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WALSH v. FORD MOTOR CO.

February 13, 1986

JOHN F. "JACK" WALSH, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREEN

 This class action was brought against defendant Ford Motor Company ("Ford") under the jurisdictional provisions of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 2301 et seq. (1982) ("Magnuson-Moss" or "the Act"). *fn1" Plaintiffs seek damages, declaratory, and injunctive relief for breach of written and implied warranty, strict tort liability, and negligence because of allegedly defective automatic transmissions in certain types of motor vehicles manufactured by Ford. *fn2" The complaint alleges that Ford's 1976-1979, as well as certain 1980 model motor vehicles with FMX, C-3, C-4, or C-6 automatic transmissions, may slip into the reverse position while not being placed there by the driver.

 In an opinion and order dated May 9, 1985, the Court conditionally certified three nationwide classes under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3), 23(c)(1), and 23(c)(4). Walsh v. Ford Motor Co., 106 F.R.D. 378 (D.D.C. 1985). In their motion for class certification, the plaintiffs also sought to certify a punitive damages class for claims arising under the Magnuson-Moss Act. The Court postponed consideration of a punitive damages class in its earlier opinion, instead requesting the parties to submit further briefing on the issue of whether punitive damages are obtainable on claims under Magnuson-Moss and on the issue of which law applies, if punitive damages do lie. Id. at 408-09. Now before the Court is plaintiffs' renewed motion for certification of a punitive damages class. For the reasons stated herein, the Court concludes that punitive damages do not lie in this Magnuson-Moss action and, therefore, declines to certify a punitive damages class.

 I. Class Certification In General

 When determining whether it should grant certification to a class of plaintiffs, a court must not delve into the merits of the action. Eisen v. Carlisle & Jacquelin, 417 U.S. 156, 177-78, 40 L. Ed. 2d 732, 94 S. Ct. 2140 (1974); Blackie v. Barrack, 524 F.2d 891, 901 (9th Cir. 1975), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 816, 50 L. Ed. 2d 75, 97 S. Ct. 57 (1976). A court is obliged to determine only whether the requirements of Rule 23 have been satisfied. See Chestnut Fleet Rentals, Inc. v. Hertz Corp., 72 F.R.D. 541, 543 (E.D. Pa. 1976) ("The central issue raised in a motion for certification is whether a class action is appropriate, not the probability of plaintiffs' success on the merits of the substantive claim." (citing Eisen v. Carlisle & Jacquelin, 417 U.S. 156, 94 S. Ct. 2140, 40 L. Ed. 2d 732 (1974)); Kahan v. Rosenstiel, 424 F.2d 161, 169 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 398 U.S. 950, 90 S. Ct. 1870, 26 L. Ed. 2d 290 (1970)).

 II. Plaintiffs' Punitive Damages Class

 Plaintiffs seek to certify the following class claim for punitive damages:

 
Punitive Damage Incidents:
 
All members of [the implied and written warranty classes and the personal injury class] including the following subclasses of such persons:
 
(a) pursuant to Rule 23(b)(3), all such persons claiming punitive damages directly under the Magnuson-Moss Act, and
 
(b) pursuant to Rule 23(b)(1)(B), all such persons, except those whose injuries occurred or whose Ford vehicles were purchased in Washington, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Michigan, claiming punitive damages under state law, with further subclasses defined as necessary according to
 
(i) whether the person asserts a warranty, strict products liability, or negligence claim, and
 
(ii) whether the applicable state standard for an award of punitive damages is gross negligence or willful misconduct.

 Plaintiffs' Proposed Certification Order, June 13, 1983. Because the Court has declined to certify the personal injury incidents putative class, punitive damages claims must arise solely from the implied and written warranty claims under the Magnuson-Moss Act. Walsh v. Ford Motor Co., 106 F.R.D. at 405-06.

 Plaintiffs argue that punitive damages are obtainable under the Magnuson-Moss Act. They contend that, although the Magnuson-Moss Act does not expressly provide for punitive damages, the statutory language in section 2310(d)(1) encompasses punitive damages. That section provides that ". . . a consumer who is damaged by the failure of a supplier, warrantor, or service contractor to comply with any obligation under this chapter, or under a written warranty, implied warranty, or service contract, may bring suit for damages and other legal and equitable relief. . . ." (Emphasis added). Plaintiffs buttress this extrapolation of the remedies provision by asserting that "had Congress intended to exclude punitive damages, it would have done so with the same explicitness as it ...


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