A Michigan federal judge has rejected Fiat Chrysler’s request for six drivers to go through a bellwether process to determine whether they have viable claims that the automaker reneged on lifetime powertrain warranties that came with their vehicles, saying that taking this course in a proposed class action would be a “tremendous waste” of court resources.
U.S. District Judge Stephen J. Murphy III said Nov. 22 that appointing six of the two dozen plaintiffs spearheading the lawsuit to go through a bellwether process to determine the viability of their liability theory would be inefficient and overly complicated.
The drivers have all accused FCA US LLC of hyping up its lifetime limited powertrain warranty to drive sales of Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep vehicles, and failing to tell consumers that it later snuck in an unconscionable inspection clause that effectively voided the warranty.
“Bellwether procedures are better suited for much larger classes and more uncertain fact and legal issues,” the judge said. “Rule 23 class action procedures are well suited to ferret out the merits of the relatively low number of claims here. In the end, even if there was case law to support the defendant’s proposed bellwether procedure, typical class action procedures are more efficient to resolve this case.”
FCA said the court would be able to decide on whether those who received the written warranty document had legally sufficient “notice” and are bound by the inspection provision requirement. If so, then the claims of all those owners would be extinguished.
But Judge Murphy said this promise of reduced litigation would not pan out.
The most “intractable and complex” outcome would be if some of the six won summary judgment and others didn’t, a result which would make settlements more difficult.