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Hurst v. Nissan North America, Inc.

Supreme Court of Missouri

October 5, 2017

ROBERT HURST, Respondent,
v.
NISSAN NORTH AMERICA, INC., Appellant.

         APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF JACKSON COUNTY The Honorable Jack R. Grate, Jr., Judge

          Paul C. Wilson, Judge

         Robert Hurst, on behalf of a class of similarly situated plaintiffs ("Plaintiffs"), sued Nissan North America, Inc. ("Nissan") for violations of sections 407.010 to 407.130, [1] commonly known as the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act ("MMPA"), based on alleged misrepresentations concerning the dashboards in certain Nissan Infinity FX vehicles. Following a jury trial, the trial court entered judgment requiring Nissan to pay $2, 000 in damages to each class member identified in a claims process and $1.9 million in attorney fees. Nissan appealed. This Court granted transfer and has jurisdiction. Mo. Const. art. V, § 10. For the reasons set forth below, the judgment in favor of Plaintiffs is reversed and this Court enters judgment for Nissan.

         Background

         The facts, taken in the light most favorable to the judgment, are as follows. Nissan manufactures a brand of automobiles under the name Infinity. Beginning in 2003, Nissan manufactured the two models at issue in this case, the Infiniti FX35 and FX45 (collectively, the "FX vehicles"). Approximately 118, 000 FX vehicles were sold nationwide. Beginning in 2005, Nissan began receiving complaints that the dashboards in the FX vehicles were defective in that, when exposed to heat and humidity, many of the dashboards deformed or "bubbled." Nissan changed dashboard suppliers, but the defect persisted. Nissan changed suppliers again, and the number of defective dashboards dropped to 0.2 percent. When offering the FX vehicles for sale, Nissan provided a warranty covering defective parts, including but not limited to the dashboards. Nissan extended the length of this warranty with respect to the defective dashboards and, ultimately, replaced more than 45, 000 dashboards without cost to the vehicle owners.

         After preliminary litigation concerning class certification, see Hope v. Nissan North Am., Inc., 353 S.W.3d 68 (Mo. App. 2011), the trial court certified a class for trial consisting of those who purchased FX vehicles in Missouri through the Nissan distribution system with the original manufacturer's dashboard. This class proceeded to trial solely on the theory that Nissan made affirmative misrepresentations in advertising the FX vehicles. The alleged misrepresentations included statements in various promotional materials to the effect that:

• The FX is a "premium" vehicle and a "leader in style."
• "Since its introduction, the FX has been a leader in style."
• The FX "embodies the Infiniti philosophy of combining design and performance in one luxurious package."
• The FX has a "High Tech Interior Accentuated with Luxurious Comfort."
• The FX encompasses "the comfort and amenities of a luxury car."
• The FX provides a "unique blend of uncompromising style and luxury."
• The FX provides "features that are both elegant and intelligent."
• The FX has "[a]n ergonomically designed, sport-inspired cockpit [that] embraces the driver and elevates the ...

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