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Faltermeier v. FCA U.S. LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

March 24, 2017

DAVID FALTERMEIER, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
FCA U.S. LLC, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          GREG KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE

         This is a putative class action arising from alleged violations of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (“MMPA”), Mo. Rev. Stat. § 407.020. Plaintiff David Faltermeier alleges that Defendant FCA U.S. LLC (“FCA”) made misrepresentations during a vehicle safety recall that have caused Plaintiff and all other consumers who have purchased the recalled vehicles since June 4, 2013, an ascertainable financial loss.

         Now before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 132). For the reasons set forth below, the motion is GRANTED, and Plaintiff's pending Motion to Certify Class (Doc. 134) is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

         Standard

         A moving party is entitled to summary judgment “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The movant bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion, and it must identify those portions of the record which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011). If the movant does so, then the nonmovant must respond by submitting evidence demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. A genuine issue regarding a material fact is one “such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The court views any factual disputes in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Torgerson, 643 F.3d at 1042. “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.” Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S 557, 585 (2009).

         Background[1]

         In 2009, FCA purchased assets and liabilities, including those associated with vehicle safety recalls, from Chrysler LLC.[2] In August of 2010, the Office of Defects Investigation of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) ordered a preliminary evaluation of alleged defects in Model Year 1993-1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles. In June of 2012, the NHTSA expanded its investigation to include both Model Year 1993-1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles and Model Year 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty vehicles (collectively, the “Jeep Vehicles”).

         The alleged defect at issue involves the vehicles' fuel tank design. The Jeep Vehicles are designed with fuel tanks mounted behind the rear axle of the car. Plaintiff avers the vehicles are designed without sufficient protection for a fuel tank in that area and that the Jeep Vehicles perform poorly in rear-impact collision fuel system integrity tests when compared to peer vehicles with fuel tanks located ahead of the rear axle.

         In June of 2013, the NHTSA requested that FCA perform a safety recall of the Jeep Vehicles. On June 4, 2013, and June 18, 2013, FCA responded to the NHTSA's recall request by issuing two press releases (the “Press Releases”) on their website. The June 4, 2013, press release stated the Jeep Vehicles were “safe and . . . not defective, ” and the June 18, 2013, press release reiterated that the vehicles were “not defective” (the “press release statements”). FCA ultimately agreed to perform this recall and offered to install a trailer hitch it believed would remedy any defect. Two years later, on July 2, 2015, the NHTSA held a public hearing to gather evidence regarding deficiencies in FCA's safety recall performance, and later entered into a consent order requiring FCA to perform a vehicle buyback campaign and pay a civil penalty.

         In August of 2013-in the midst of the NHTSA and FCA recall efforts-Plaintiff David Faltermeier looked into purchasing a 2003 Jeep Liberty from a used car dealer, Cars Plus Credit. While on the Cars Plus Credit lot, Plaintiff asked a salesman four questions, [3] test drove the car, and purchased the vehicle for the negotiated price of $4, 900.[4] At the time of purchase, Plaintiff's knowledge about his car stemmed from two sources: the Cars Plus Credit website and his discussions with the salesman. Plaintiff and the Cars Plus Credit salesman never discussed the vehicle's fuel tank, and the parties agree that the salesman did not make any misrepresentations about the Jeep. Def.'s Br. at vi ¶ 9 (Doc. 133); Pl.'s Opp. at vi (Doc. 148). Plaintiff did not see any of FCA's press release statements before buying his vehicle or in the process of buying his vehicle.

         In late 2013, Plaintiff became aware of the FCA recall efforts and FCA's press release statements after reading third-party news reports regarding the recall.[5] See Faltermeier Depo., Def.'s Ex. 1, at 57:1-21 (Doc. 133-1). Plaintiff has never visited FCA's website, where the Press Releases were disseminated, and testified he did not see the Press Releases until his attorneys provided him with a draft of the complaint filed in this matter. Id. at 191:7-199:3.

         For purposes of this order, the Court assumes without deciding that the Jeep Vehicles were defective and FCA's press release statements were false.

         Discussion

         FCA asserts summary judgment is proper for four reasons.[6] Because the Court finds that the press release statements were not made “in connection with the sale” of Plaintiff's ...


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