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Counts v. General Motors, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Northern Division

April 20, 2017

JASON COUNTS, et al, Plaintiff,


          THOMAS L. LUDINGTON United States District Judge

          On June 7, 2016, nine plaintiffs filed a 442-page complaint alleging deceptive advertising, breach of contract, and fraudulent concealment claims under the laws of thirty states against Defendant General Motors (“GM”). ECF No. 1. Fundamentally, Plaintiffs allege that GM installed a “defeat device” in the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel which results in significantly higher emissions when the vehicle is in use compared to when it is being tested in laboratory conditions. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss several months later which made multiple arguments, including that the claims were preempted because they depended on proof of noncompliance with EPA regulations governing emissions and “defeat devices.” On February 14, 2017, the Court issued an opinion and order which granted in part Defendant's motion to dismiss, but rejected the GM's argument that Plaintiffs' claims were preempted. ECF No. 21. On February 28, 2017, Defendant filed a motion seeking clarification, where they raised a new argument: that Plaintiffs' claims are preempted by EPA regulations to the extent they depend upon proving that the Cruze contains a “defeat device” as that term is defined by the EPA. ECF No. 22. For the reasons that follow, GM's motion will be denied.


         The allegations in Plaintiffs' complaint were summarized in the Court's February 14, 2017, opinion and order. That summary is adopted in full. For clarity, the most relevant portions will be repeated here.

The complaint alleges that each Plaintiff is similarly situated. All bought a Chevrolet Cruze which was allegedly equipped with a “defeat device” that resulted in significantly increased emissions when tested during normal driving as compared to when tested in laboratory settings. Plaintiffs further allege that they purchased the vehicle on the “reasonable, but mistaken, belief that [the] vehicle was a ‘clean diesel' as compared to gasoline vehicles, complied with United States emissions standards, and would retain all of its operating characteristics throughout its useful life, including high fuel economy.” See Compl. at ¶¶ 20, 23, 26, 27, 30, 33, 36, 39, 42. Further, Plaintiffs allege that they “selected and ultimately purchased [their] vehicles[s], in part, because of the Clean Diesel system, as represented through the advertisements and representations made by GM.” Id. Finally, Plaintiffs allege that if GM had disclosed the true details of the clean diesel system design or indicated that the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze actually “emitted pollutants at a much higher level than gasoline vehicles do, ” they “would not have purchased the vehicle, or would have paid less for it.” Id.
. . .
All parties agree that GM received a certification of compliance with the relevant regulations from the EPA prior to releasing the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel. However, Plaintiffs allege that, despite that certification and GM's “clean diesel” advertising campaign, the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel was equipped with a “defeat device” which triggered the Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel functions when the vehicle was being tested, but deactivated the system when the vehicle was actually in use. Id. At ¶¶ 73-75.
Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that multiple reports and tests indicate that GM vehicles equipped with “clean diesel” systems “emit far more pollution on the road than in lab tests.” Id. at ¶ 73.

Feb. 14, 2017, Op. & Order at 2, 4, ECF No. 21.


         GM's motion seeks clarification of the opinion and order granting in part its motion to dismiss. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(a), “[t]he court may correct a clerical mistake or a mistake arising from oversight or omission whenever one is found in a judgment, order, or other part of the record.” In response to motions for clarification, courts typically discuss the scope and application of the order being clarified. GM asserts that there is ambiguity regarding how portions of the February 14, 2017, order interact. To the extent there are material ambiguities in the February 14, 2017, opinion and order, they will be addressed below.



         In the February 14, 2017, Opinion and Order, the Court concluded that “to the extent Plaintiffs are suing GM for manufacturing a vehicle that emits ‘more than a certain amount of [NOx or particular emissions]' in violation of EPA regulations or that is not equipped with a properly functioning and federally required ‘emission-control technology, ' their claims are preempted by the EPA.” Feb. 14, 2017, Op. & Order at 23. The Court went on to explain that “Plaintiffs' claims do not directly depend on proof of noncompliance with federal emissions standards.”[1]Id. at 25. In response to GM's argument that allowing Plaintiffs' to bring suit would create “a ‘chaotic patchwork of state standards, '” the Court explained that “Plaintiffs are not attempting to tighten emissions regulations or introduce separate state emissions regulation. . . . Rather, Plaintiffs are attempting to hold GM responsible for what Plaintiffs allege are false representations about certain technology in the Cruze.” Id. at 26 (quoting In re Caterpillar, Inc., C13 & C15 Engine Prod. Liab. Litig., No. 1:14-CV-3722 JBS-JS, 2015 WL 4591236 (D.N.J. July 29, 2015)). The Court further explained: “An ...

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