Finnerman v. Daimler Chrysler Corporation et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER Signed by the Honorable Robert M. Dow, Jr. on 10/23/2017. Mailed notice(cdh, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
CORPORATION; CHRYSLER LLC;
CHRYSLER GROUP, LLC; and
Case No. 16-cv-451
Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff’s motion for leave to file a first amended
complaint  and Defendant’s motion for a protective order or to strike Plaintiff’s First Request
for Admissions . For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff’s motion  is granted in part and
denied in part, and Defendant’s motion  is granted. Plaintiff may file an amended complaint
that includes a claim for strict liability, includes allegations regarding the Jeep’s clock-spring
mechanism, and names FCA US LLC, formerly known as Chrysler Group, LLC, as the
Defendant. Defendant does not need to provide a response to Plaintiff’s First Request for
Admissions. Furthermore, as a housekeeping matter, Defendant’s motion to strike Plaintiff’s
motion for leave to file a first amended complaint  is denied as moot because it appears
duplicative of Defendant’s response  to Plaintiff’s motion .
On May 15, 2010, Plaintiff Scott Finnerman (“Plaintiff”) was involved in a motor vehicle
accident while driving a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee. [1, Ex. A ¶ 7.] Plaintiff alleges that the
driver’s side airbag in the car failed to deploy at the time of the collision, causing significant
injuries. [Id. ¶ 9.]
Plaintiff filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois on May 11, 2012,
bringing claims for negligence against the Jeep’s manufacturer. [See 36, Ex. A.] Plaintiff
voluntarily dismissed the complaint on September 29, 2014. [Id. at 4.] Plaintiff then re-filed the
complaint in the Circuit Court of Cook County on September 23, 2015, which Defendant FCA
US LLC (“Defendant”)1 removed to this Court on January 13, 2016. [See 1.] This complaint
similarly brings a claim for negligence against Defendant in relation to the failure of the Jeep’s
driver’s side airbag to deploy. [Id., Ex. A.]
Fact discovery, including depositions and inspection of the Jeep, has ensued both during
the state court action and in the instant case. [36 at 4; 40 at 5.] Fact discovery closed on June 2,
2017. [See 28.] Plaintiff filed a further motion  to extend time to complete fact discovery
beyond the June 2, 2017 cut-off, which the Court denied. [See 34.]
Before the Court are (1) Plaintiff’s motion  for leave to file a first amended
complaint, and (2) Defendant’s motion  for a protective order or to strike Plaintiff’s First
Request for Admissions.
Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to File a First Amended Complaint
Plaintiff seeks to amend his complaint in three ways. First, Plaintiff seeks to add a claim
for strict product liability in addition to the claim for negligence against Defendant. [29 at 2.]
Second, Plaintiff’s proposed amended complaint adds additional allegations concerning the
The manufacturer defendants named in the state court complaints are Daimler Chrysler Corporation,
Chrysler Corporation, Chrysler, LLC, Chrysler Group, LLC, and Daimler Chrysler. [See 1.] The parties
agreed to dismiss Daimler Chrysler, Daimler Chrysler Corporation, Chrysler Corporation, and Chrysler,
LLC from this case. [23.] Defendant’s notice of removal states that Chrysler Group, LLC changed its
name to FCA US LLC on December 15, 2014. [1 at 1.] Therefore, FCA US LLC is the only remaining
Jeep’s lap-and-shoulder seatbelt system, alleging that this seatbelt system failed to stop
Plaintiff’s torso from moving forward at the time of the collision and therefore also caused
Plaintiff significant injuries. [Id., Ex. A ¶¶ 11–12, 14.] Third, Plaintiff seeks to amend the
complaint to identify the correct defendant as FCA US LLC, formerly known as Chrysler Group,
LLC. [Id. at 1.]
A motion for leave to file an amended complaint should “freely” be granted “when
justice so requires.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2). “This liberal policy of granting amendments is
based in part on the belief that decisions on the merits should be made whenever possible, absent
countervailing considerations.” Olech v. Vill. of Willowbrook, 138 F. Supp. 2d 1036, 1040 (N.D.
Ill. 2000) (citation omitted). Leave to amend should be freely given “‘[i]n the absence of any
apparent or declared reason—such as undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the
movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue
prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, [or] futility of
amendment.’” Barry Aviation, Inc. v. Land O’Lakes Mun. Airport Comm’n, 377 F.3d 682, 687
(7th Cir. 2004) (quoting Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962)).
decision to grant or deny a motion to file an amended pleading is a matter purely within the
sound discretion of the district court.’” Soltys v. Costello, 520 F.3d 737, 743 (7th Cir. 2008)
(quoting Brunt v. Serv. Emps. Int’l Union, 284 F.3d 715, 720 (7th Cir. 2002)).
Strict Liability Claim Amendment
Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s proposed amendment to add a claim for strict product
liability is futile because this claim is barred by the Illinois product liability statute of repose.
See 735 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/13-213. This statute provides that strict product liability claims must
be commenced “within 12 years from the date of first sale, lease or delivery of possession by a
seller or 10 years from the date of first sale, lease or delivery of possession to its initial user,
consumer, or other non-seller, whichever period expires earlier.” 735 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/13213(b).2 A statute of repose is meant to be “a legislatively designated time limit.” Daubach v.
Honda Motor Co., Ltd., 707 N.E.2d 746, 748 (Ill. App. Ct. 1999). It serves to “terminate the
possibility of liability after a defined period of time, regardless of a potential plaintiff’s lack of
knowledge of his or her cause of action.” DeLuna v. Burciaga, 857 N.E.2d 229, 237 (Ill. 2006).
To support this argument, Defendant attaches to its response an “Owner Information
Report” and a “Carfax Vehicle History Report” indicating that January 9, 1999 is the date of the
Jeep’s first sale. [See 36, Ex. B.] Plaintiff has not disputed the accuracy of this date. However,
an argument that a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 15 motion to amend should be
denied as futile is essentially a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. A Rule 12(b)(6) motion must be
decided “based on the complaint, documents attached to the complaint, documents that are
critical to the complaint and referred to in it, and information that is subject to proper judicial
notice.” Santangelo v. Comcast Corp., 162 F. Supp. 3d 691, 702 (N.D. Ill. 2016) (citation
omitted). It is therefore inappropriate to consider documents that are not referenced in or critical
to the complaint in considering Defendant’s futility objection. See McDaniel v. Loyola Univ.
Med. Ctr., 317 F.R.D. 72, 79 (N.D. Ill. 2016) (citing Santangelo, 162 F. Supp. 3d at 701–02).
Neither the original nor the amended complaint discuss or rely on the date on which the relevant
The Illinois Supreme Court held that the 1995 amendments to this statute were unconstitutional and nonseverable from other unconstitutional provisions. Best v. Taylor Mach. Works, 689 N.E.2d 1057, 1104–
06 (Ill. 1997). Illinois courts have thereafter applied the prior enactment of the statute, which is limited to
strict product liability actions. See, e.g., Kurz v. Stanley Works, 2014 WL 459052, at *6 (Ill. App. Ct.
Feb. 3, 2014). Therefore, while the text of the statute of repose indicates that it applies to all product
liability actions, as currently construed the statute only applies to strict product liability claims. Id.
Jeep was first sold such that these documents could be considered “critical” to Plaintiff’s claim.
Defendant also has not made any argument that the Court can take judicial notice of either
report. Therefore, the Court cannot consider these documents in relation to Defendant’s futility
argument and will allow Plaintiff to amend his complaint to add a claim for strict liability. The
Court notes, however, that the documents on which Defendant relies can properly be considered
on a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(b). This order is therefore
without prejudice to any motion for summary judgment that Defendant may choose to file.3
Therefore, Plaintiff’s motion to amend the complaint to add a strict product liability claim
Amendment Regarding Additional Seatbelt System Allegations
Plaintiff also seeks to amend his negligence claim against Defendant to include
allegations that the Jeep’s seatbelt system failed to prevent the seatbelt from “spooling out” and
stopping Plaintiff’s torso from moving forward, thus causing significant injuries. [29, Ex. A ¶¶
11–12, 14.] Defendant argues that adding this new theory will require the parties to reopen
discovery, as the case thus far has focused entirely on the Jeep’s airbag system; therefore, this
proposed amendment is unduly prejudicial. [36 at 9–11.] Plaintiff argues in turn that he did not
know of potential issues with the seatbelt until he consulted with an automobile safety expert in
April 2017. Plaintiff further argues that the additional discovery required will not be unduly
burdensome, and in any event the seatbelt allegations do not constitute a new legal theory. [40 at
If Defendant moves for summary judgment on this claim, Defendant may respond to Plaintiff’s
argument, raised in his reply, regarding potential tolling of the Illinois product liability statute of repose
due to Defendant’s alleged fraudulent concealment. [See 40 at 8.] The Court will not address these
arguments at this time.
Plaintiff seeks to add these new allegations five years after the first lawsuit related to this
accident was filed, and more than a year after the case was re-filed and removed to federal court.
Delay alone is usually insufficient to deny a motion to amend. Dubicz v. Commonwealth Edison
Co., 377 F.3d 787, 792 (7th Cir. 2004). But “the longer the delay, the greater the presumption
against granting leave to amend.” King v. Cooke, 26 F.3d 720, 723 (7th Cir. 1994) (citation
omitted). Moreover, this motion to amend was filed near the close of the fact discovery period in
this case; this timing is disfavored in the Seventh Circuit. See, e.g., Hukic v. Aurora Loan Servs.,
588 F.3d 420, 432 (7th Cir. 2009) (affirming denial of leave to amend brought three days before
the close of discovery); Coleman v. Ramada Hotel Operating Co., 933 F.2d 470, 473 (7th Cir.
1991) (affirming denial of leave to amend brought at the close of discovery); Bohen v. City of E.
Chi., Ind., 799 F.2d 1180, 1184–85 (7th Cir. 1986) (affirming denial of leave to amend brought
two weeks before the close of discovery because plaintiff was “less than diligent” and
amendment prejudiced defendant).
The Court concludes that the proposed amendment regarding the Jeep’s seatbelt system
would be unduly prejudicial to Defendant. Although some factors regarding the procedural
posture of this case do reduce the potential prejudice to Defendant from the proposed
amendment—no summary judgment motions have been filed, and a trial date has not yet been
set—the new allegations introduce an entirely new theory of Plaintiff’s injuries into the case.
This comes after the parties have spent five years focused solely on the Jeep’s airbag system.
Discovery thus far, including inspections of the Jeep, has focused only on the airbag system’s
alleged defects. Allowing Plaintiff to pursue these allegations would delay an already long-inthe-tooth case by requiring discovery to be reopened so that the seatbelt system’s alleged defects
could also be investigated.
Plaintiff concedes that these new allegations will require additional discovery, although
he argues that such discovery will not be unduly burdensome. [40 at 7.] But fact discovery in
this re-filed case has already been extended four times. [See 21, 26, 27, 28.] The Court
previously denied Plaintiff’s motion to extend time to complete fact discovery for a fifth time on
May 25, 2017, when Plaintiff sought to complete additional discovery relevant to the Jeep’s
[See 32 at 3; 34.] Plaintiff’s proffered reason for the delay in bringing
allegations based on the seatbelt theory is that he was unaware of the potential issue until April
2017, when Plaintiff’s counsel consulted an automobile safety expert and was advised of the
issue for the first time. [40 at 4–5.] But it is not clear why Plaintiff waited until April 2017 to
consult an automobile safety expert in this case, even acknowledging Plaintiff’s statements
regarding changes in his counsel, when discovery has been ongoing since 2012.4
Plaintiff points to an allegation in the original complaint that Defendant “negligently
failed to ‘provide adequate protective equipment on the Jeep or take precautions to safeguard
Plaintiff from damage from product defect and failures’” as evidence that Defendant cannot be
surprised by these seatbelt system allegations. [40 at 7.] But thus far the case has been litigated
only on the basis of the airbag system’s alleged defects. “There must be a point at which a
plaintiff makes a commitment to the theory of its case,” Johnson v. Methodist Med. Ctr. of Ill.,
10 F.3d 1300, 1304 (7th Cir. 1993), and changing the allegations at this point to also include the
seatbelt system would prejudice Defendant. The focus of the case since 2012 has been on the
airbag system, and there was no reason, based on the original complaint’s allegations, for
Defendant to believe that the operation of the seatbelt system would be an issue that required
Furthermore, the documents that Plaintiff relies on to support the existence of potential seatbelt system
issues appear to be public documents dated long before April 2017. [See 40, Ex. B (October 2004 recall
notice)]; [id., Ex. C (March 1999 impact test results)]. Assuming without deciding that the Court can
consider these documents, these dates strongly indicate that information about the seatbelt system was
available to Plaintiff from the beginning of this case.
further discovery and attention. Therefore, Plaintiff’s motion to amend the complaint to add
allegations regarding the Jeep’s seatbelt system is denied.
Plaintiff’s amended complaint also adds specific allegations that the Jeep’s “clock
spring” mechanism contributed to the airbag’s failure to deploy.
[See 29, Ex. A ¶ 14.]
Defendant does not address these proposed amendments in its response to Plaintiff’s motion.
Because these allegations relate to the Jeep’s airbag system that has been the focus of the case
since its inception, and therefore should not require any further discovery that would unduly
prejudice Defendant, Plaintiff’s motion to amend the complaint is granted in this respect.
Amendment to Identify FCA US LLC as Defendant
Plaintiff also seeks to identify the “correct” party defendant in his amended complaint.
[29 at 1.] Because Defendant has been a party to this case since its inception, this change is not
substantive and therefore is not prejudicial.
Plaintiff’s motion to identify FCA US LLC,
formerly known as Chrysler Group, LLC in the amended complaint is thus granted.
Defendant’s Motion for a Protective Order or to Strike
Defendant has moved for a protective order or to strike Plaintiff’s First Request for
Admissions (the “RFAs”). [See 37.] Defendant argues that these RFAs are untimely discovery
requests because they were not scheduled for completion before the June 2, 2017 fact discovery
closing date. [Id.] Plaintiff argues that Rule 36, which governs requests for admissions, is not a
discovery device governed by the fact discovery schedule in this case; therefore, these requests
are timely. [See 43 at 2.]
Pursuant to the Northern District of Illinois’s standing order establishing pretrial
procedure, “[d]iscovery requested before the discovery closing date, but not scheduled for
completion before the discovery closing date, does not comply” with discovery closing date
procedures. N.D. Ill. L.R. 16.1(4). Therefore, discovery requests in this case that were not
scheduled for completion before June 2, 2017 are untimely. Plaintiff’s RFAs were served on
May 25, 2017, one week before the fact discovery in this case closed.5 [See 28; 37, Ex. A.] Rule
36 requires that a party be given 30 days after service to respond to requests for admissions. Fed.
R. Civ. P. 36(a)(3).
Contrary to Plaintiff’s argument, requests for admissions are treated as discovery devices
in connection with discovery deadlines. Requests for admissions serve different purposes than
other modes of discovery, as they are meant to “obtain admissions for the record of facts
already known by the party propounding the request” rather than to elicit information. S.E.C. v.
Nutmeg Grp., LLC, 285 F.R.D. 403, 405 (N.D. Ill. 2012). Despite serving this different purpose,
requests for admissions are still subject to Northern District of Illinois Local Rule 16.1 and the
discovery scheduling order in this case. See Dinkins v. Bunge Milling, Inc., 313 F. App’x 882,
884 (7th Cir. 2009) (“[T]he requests for admissions were mailed only nine days before the close
of discovery, and a party is not required to give any response to such untimely requests.”);
Laborers’ Pension Fund v. Blackmore Sewer Constr., Inc., 298 F.3d 600, 605 n.2 (7th Cir. 2002)
(“We note for future consideration that Rule 29 seems to contemplate that requests for admission
are a discovery device.”); Coram Health Care Corp. of Ill. v. MCI Worldcom Commc’ns, Inc.,
2001 WL 1467681, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 15, 2001) (holding that requests for admissions sent on
the discovery cut-off date violated Northern District of Illinois Local Rule 16.1, and so
defendants were not obligated to respond); Agristor Credit Corp. v. Lunding, 1987 WL 14683, at
*8 (N.D. Ill. July 21, 1987) (finding that requests for admissions are “sufficiently similar to the
more traditional discovery devices to fall within this court’s discovery cut-off order”); Bieganek
Plaintiff originally included an instruction in this set of RFAs that Defendant produce documents
relevant to each admitted request. Plaintiff subsequently withdrew that instruction. [See 43 at 4.]
v. Wilson, 110 F.R.D. 77, 77–78 (N.D. Ill. 1986) (concluding that “requests to admit should be
treated as discovery for purposes of the closing date” because “[o]therwise, they are afloat in the
pretrial process, a situation which seems to be at odds with the purpose of the Standing Order”).
Therefore, Plaintiff’s RFAs are untimely. Defendant’s motion for a protective order is granted,
and Defendant does not need to respond to Plaintiff’s RFAs.
For the reasons stated above, Plaintiff’s motion  is granted in part and denied in part,
and Defendant’s motion  is granted. Plaintiff may file an amended complaint that includes a
claim for strict liability, includes allegations regarding the Jeep’s clock-spring mechanism, and
names FCA US LLC, formerly known as Chrysler Group, LLC, as the Defendant. Defendant
does not need to provide a response to Plaintiff’s First Request for Admissions. Furthermore, as
a housekeeping matter, Defendant’s motion to strike Plaintiff’s motion for leave to file a first
amended complaint  is denied as moot because it appears duplicative of Defendant’s
response  to Plaintiff’s motion .
Dated: October 23, 2017
Robert M. Dow, Jr.
United States District Judge
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