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UNITED STATES v. FORD MOTOR CO.

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA


July 6, 1978

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff,
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Defendant

The opinion of the court was delivered by: SMITH, JR.

FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

This case was filed under the vehicle recall provisions of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, as amended, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1431. The United States seeks an order declaring that the 1971-1973 Capris produced prior to November 24, 1972 contain a "defect" which "relates to motor vehicle safety" and requiring the manufacturer to (1) immediately notify owners, purchasers and dealers of the existence of the defect and (2) remedy the defect free of charge.

 In March 1975 the Office of Defects Investigation of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued an investigative report relating to its investigation of the windshield wiper pivot assemblies on the model years 1971-1973 Capri automobiles.

 NHTSA made an initial determination that the defect related to motor vehicle safety and notified the defendant by letter dated April 2, 1975. On May 15, 1975 NHTSA held a hearing at which defendant was provided an opportunity to present data and arguments, but not to confront or cross-examine NHTSA personnel. The Administrator adopted the findings of the investigative report and made a final determination of a safety related defect. On January 7, 1976 the government filed this action to enforce the Administrator's final determination and directive and to impose civil penalties on defendant.

 Since Ford has stipulated that the government has made its prima facie case that the Design Level I pivot assemblies contain a "defect" within the meaning of the Safety Act, and will not contest that the Design Level I pivot assemblies contain such a defect, *fn1" the defectiveness of Design Level I pivot assemblies is not in issue.

 The remaining contested issues are:

 (1) whether the "defect" in the Design Level I pivot assemblies (as described above) "relates to motor vehicle safety" within the meaning of Sections 102(1) and 152(b) of the Safety Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1391(1) and 1412(b);

 (2) whether the Design Level II pivot assemblies contain a "defect" within the meaning of Section 102(11) of the Safety Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1391(11); and

 (3) if the Design Level II pivot assemblies do contain such a "defect", whether that "defect" "relates to motor vehicle safety" within the meaning of Sections 102(1) and 152(b) of the Safety Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1391(1) and 1412(b). *fn2"

 On January 15, 1976 an evidentiary hearing was held and Ford's motion to enjoin the imposition of penalties was granted. On September 23, 1976 the Court denied defendant's motion to dismiss or for summary judgment and on January 16, 1978 the Court denied the government motion for summary judgment. Trial de novo was held on April 17, 1978. Based upon the evidence and record compiled at earlier hearings and the trial de novo, the Court makes the following findings.

 FINDINGS OF FACT

 1. The Ford Motor Company ("Ford"), defendant herein, a Delaware corporation which maintains its principal office and place of business in Dearborn, Michigan, is, and at all times relevant to this action has been, engaged in the transaction of business in, and under the laws of, the District of Columbia, all within the jurisdiction of this Court.

 2. Ford is, and at all times relevant to this action has been, a manufacturer engaged in interstate commerce within the meaning of Section 102 of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 (the "Safety Act"), as amended, 15 U.S.C. § 1391, and subject to the provisions of the Safety Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1381 Et seq.

 3. The Secretary of Transportation has delegated the authority to carry out the Safety Act to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator ("Administrator").

 4. The Administrator has delegated to the Associate Administrator for Motor Vehicle Programs the authority to make initial determinations of the existence of defects related to motor vehicle safety in classes of motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment.

 5. Approximately 187,000 of defendant's model year 1971-1973 Capri vehicles which were manufactured and imported into the United States for sale and introduced and delivered into interstate commerce had windshield wiper assemblies installed between January 19, 1970 and November 24, 1972. 6. This case involved the windshield wiper pivot assemblies on model year 1971-1973 Capri automobiles produced by Ford Werke, A. G., Cologne, Federal Republic of Germany ("Ford of Germany") between January 19, 1970 and November 24, 1972. The pivot assemblies fall into two Design Levels, I and II. The model years of Capri automobiles equipped with Design Level I and Design Level II windshield wiper pivot assemblies, the periods during which they were produced and the approximate number of such cars produced for sale in the United States in each period are as follows: APPROXIMATE NUMBER OF DESIGN MODEL PRODUCTION CAPRIS PRODUCED FOR SALE LEVEL YEAR PERIOD IN THE UNITED STATES I 1971 Jan. 19, 1970 to Aug. 1, 1971 66,500 I 1972 Aug. 1, 1971 to Nov. 19, 1971 25,000 II 1972 Nov. 19, 1971 and to 1973 Nov. 24, 1972 95,500

19780706

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