Specifically, Subaru urged the court to apply the doctrine of “prudential mootness” to decline jurisdiction over the case and find that the NHTSA-coordinated recall was sufficient to address the disputes at issue.
On March 10, 2022, Judge Joseph H. Rodriguez of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey entered an order significantly limiting the scope of a consolidated group of four putative class action lawsuits pending against Subaru. The consolidated case arises from allegations by 34 plaintiffs in 24 different states that claim their Subaru vehicles suffered from defective low-pressure fuel pumps. Based on this theory, the plaintiffs brought 59 separate causes of action ranging from alleged violations of state consumer fraud statutes to common law fraud, breach of contract, and strict products liability against both Subaru and Denso Corporation, the manufacturer of the allegedly defective fuel pumps.
The court’s order granted the defendants’ motions to dismiss portions of the plaintiffs’ complaint and, in doing so, substantially limited the scope of the lawsuits as they proceed into discovery. Most notably, the court dismissed a majority of the plaintiffs’ strict products liability claims, holding that they were barred by the “economic loss rule,” which prevents the recovery of purely economic losses by way of tort claims. The court also dismissed the plaintiffs’ fraudulent concealment/omission claims, holding that general statements concerning the “safety,” “dependability” and “reliability” of Subaru vehicles constitute “mere puffery” and thus “cannot provide the basis for a fraud claim.”
While the court granted the defendants’ motions in part and reduced the number of claims that could proceed, it also rejected Subaru’s contention that the cases should be dismissed in full in light of Subaru’s cooperation with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to voluntarily recall the fuel pumps at issue. Specifically, Subaru urged the court to apply the doctrine of “prudential mootness” to decline jurisdiction over the case and find that the NHTSA-coordinated recall was sufficient to address the disputes at issue. The court rejected this argument, holding that the doctrine applies only to equitable claims, not actions seeking legal remedies. The court did, however, dismiss the plaintiffs’ negligent recall claims, finding them preempted by the Motor Vehicle Safety Act.
Overall, this decision provides important insights for automotive manufacturers facing claims of allegedly defective vehicle components. Companies facing such claims must conduct rigorous analyses of the interplay between state and federal statutes, particularly when considering voluntarily recalls, to ensure that they strike the correct balance between maximizing consumer safety while limiting the risk of future litigation.
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