U.S. Supreme Court to issue ruling regarding Arkansas class action against GM

Michelle Massey, East Texas Bureau Dec. 17, 2008, 12:16pm

TEXARKANA, Ark. � The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to release a decision Jan. 12 regarding a petition for a writ of certoriatia filed by General Motors in a class action pending in the Miller County Circuit Court of Arkansas.

The lawsuit accuses General Motors of selling approximately 4 million pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles with defectively designed parking brakes.

Plaintiff Boyd Bryant, the named class representative, argues General Motors discovered the parking brake defect in 2000, but withheld the information until 2003 to avoid paying millions of dollars in warranty claims.

Within the first amended complaint, Bryant accused GM of breach of express warranty, breach of implied warranty of merchantability, violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, unjust enrichment and fraudulent concealment/failure to disclose.

Miller County Circuit Court Judge Jim Hudson certified the class action in January 2007. The class definition includes "owners or subsequent owners of 1999-2002 1500 series pickups and utilities originally equipped with an automatic transmission and a PBR 210 x 30 Drum-in Hat parking brake system utilizing a high-force spring clip retainer that registered his vehicle in any state in the United States."

GM appealed Judge Hudson's decision to the Arkansas Supreme Court and oral arguments were held in June over the class certification.

General Motors argued that the lawsuit could not continue as a class action due to significant variances in state laws regarding motor vehicle product defects, factual variances and an overly broad class definition.

Shortly after oral arguments, the Arkansas Supreme Court released its opinion that affirmed the circuit court's class certification that found there is "no greater merits-intensive determination than the one regarding choice of law."

The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that variances in state laws will have no effect on class certification of multistate class actions.

Writing the opinion for the Arkansas Supreme Court, Associate Justice Paul Danielson agreed with the lower court and stated that if the application of multiple states' laws "prove too cumbersome or problematic, the circuit court could always consider decertifying the class."

Moreover, the opinion stated, "Upon a final order by the circuit court, General Motors would be able to challenge the circuit court's choice of law, just as in any other case."

The court concluded that determining choice of law issues prior to certification would force the lower court to conduct a rigorous analysis and delve into the merits of the case, which under Arkansas law the court is not permitted to do prior to class certification.
After the decision, GM filed a motion to stay the mandate which the Arkansas Supreme Court granted.

GM then filed a petition for a writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to release a decision on the writ on Jan 12. If GM is unsuccessful, the plaintiffs will seek relief from the Arkansas Supreme Court's mandate and proceed to trial in the spring.

The parties are schedule to appear before Judge Hudson on Jan 12 to provide a form notice to the class.

Judge Hudson has also ordered mediator John Mercy to continue negotiations between the parties until resolution or trial.

A similar litigation with overlapping issues and claims, Hunter vs. General Motors, is pending in the Superior of the State of California, County of Los Angles, Central District. In addition to the allegations asserted by the Arkansas case, the Hunter litigation also involves a parking brake system found in heavy duty trucks and a broader range of GM vehicles with potentially faulty parking brake systems.

Although the case is four years old, the proposed class, which includes plaintiffs from California and across the country, has not been certified by the California court. The case continues with pre-trial proceedings.

Miller County Circuit Court Judge Jim Hudson recently sent a letter to the California judge requesting possible communication regarding the resolution of the two cases.

Bryant, et al vs. General Motors Case No CV-2005-51-2

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Organizations in this Story

Arkansas Supreme Court
625 Marshall St
Little Rock, AR 72201

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