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Rivera v. Ford Motor Co.

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

August 15, 2017

JON RIVERA, Plaintiff,
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS (Dkt. 13)

          MARK A. GOLDSMITH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Ford Motor Company's motion to dismiss (Dkt. 13). Plaintiff Jon Rivera has brought this action on behalf of himself and a class of current and former owners of 2012-2015 Ford Focus vehicles that were allegedly sold with defective evaporative emission control (“EVAP”) systems. These defective systems allegedly caused the vehicles to stall while in a motion, a condition that Rivera alleges Ford was aware of at the time of sale. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants in part and denies in part Ford's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In May 2013, Plaintiff John Rivera purchased a new 2013 Ford Focus SE from Desoto Ford in Arcadia, Florida. Am. Compl. ¶ 15 (Dkt. 12). In October 2016, nearly three and a half years after his purchase, Rivera began experiencing erratic idling in his vehicle. Id. ¶ 17. This issue worsened; in one incident, the vehicle began to stall while traveling fifty miles per hour. Id. Rivera also noticed that the vehicle's fuel gauge was erratic, with fuel levels changing from a quarter tank full to three-quarters full in an instant. Id. A repair technician at Charlotte County Ford subsequently informed Rivera that his vehicle required replacement of the fuel vapor valve, fuel tank, and fuel pump. Id. at 18. After being quoted a repair cost of approximately $1, 927.50, Rivera was informed that the repairs would not be covered under the terms of Ford's warranties. Id.

         Rivera then went to Desoto Ford, the dealership where he purchased the vehicle, and requested that the dealership repair the vehicle under warranty. Id. ¶ 19. The dealership informed Rivera that it was aware of a problem with the Ford Focus's EVAP but that any repairs would not be covered under the factory warranty. Id.

         The vehicle's EVAP is designed to limit fuel emissions, produced in the fuel tank, from entering the atmosphere. Id. ¶ 29. The vehicle is designed so that vapors emitting from the fuel tank travel to a canister containing charcoal. Id. ¶ 30. The charcoal absorbs the fuel vapor for storage purposes. Id. When the car is running, the fuel vapors stored in the canister are funneled to the engine to be purged. Id. ¶ 31. This prevents the fuel vapors from being released as emissions. Id.

         The vehicle's purge valve, the part at issue here, regulates how much fuel vapor enters the engine by opening or closing as needed. Id. ¶ 32. An electronically-operated solenoid, controlled by the vehicle's engine computer, determines when the purge valve should allow fuel vapors to enter the engine. Id. Generally, the solenoid opens the purge valve when the vehicle is running and fully warmed up. Id. When the engine is off, the purge valve is shut, meaning no fuel vapors should enter the engine. Id. When the purge valve becomes stuck in the open position, like with Rivera's and the rest of the putative class members' vehicles, suction is created when the vehicle's engine is running. Id. ¶ 36. As a result, in addition to fuel vapors, raw fuel is sucked through the EVAP canister, through the purge valve, and directly into the engine. Id. This raw fuel causes the engines in the class vehicles to abruptly hesitate and stall while driving. Id. Other putative class members have reported loss of engine power when traveling in excess of forty-five miles per hour. Id. ¶ 37. In addition to the loss of engine power, Ford technicians have determined that the purge valve has caused fuel tanks to collapse due to raw fuel leaving the tank rapidly. Id. ¶ 39.

         In light of Desoto Ford's statement regarding issues with the purge valve, Rivera called Ford directly and requested a repair under warranty. Id. ¶ 20. After declining his request, Ford informed Rivera that he could decline paying for repairs and wait to see if Ford decided to issue a recall on the purge valves. Id. ¶ 20. Rivera subsequently paid $226.14 to have his purge valve fixed, but has not driven it since because he believes it is not fit for regular and safe operation. Id. ¶ 22.

         A. Ford's Knowledge of the Defective Purge Valve

         Rivera alleges, “upon information and belief, ” that Ford was aware of the EVAP defect through the following: (i) Ford's own records of consumer complaints; (ii) dealership repair records; (iii) records from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”); (iv) warranty and post-warranty claims; and (v) its own internal Technical Service Bulletins (“TSB”). Id. ¶ 41. As an example, Rivera alleges that Ford issued a TSB to its authorized dealerships in March 2015 regarding inaccurate fuel gauge and inaccurate distance-until-empty readings in the putative class members' vehicles. Id. ¶ 42. In the TSB, Ford told dealers to replace the purge valve, the evaporative emission canister, the fuel tank, and/or the fuel pump module if the consumer complained of an inaccurate fuel gauge or inaccurate distance-until-empty reading. Id. ¶ 43. Rivera also alleges that “[a]s experienced manufactures [sic] Ford likely conducts tests on incoming components, including the EVAP system, to verify the parts are free from defect and align with Ford's specifications.” Id. ¶ 44. Thus, according to Rivera, “Ford knew or should have known the EVAP system was defective.” Id.

         Rivera also alleges that Ford should have learned of the defective EVAP system “due to the sheer number of reports received from dealerships.” Id. ¶ 45. Ford received numerous reports from dealerships that customers were experiencing issues with the EVAP system. Id. These complaints ultimately led to the release of the TSB. Id. Ford's customer relations department also collects and analyzes field data, including repair requests made at dealerships, technical reports prepared by engineers, parts sales reports, and warranty claims data. Id. Ford's warranty department also analyzes data submitted by its dealerships in order to identify trends in its vehicles. Id. ¶ 46. When a repair is made under warranty, dealerships must provide Ford with detailed documentation of the problem and the fix employed to correct it. Id.

         Finally, Rivera alleges that the NHTSA's office of defects investigation has received complaints regarding the class vehicles' EVAP systems. Id. ¶ 52. Rivera lists six examples of these complaints, which were filed between May 5, 2015 and July 31, 2016. Id.

         B. Ford's Warranties

         Ford issues the following warranties with each class vehicle: (i) a new vehicle limited warranty; (ii) a powertrain warranty; (iii) an emissions defect warranty; and (iv) an emissions performance warranty. Id. ¶ 47. Under the new vehicle limited warranty, Ford agrees to repair defects reported within the earlier of 3 years or 36, 000 miles. Id. ¶ 48. Under the powertrain warranty, Ford agrees to repair defects affecting various powertrain components within the earlier of 5 years or 60, 000 miles. Id. ¶ 49. Federal law requires vehicle manufacturers to supply a minimum 2 year or 24, 000 mile emissions defect warranty, which covers any covered parts that fail to function due to manufacturing errors, and a 2 year or 24, 000 mile emissions performance warranty, which covers repairs necessitated due to a failed emissions test. Id. ¶ 50. Finally, vehicle manufacturers must also issue an 8 year or 80, 000 mile emissions defect warranty on certain emission system parts. Id. ¶ 51. Rivera alleges that repairs associated with the EVAP system should be included in these and other warranties. Id. ¶¶ 48-51.

         In its motion, Ford argues that the 8 year or 80, 000 mile emission defect warranty on certain emission system parts and the 5 year or 60, 000 mile warranty on certain powertrain components are not applicable. Def. Mot. at 6 (Dkt. 13). It notes that the 8 year or 80, 000 mile warranty is, by its terms, only applicable to repairs of the catalytic converter, the electronic emissions control unit, and onboard emissions diagnostic devices. See Warranty Guide, Ex. A to Def. Mot., at 18 (Dkt. 13-1). The class vehicles' purge valve is not listed. Id. It also is not listed in the components covered by the 5 year or 60, 000 mile warranty. Id. at 10-11.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “[T]he tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. “In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court may consider the complaint as well as . . . documents referenced in the pleadings and central to plaintiff's claims.” Knight v. Bank of Am., No. 16-11662, 2016 WL 6600041, at *3 (E.D. Mich. Nov. 8, 2016). Because the express warranty is referenced in the pleadings and is central to many of Rivera's claims, it will be considered in the Court's ruling.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. ...


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