over time, the defect can cause the part to deteriorate and eventually fail as the shaft drops to the ground and renders the vehicle undriveable. (Id.) The Plaintiff now brings this action on behalf of himself and a class of individuals who purchased or leased a 2015 or newer Cadillac Escalade, 2014 or newer Chevrolet Silverado, 2015 or newer Chevrolet Suburban, 2015 or newer Chevrolet Tahoe, 2014 or newer GMC Sierra, or 2015 or newer GMC Yukon/Yukon XL. (Id. at ¶ 136.) The Plaintiff asserts claims on behalf of a nationwide class and a Florida subclass. (Id.)

         The Plaintiff alleges that GM was on notice of the Chevy Shake through its own knowledge about the material, design, and manufacture of the part, feedback from customers, complaints in the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) database, online complaints in web forums, and news reports. (Id. at ¶ 18.) The Plaintiff's complaint details a number of online consumer complaints. (Id. at ¶¶ 21-25.) When customers brought their vehicles to GM dealerships, GM would orally confirm the presence of the defect after a test drive but then later misrepresent the problem to avoid having to address it. (Id. at 21.) GM acknowledged the large volume of complaints and continued to provide vague representations without suggesting a concrete solution. (Id. at 22.)

         NHTSA also reported over 100 complaints regarding the Chevy Shake. (Id. at ¶ 29.) The consumer complaints filed with NHTSA are delivered to GM and reviewed by GM's engineers. (Id.) The complaint also includes anecdotes of customers who have replaced the aluminum drive shaft themselves and successfully fixed the problem. (Id. at ¶ 109.) In GM's technical service bulletins, GM admitted that drive shafts could be a source of the problem and further admitted that there have been many cases of dented propeller shafts. (Id. at ¶ 111.) GM instructed its dealers to inspect the drive shaft, noted that any dents or damage to the drive shaft requires replacement, but then permitted only replacement of its defective aluminum drive shaft with the same defective drive shaft. (Id.) GM has issued half a decade of service bulletins regarding the Chevy Shake but systematically refused to disclose the known defect and honor its warranties to customers. (Id. at ¶¶ 113-115.)

         GM's vehicles are sold with a 5-year/100, 000 Powertrain Limited Warranty. (Id. at 114.) It is commonly understood that the drive shaft in sport utility vehicles and passenger trucks should have an expected useful life of at least 75, 000 miles. (Id. at 115.) GM customers have spent substantial costs attempting to fix the Chevy Shake but GM has remained publicly silent regarding the defect. (Id. at 121.) Through his complaint, the Plaintiff seeks damages under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (Count I), breach of express warranties (Count II), breach of implied warranties (Count III), and violation of Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA) (Count IV). Count I is brought on behalf of a nation-wide class and Counts II-IV are brought on behalf of the Florida subclass.

         II. Legal Standard

         When considering a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court must accept all of the complaint's allegations as true, construing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Pielage v. McConnell, 516 F.3d 1282, 1284 (11th Cir. 2008). A pleading need only contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). “[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require detailed factual allegations, but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quotation omitted). A plaintiff must articulate “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

         “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. Thus, a pleading that offers mere “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” will not survive dismissal. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. “Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era, but it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         Where a cause of action sounds in fraud, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b) must be satisfied in addition to the more relaxed standard of Rule 8. Under Rule 9(b), “a party must state with particularity the circumstances constituting fraud or mistake, ” although “conditions of a person's mind, ” such as malice, intent, and knowledge, may be alleged generally. Fed.R.Civ.P. 9(b). “The ‘particularity' requirement serves an important purpose in fraud actions by alerting defendants to the precise misconduct with which they are charged and protecting defendants against spurious charges of immoral and fraudulent behavior.” W. Coast Roofing & Waterproofing, Inc. v. Johns Manville, Inc., 287 Fed.Appx. 81, 86 (11th Cir. 2008) (citations omitted). “When a plaintiff does not specifically plead the minimum elements of their allegation, it enables them to learn the complaint's bare essentials through discovery and may needlessly harm a defendant's goodwill and reputation by bringing a suit that is, at best, missing some of its core underpinnings, and, at worst, [grounded on] baseless allegations used to extract settlements.” U.S. ex rel. Clausen v. Lab. Corp. of Am., Inc., 290 F.3d 1301, 1313 n.24 (11th Cir. 2002). Thus, the Rule's “particularity” requirement is not satisfied by “conclusory allegations that certain statements were fraudulent; it requires that a complaint plead facts giving rise to an inference of fraud.” W. Coast Roofing & Waterproofing, 287 Fed.Appx. at 86. To meet this standard, the complaint needs to identify the precise statements, documents, or misrepresentations made; the time and place of, and the persons responsible for, the alleged statements; the content and manner in which the statements misled the plaintiff; and what the defendant gained through the alleged fraud. Id.

         III. Analysis

         A. Standing to Sue

         In its motion to dismiss, GM argues that the Plaintiff lacks standing to sue on behalf of consumers who purchased vehicles other than the 2015 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 that he owns. (ECF No. 11 at 3.) In response, the Plaintiff argues that all class vehicles are the “same product” for purposes of putative class members because all class vehicles share the same architecture and parts, and in turn, the same defect. (ECF No. 24 at 2.) The Plaintiff also argues that the Defendant's standing argument is premature and should be decided at the class certification stage. (Id. at 3.)

         “As standing is a threshold issue, addressing the issue of standing at the motion to dismiss phase of the litigation, rather than waiting for the class certification phase, is not premature.” Sanchez-Knutson v. Ford Motor Co., No. 14-61344, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 181103, *8 (S.D. Fla. July 21, 2015) (Dimitrouleas, J.). The Eleventh Circuit requires that in a class action suit “at least one named class representative must establish Article III standing for each class subclaim.” Prado v. Bush, 221 F.3d 1266, 1279 (11th Cir. 2000). Because Article III standing requires a plaintiff to establish that he has suffered an injury-in-fact, a class plaintiff “cannot raise claims relating to those other products which ...

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