Belville et al v. Ford Motor Company
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER the Court GRANTS, IN PART, DENIES, IN PART, and HOLD IN ABEYANCE, IN PART 381 MOTION by ACA Legal Investigations, Inc., Mills Allison, Michael Antramgarza, Charles Johnson, Josh Legato, John McGee, David H. Patton, Inez A. Patton, Roofwerks, Inc., Quintin Williams for Leave to File First Amended Master Consolidated Class Action Complaint. The Court GRANTS Plaintiffs' motion to consolidate Civil Actions 3:13-6529, 3:13-14207, and 3:13-20976 into a single action and to file a Consolidated Complaint, and GRANTS Plaintiffs' motion to include in the Consolidated Complaint additional facts, revived claims, or new claims for any existing Plaintiffs. The Court DENIES the addition of new Plaintiffs and any cl aims or facts related solely to those proposed Plaintiffs. The Court further DENIES WITHOUT PREJUDICE the removal of any existing Plaintiffs at this time. If after consideration of this Memorandum Opinion and Order, any existing Plaintiff wants to be dismissed from this action, then that Plaintiff must file a motion pursuant to Rule 41 on or before 9/23/2015. Ford must file any objection on or before 9/28. A reply shall be due on or before 9/30/2015. After the Court issues a Memorandum Opinion a nd Order on the remaining individual claims and any Orders of dismissal under Rule 41, the Court will direct Plaintiffs to file a revised Consolidated Complaint consistent with the Court's decisions. Plaintiffs need not revise the proposed Conso lidated Complaint until further notice by the Court. However, the parties shall proceed under the proposed Consolidated Complaint to the extent it is consistent with this Opinion. The Court DIRECTS the Clerk of this Court to consolidate these three actions, and the Court DESIGNATES Civil Action No. 3:13-6529 as the lead case. No new Plaintiffs should be added to the Style or docket of the Court and all existing Plaintiffs should be included or added to the lead case. The Court DIRECTS that the Consolidated for Discovery Only flag be removed and all existing Plaintiffs in Civil Action Nos. 3:13-14207 and 3:13-20976 be designated as a Consolidated Plaintiff. Hereafter, all filings shall be made only in Civil Action No. 3:13-6529, including any motions pursuant to Rule 41 that Plaintiffs may file. Signed by Judge Robert C. Chambers on 9/15/2015. (cc: attys; any unrepresented party) (skh)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR
THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF WEST VIRGINIA
CHARLES JOHNSON, et al.,
TONY BURNETT, et al.,
CIVIL ACTION NOS. 3:13-6529;
3:13-14207; and 3:13-20976
CHARLES T. BURD, et al.,
FORD MOTOR COMPANY,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Pending before the Court is Plaintiffs’ Motion for Leave to File First Amended
Master Consolidated Class Action Complaint (hereinafter the Consolidated Complaint). ECF No.
381 in 3:13-6529; ECF No. 304 in 3:13-14207; ECF No. 267 in 3:13-20976. In their motion,
Plaintiffs seek to consolidate the above-styled cases into a single action. In the Consolidated
Complaint, Plaintiffs also move to add sixteen named Plaintiffs, new factual allegations, and new
and revived claims.
In addition, Plaintiffs removed the names and claims of six existing
Plaintiffs. Ford does not oppose the filing of a Consolidated Complaint as to the existing
Plaintiffs, but it does oppose the addition of the sixteen new Plaintiffs and argues that eighty-one
claims in the Consolidated Complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure. Ford also argues that Plaintiffs should be required to use Rule 41 of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to dismiss any of the existing named Plaintiffs. For the
following reasons, the Court GRANTS, IN PART, DENIES, IN PART, and HOLD IN
ABEYANCE, IN PART, Plaintiffs’ motion.
Plaintiffs filed these three separate Class Action Complaints in 2013. Thereafter,
Ford moved to dismiss all three Complaints. On March 31, 2014, the Court granted, in part, and
denied, in part, Ford’s motions. Following the Court’s decision, the parties disagreed about
whether eighty-nine of the claims survived the Court’s March 31 decision. The parties briefed the
disputed claims, and this Court entered a Memorandum Opinion and Order on November 14,
2014, further delineating what claims survived and what claims were dismissed. In the interim
period, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Leave to File First Amended Master Consolidated Class
Action Complaint on May 27, 2014. The Court denied the motion without prejudice on July 25,
2014. The current motion was filed on March 27, 2015. Ford responded on May 1, 2015, and
Plaintiffs replied on June 5, 2015. The motion is now ripe for consideration.
JOINDER OF NEW PLAINTIFFS
Initially, the Court must address whether Plaintiffs may join the sixteen proposed
Plaintiffs under Rules 15 and 20 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Hinson v. Norwest
Fin. S.C., Inc., 239 F.3d 611, 618 (4th Cir. 2001) (stating “a court determining whether to grant a
motion to amend to join additional plaintiffs must consider both the general principles of
amendment provided by Rule 15(a) and also the more specific joinder provisions of Rule 20(a)”
(citation omitted)). When an opposing party does not give written consent for a complaint to be
amended after a responsive pleading has been filed, Rule 15(a)(2) permits the court to grant leave
to amend and leave should be freely given Awhen justice so requires.@ Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2), in
part. Although Rule 15(a)(2) encourages leniency in granting leave to amend, it is limited by
justice and may be denied if an amendment would create, for instance, unfair prejudice to the
non-moving party, undue delay, futility, or waste of judicial resources. See Foman v. Davis, 371
U.S. 178, 182 (1962) (Legitimate reasons to deny leave to amend include undue delay, futility, bad
faith or dilatory motive of the movant, and unfair prejudice to the non-moving party.); Mayfield v
Nat’l Ass’n for Stock Car Auto Racing, Inc., 674 F.3d 369, 379 (4th Cir. 2012) (stating “a request
to amend should only be denied if one of three facts is present: ‘the amendment would be
prejudicial to the opposing party, there has been bad faith on the part of the moving party, or
amendment would be futile’” (citation omitted)).
Pursuant to Rule 20(a), “[p]ersons may join in one action as plaintiffs if: (A) they
assert any right to relief jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the
same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences; and (B) any question of law
or fact common to all plaintiffs will arise in the action.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a). In other words,
“Rule 20(a) permits joinder in a single action of all persons asserting, or defending against, a joint,
several or alternative right to relief that arises out of the same transaction or occurrence and
presents a common question of law or fact.” 7 Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Mary Kay
Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1652 (3rd ed. 2001) (footnote omitted). The purpose of
Rule 20 “is to promote trial convenience and expedite the final determination of disputes, thereby
preventing multiple lawsuits.” Id. (footnotes omitted). Courts have wide discretion under the rule
to decide whether permissive joinder should be granted. Aleman v. Chugach Support Servs., Inc.,
485 F.3d 206, 218 n. 5 (4th Cir. 2007). A court may “‘deny joinder if it determines that the
addition of the party under Rule 20 will not foster the objectives of the rule, but will result in
prejudice, expense or delay.’” Id. (quoting 7 Wright, Miller & Kane, supra, § 1652).
In this case, Plaintiffs insist that the addition of sixteen new Plaintiffs meets the
requirements of both Rule 15 and Rule 20. In support, Plaintiffs assert that those seeking to join
the litigation are from States that either had, or continue to have, a named Plaintiff in one of the
three actions filed.1 Plaintiffs also state that the new claims related to these proposed Plaintiffs
contain the same factual allegations, defect, and causes of action as existing Plaintiffs. Ford,
however, argues they will be substantially prejudiced by the addition of these sixteen new
Plaintiffs. Ford points out that Plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed nine Plaintiffs and removed the
names of another six from the proposed Consolidated Complaint. Ford asserts that, by doing so,
Plaintiffs are simply cherry picking sixteen new Plaintiffs to replace less desirable preexisting
Plaintiffs. Ford claims it will be significantly prejudiced by the addition of these proposed
Plaintiffs because it basically hits the “reset button” on this very complex litigation that already has
been pending and hotly contested for over two years. Ford further claims that it is not as simple as
Plaintiffs seem to suggest.
Instead, the addition of these Plaintiffs will require additional
depositions, including third-party depositions, additional vehicle inspections, additional related
discovery, and travel to eleven States.
Upon consideration of the motion, the Court is very cognizant of the lenient
standard under Rule 15(a) and the policy of promoting trial convenience and preventing multiple
The proposed Plaintiffs are from California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri,
New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, and Texas.
lawsuits under Rule 20. However, both Rules are tempered, and motions may be denied, when
amendments result in unfair prejudice to the non-moving party. Here, the Court finds that Ford
will be unfairly and substantially prejudiced by the addition of these proposed Plaintiffs at this
stage in the litigation. As mentioned by Ford, these actions were filed over two years ago.
Adding new Plaintiffs here is not simply the substitution of a successor or the addition of
individuals directly involved a specific transaction with a defendant. Over the course of these two
years, the parties have engaged in complex, rigorous, contentious, and very expensive discovery,
necessitated by claims asserted by dozens of Plaintiffs from many different States. The parties
also have engaged in an extensive and complex motions practice, which has involved, inter alia,
determining which Plaintiffs and what claims can proceed. Although it is true that there is
overlap amongst the claims and legal theories of the proposed Plaintiffs and the existing Plaintiffs,
Ford still will be required to conduct extensive and expensive discovery on each new Plaintiff’s
claims. The fact that more than one Plaintiff may live in a particular State does not alleviate the
necessity that Ford will have to travel to those States to conduct such discovery. The Court agrees
with Ford that the addition of these proposed Plaintiffs essentially will hit the reset button to this
litigation to a significant extent. Additionally, the Court has no doubt that joining these proposed
Plaintiffs inevitably will delay resolution of this matter. Thus, for these reasons, the Court
DENIES Plaintiffs’ motion with respect to adding sixteen new Plaintiffs under both Rule 15 and
In addition, the fact that there are preexisting Plaintiffs in each State for which there is a
proposed new Plaintiff lends credence to Ford’s assertion that Plaintiffs are merely cherry picking
new Plaintiffs to replace less desirable ones. Early in the proceedings, Ford challenged the
viability of many of the claims and whether certain Plaintiffs should be dismissed, alerting
Plaintiffs to perceived weaknesses with particular claims and with some Plaintiffs. Nevertheless,
DISMISSAL OF EXISTING PLAINTIFFS
In the proposed Consolidated Complaint, Plaintiffs omit the names and claims of
six previously named Plaintiffs: Mills Allison with South Carolina claims3 (Case no. 3:13-6529),
Tony Burnett of Arkansas (Case no. 3:13-14207), Jolene Harris of Louisiana (Case no.
3:13-20976), Josh Legato with Missouri claims4 (Case no. 3:13-6529), Roofwerks, Inc. of North
Carolina (Case no. 3:13-6529), and George Shaffer of New Jersey (Case no. 3:13-14207). Ford
objects to the removal of these individuals to the extent Plaintiffs have not filed a motion pursuant
to Rule 41 and not presented evidence of these six individuals’ desire to be dismissed. In their
Reply, Plaintiffs state they are willing to follow Rule 41 in order to have these six individuals
dismissed. Accordingly, the Court DENIES Plaintiffs’ motion to the extent they simply removed
these six individuals from the Consolidated Complaint.
If after consideration of this
Memorandum Opinion and Order Plaintiffs still seek to have these six individuals dismissed, the
Court DIRECTS them to file motions pursuant to Rule 41 on or before September 23, 2015.
Ford must file any objection on or before September 28. A reply shall be due on or before
September 30, 2015.
ADDITIONAL FACTS AND CLAIMS
In their Consolidated Complaint, Plaintiffs also seek to include additional factual
allegations and new and revived claims. As the Court has denied Plaintiffs’ motion to the extent
Plaintiffs did not attempt to amend any of the Complaints until May 27, 2014.
Mr. Allison resides in California, but he purchased his vehicle from a private party in
Mr. Legato resides in Kansas, but he purchased his vehicle in Missouri.
they seek to add new Plaintiffs, the Court DENIES the addition of any new facts and any new
claims solely related to the proposed Plaintiffs. However, the Court finds that, in the interests of
justice, Plaintiffs should be able to include additional factual allegations and make new claims or
revive previously dismissed claims for existing Plaintiffs. Therefore, the Court GRANTS the
motion to the extent any new factual allegations or claims relate to existing Plaintiffs.5
DISMISSAL OF INDIVIDUAL CLAIMS
Finally, Ford makes a number of specific arguments that certain individual claims
must be dismissed on a variety of grounds. Some of those arguments are now moot because they
are directed at claims asserted by the proposed Plaintiffs which, for the reasons stated above, shall
not be included in the Consolidated Complaint. As to the remainder of the arguments directed at
the claims of current Plaintiffs, the Court RESERVES judgment on those arguments. The Court
will address those arguments in a future Memorandum Opinion and Order. The Court does not
need additional briefing on those arguments. After the Court rules on the individual claims, the
Court will direct Plaintiffs to file a revised Consolidated Complaint.
Accordingly, for the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff’s motion to
consolidate Civil Actions 3:13-6529, 3:13-14207, and 3:13-20976 into a single action and to file a
Consolidated Complaint, and GRANTS Plaintiffs’ motion to include in the Consolidated
Complaint additional facts, revived claims, or new claims for any existing Plaintiffs. However,
As will be explained in the next section, some of these claims may be subject to dismissal
on other grounds.
the Court DENIES the addition of new Plaintiffs and any claims or facts related solely to those
proposed Plaintiffs. The Court further DENIES WITHOUT PREJUDICE the removal of any
existing Plaintiffs at this time. If after consideration of this Memorandum Opinion and Order,
any existing Plaintiff wants to be dismissed from this action, then that Plaintiff must file a motion
pursuant to Rule 41 on or before September 23, 2015. Ford must file any objection on or
before September 28. A reply shall be due on or before September 30, 2015. After the Court
issues a Memorandum Opinion and Order on the remaining individual claims and any Orders of
dismissal under Rule 41, the Court will direct Plaintiffs to file a revised Consolidated Complaint
consistent with the Court’s decisions. Plaintiffs need not revise the proposed Consolidated
Complaint until further notice by the Court. However, the parties shall proceed under the
proposed Consolidated Complaint to the extent it is consistent with this Opinion.
Therefore, the Court DIRECTS the Clerk of this Court to consolidate these three
actions, and the Court DESIGNATES Civil Action No. 3:13-6529 as the lead case. No new
Plaintiffs should be added to the Style or docket of the Court and all existing Plaintiffs should be
included or added to the lead case. The Court DIRECTS that the Consolidated for Discovery
Only flag be removed and all existing Plaintiffs in Civil Action Nos. 3:13-14207 and 3:13-20976
be designated as a Consolidated Plaintiff. Hereafter, all filings shall be made only in Civil
Action No. 3:13-6529, including any motions pursuant to Rule 41 that Plaintiffs may file.
The Court DIRECTS the Clerk to send a copy of this Order to counsel of record
and any unrepresented parties.
September 15, 2015
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