Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Roe v. Ford Motor Co.

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

August 6, 2019

BOBBY ROE, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Defendant.

          Magistrate Judge Anthony P. Patti

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS [20]

          LAURIE J. MICHELSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The 12 plaintiffs in this case are owners of vehicles made by Ford Motor Company and think that their vehicles were not “Built Ford Tough.” In particular, after their vehicles had logged many miles-54, 000 on the low end, 117, 000 on the high end-the water pump broke. In Plaintiffs' view, their water pumps should have lasted the useful life of their vehicle's engine, which, say Plaintiffs, is at least 150, 000 miles. Because their water pumps fell well short of that mark, Plaintiffs think it was defective. Worse, say Plaintiffs, Ford knew that the water pump was defective but failed to disclose that fact, or, still worse, hid it. So Plaintiffs, haling from 11 states, sued Ford alleging 55 violations of law. And Plaintiffs say they are not alone: they seek to represent classes of owners of Ford vehicles that had or might have a water-pump failure like theirs.

         Ford asks the Court to dismiss the entire (amended) complaint on a host of grounds. For the reasons that follow, the Court will dismiss all but two counts.

         I.

         Car engines burn fuel. And burning fuel produces a lot of heat. And too much heat for too long can damage engine parts.

         Enter the water pump. The water pump circulates coolant throughout the engine block to keep engine parts from getting too hot. Historically, water pumps were located outside the engine block and coolant would simply leak onto the ground under the car when the pump failed. (ECF No. 14, PageID.592.)

         Beginning in 2007 and continuing to this day, Ford Motor Company's “Cyclone” engine has powered its Edge, Fusion, Taurus, and Explorer lines of vehicles. One innovation of the Cyclone engine was to place the water pump inside the engine block. One benefit of this design was that the timing chain could spin the water pump; there was no longer a need for a separate accessory belt for the water pump. (ECF No. 14, PageID.592-93.)

         According to Plaintiffs, this efficiency gain came at a cost. Because the water pump was now located inside the engine block, if it broke, the coolant would no longer leak onto the ground below. Instead, the coolant would mix with engine oil. (ECF No. 14, PageID.596.) And this “chocolate milk” substance would then end up in places where only oil should go. (ECF No. 14, PageID.596.) The result, in at least some cases, was that the engine would seize up while the vehicle was in operation. (ECF No. 14, PageID.597.) And if the vehicle was in operation on the highway, a dangerous situation might arise. (See ECF No. 14, PageID.611 (“I was driving my [Ford Explorer] down a main highway and all of a sudden the ‘engine coolant overtemp' came on then ‘low oil pressure' and my vehicle shut down! . . . Luckily I drifted to [the] side of the road[.]”).) And should the driver avoid an accident, she would still be stuck with a large repair bill: $1, 500 to replace just the water pump, but up to $9, 000 if the coolant-oil mixture damaged the engine. (ECF No. 14, PageID.584.)

         The Plaintiffs in this case are owners of Ford vehicles with Cyclone engines. And Plaintiffs each say that their water pumps failed. (Fortunately, none were injured.) Among the 12 plaintiffs, Daryl Mori had his water pump fail with the least mileage on his Ford, 54, 000 miles. (ECF No. 14, PageID.586.) At the other end of the spectrum sits Christopher Stack's Ford: it went 117, 000 miles before water-pump failure. (ECF No. 14, PageID.589.)

         But whether 54, 000 or 117, 000 miles or somewhere in between, each plaintiff says his or her water pump should have lasted a good while longer. Plaintiffs collectively allege that “[i]n modern vehicles, the useful life of the engine is well over 150, 000 miles.” (ECF No. 14, PageID.577.) Given that the water pump's internal location makes it hard to service, and that Ford's maintenance schedules do not include the water pump for service, Plaintiffs say that Ford led them to believe that the water pump would last as long as their engines. And because their pumps did not last at least 150, 000 miles, and because the costs to repair their pumps was significant ($7, 600 in one case), Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit on behalf of themselves and other owners of Fords with Cyclone engines.

         Plaintiffs' amended complaint has a total of 55 counts under 11 states' laws. Oversimplifying somewhat, Plaintiffs' claims fall into three categories. They have tort claims premised on Ford's alleged misrepresentations (both affirmative and omissions). Plaintiffs also bring breach-of-warranty claims. And Plaintiffs have claims under state consumer protection acts.

         Ford has moved to dismiss all 55 counts pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

         II.

         Ford's motion under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the adequacy of the allegations of the amended complaint. For each count, Plaintiffs' amended complaint must contain enough factual content for this Court to reasonably infer that Ford is liable for that cause of action. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The shorthand for this standard is “plausibility.” See Id. And what is plausible is “a context-specific task” requiring this Court “to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 679.

         III.

         The analysis is broken into three parts. Part III.A. assesses the plausibility of Plaintiffs' tort claims. Part III.B. does the same for Plaintiffs' claims under various states' consumer protection acts. In Part III.C., the Court examines Plaintiffs' breach-of-warranty claims.

         A.

         Plaintiffs' tort claims come in several varieties: fraudulent concealment, fraud by omission, and negligent misrepresentation. And they arise under a variety of states' laws (California, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Washington). But Plaintiffs' tort claims have something in common: they are all based on allegedly misleading disclosures or allegedly misleading non-disclosure.

         1.

         The Court begins with Plaintiffs' tort claims based on Ford's disclosures.

         Plaintiffs' misleading-disclosure theory appears to be based on the principle expressio unius est exclusio alterius or, roughly translated, “the explicit mention of one thing implies the exclusion of another.” Plaintiffs point out that the maintenance schedules for their Ford vehicles listed many parts that needed to be serviced or replaced. For example, the maintenance schedules indicated that the transmission-fluid filter needed to be replaced at 60, 000 miles (trucks) or 150, 000 miles (cars). (ECF No. 14, PageID.1130, 1135, 1138, 1151.) And Ford's maintenance schedules said to replace spark plugs at 90, 000 miles. (ECF No. 14, PageID.1133, 1146.) And at 150, 000 miles, said the schedules, “accessory drive belt(s)” needed to be replaced (if they had not been already). (ECF No. 14, PageID.1138, 1151.) In Plaintiffs' view then, Ford identified “numerous engine components” that needed to be “maintained or replaced at certain intervals, up to 150, 000 miles.” (ECF No. 14, PageID.598-99.) Yet, Plaintiffs point out, Ford's maintenance schedules “wholly omit[ted] the water pump.” (ECF No. 14, PageID.598; ECF No. 22, PageID.1591.) Plaintiffs thus maintain that “Ford represent[ed] in the maintenance schedules that no maintenance or service is needed for the Water Pump through 150, 000 miles.” (ECF No. 22, PageID.1591; see also ECF No. 14, PageID.577, 598; ECF No. 22, PageID.1596.)

         The Court does not find Plaintiffs' misrepresentation theory persuasive.

         As an initial matter, accepting Plaintiffs' theory would mean that, via the maintenance schedules, Ford represented that hundreds of engine parts would last 150, 000 miles. Take, for example, the 2011 Ford Edge, the vehicle owned by three plaintiffs. (ECF No. 14, PageID.585, 589, 590.) Examining just a few components of that vehicle's engine reveals that there are 7 parts associated with the tensioner; 15 associated with the radiator;18 associated with the timing gear; and 21 associated with the cylinder head.[1] In other words, it appears that the engine of a 2011 Ford Edge is made up of well over 100 parts. Yet, under Plaintiffs' theory, if any of these 100-plus parts were not on the maintenance schedule, Ford represented that the part would last 150, 000 miles. It seems unlikely that a car manufacturer would make that strong of a representation about so many parts.

         Adding to the implausibility that, via the maintenance schedule, Ford represented that the water pump would last 150, 000 miles is the purpose of the schedule. Plaintiffs' maintenance schedules state, “Routine maintenance is the best way to help ensure you get the performance, dependability, long life and resale value you expect from your vehicle. This is exactly why we've put together the Scheduled Maintenance Guide.” (See e.g., ECF No. 14, PageID.1115 (emphasis added).) The maintenance schedules further state, “Failure to perform scheduled maintenance specified in this guide will invalidate warranty coverage on parts affected by the lack of maintenance.” (See e.g., ECF No. 14, PageID.1115.) So the stated purpose of the maintenance schedule was to set out those parts that, if serviced or replaced according to schedule, would keep the vehicle in good working order and would keep the warranty intact. The stated purpose was not to delineate every single part that might need repair or replacement before 150, 000 miles.

         Finally, to the extent that the maintenance schedule somehow suggested that the water pump would last 150, 000 miles, the express warranty that came with Plaintiffs' vehicles suggested just the opposite. Ford's express warranty told Plaintiffs that their powertrain, which includes the water pump, was “covered for five years or 60, 000 miles, whichever occurs first.” (ECF No. 20, PageID.1434.) But Ford was not willing to go further, say 10 years or 100, 000 miles. The express warranty thus implied that after the lesser of 5 years and 60, 000 miles, all bets were off on the water pump; it might last quite a while longer, it might not.

         Taking together (1) that it is unlikely that a car manufacturer would represent, under penalty of suit, that each of a hundred-plus unidentified engine parts would last 150, 000 miles, (2) that the purpose of the maintenance schedule was not to delineate every part that might need replacement before 150, 000 miles, and (3) that Ford's powertrain warranty went no further than 5 years or 60, 000 miles, Plaintiffs' theory that Ford, via the maintenance schedule, represented that the water pump would last the useful life of the engine is not plausible.

         Plaintiffs cite a few cases suggesting, if not holding, that car manufacturers, via their maintenance schedules, do represent that parts not scheduled for maintenance will last the useful life of the engine or vehicle.

         Not only are Plaintiffs' cases not binding on this Court, the plaintiffs in those cases made allegations not present in this one. In In re Volkswagen Timing Chain Prod. Liab. Litig., No. CV 16-2765 (JLL), 2017 WL 1902160 (D.N.J. May 8, 2017), the complaint alleged, “Timing chains usually last considerably longer than timing belts. For example, Defendants' maintenance schedules require replacement of timing belts after a certain number of miles but do not require maintenance or replacement of the chain-driven Timing Chain System.” Plaintiffs have not likewise alleged that Ford's maintenance schedules for vehicles with water pumps outside the engine block list the water pump on the schedule (whereas the maintenance schedules for vehicles with Cyclone engines omit the water pump). In re Saturn L-Series Timing Chain Prod. Liab. Litig., No. 8:07CV298, 2008 WL 4866604 (D. Neb. Nov. 7, 2008), is likewise distinguishable. There, in addition to omitting the timing chain from the maintenance schedule, Saturn's promotional materials (albeit not for the plaintiffs' vehicles) touted the durability of steel timing chains over other manufacturers' rubber timing belts. Id. at *7. And in Nelson v. Nissan N. Am., Inc., 894 F.Supp.2d 558, 567 (D.N.J. 2012), the plaintiffs “alleged that the Nissan factory maintenance schedules did not even require having the transmission fluids flushed or changed during the life of the vehicle, unless it was used for towing or driving through rough or muddy roads.” The “unless” clause makes Nissan's representation different that Ford's; Ford did not imply that in harsh driving conditions the pump would need to be replaced but in normal driving conditions it would not.

         Shifting gears, Plaintiffs also allege that Ford made misleading disclosures when it advertised its vehicles. For instance, Plaintiffs point to Ford's slogan, “Built Ford Tough.” (ECF No. 14, PageID.601.) (Notably, when most of the plaintiffs bought their car, Ford's slogan was “Go Further.”) They also cull statements from Ford's website such as, “[s]afety continues to be one of the highest priorities in the design of our vehicles, ” “[Ford has] a longstanding commitment to developing and implementing innovations that make our vehicles safer, ” and that Ford vehicles were “Top Safety Pick[s].” (ECF No. 14, PageID.602-603.)

         It is not plausible that these and like promotional statements were false or misleading statements about the lifespan of the water pump. As an initial matter, courts and consumers alike expect manufacturers to use a bit of hyperbole when promoting their goods. See Beck v. FCA U.S. LLC, 273 F.Supp.3d 735, 750 (E.D. Mich. 2017) (“[T]o the extent Beck is claiming that he relied on any [of] FCA's representations regarding their vehicles' general safety, quality, reliability, or performance, those assertions undoubtedly constitute non-actionable puffery.”). Second, the statements Plaintiffs identify are very general. In some instances, Ford is touting the safety or durability of its entire fleet of vehicles. And even when Ford references a single model, the statements refer to the vehicle as whole (e.g., “Top Safety Pick”). A Ford Fusion may well be safe even if 1 out of 100, 000 has a water pump failure before 150, 000 miles.

         In short, to the extent that Plaintiffs' tort claims are premised on affirmative representations by Ford, they are implausible.

         3.

         Having addressed Plaintiffs' allegations that Ford made misleading disclosures about the life of the water pump, the Court turns to Plaintiffs' tort claims based on omission.

         Although Plaintiffs bring their omission-based tort claims under the common law of eight states, these claims, at least in the manner that Plaintiffs have pursued them, have something in common: they all require Plaintiffs to show that Ford knew or should have known of the water-pump defect.

         Start with fraud-by-omission. For six states (California, Maryland New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee, and Washington), Plaintiffs concede that fraud-by-omission requires them to show that Ford knew or should ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.