FRESNO – A federal judge denied a request to amend a complaint in a vehicle warranty lawsuit.
In an opinion issued May 14, Judge Anthony Ishii of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California found the plaintiffs weren’t diligent in asking to modify the scheduling disorder and denied their request to amend the complaint.
Plaintiffs Ignacio and Elizabeth Ramos bought a new 2013 Dodge Ram 1500 in May 2013. After discovering an alleged defect that didn’t conform to a manufacturer’s warranty, they sued FCA US on March 28, 2017, alleging breach of warranty and fraudulent concealment, saying the company knew the truck’s Totally Integrated Power Module (TIPM) was defective. On July 20, 2017, FCA removed the lawsuit to the federal court.
Ishii said both parties retained automotive experts during discovery. In a June 29, 2018, deposition, the Ramoses’ expert Darrell Blasjo neither opined or concluded that TIPM was causing the issues. In a Sept. 18, 2018, deposition, FCA’s expert Jeff Richards said FCA didn’t equip 2013 Dodge Ram 1500s with TIPMs.
The Ramoses also had a corporate fraud expert, Barbara Luna, who in August issued a report saying the truck had a defective PowerNet Architecture, the newer version of the TIPM.
On Oct. 30, 2018, the Ramoses filed a pretrial statement requesting leave to file a first amended complaint, though Ishii wrote that document “stated nothing further about amending the complaint, such as the proposed contents of the amended complaint, the legal basis for amending the complaint, why the request was being made after the amendment deadline, and whether plaintiffs had discussed the requested amendment with FCA.”
Ishii pointed to a November filing in which two of the Ramoses’ attorneys, Steve Mikhov and Amy Morse, who were working with different plaintiffs in an unrelated state court warranty lawsuit, “made many of the same assertions and arguments” in the motion to amend the complaint against FCA, such as how they “recently” learned their truck didn’t have a TIPM. He said a similar filing took place in December in a second unrelated action.
On March 28, FCA moved for partial summary judgment. Eleven days later, the Ramoses sought to amend the complaint so it contained allegations about a defective PowerNet, not a TIPM.
Ishii said the Ramoses “were diligent in discovering the new information and requesting leave to amend the complaint,” and added the motion wasn’t made in bad faith, nor were they trying to delay proceedings or open additional discovery for a trial slated to begin June 11. He also said the legal theories wouldn’t change, as changing references to which system is allegedly defective is a matter of semantics.
However, he also wrote the Ramoses “were not diligent in requesting a modification of the scheduling order” — which their motion implicitly requests — because the Richards and Blasjo expert reports were filed 10 months earlier, Luna’s report came out seven months beforehand and the Ramoses’ attorneys modified complaints for other clients five and four months before the filing in question.
“It is likely that plaintiffs contemplated amending their complaint at least five months before moving to do so,” Ishii wrote. “It is also likely that FCA’s motion for partial summary judgment prompted, to some notable degree, plaintiffs to finally file the motion.”
Not only did the Ramoses omit details about when and how they came to learn of the TIPM/PowerNet distinction, Ishii wrote, he also said some of their factual “assertions appear to be false … these assertions are totally devoid of evidentiary support, which is not surprising because the assertions are clearly contradicted by the evidence.”