Northern California Record

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Judge dismisses two lemon law transmission cases involving Ford Focus, Fiesta

Federal Court

By Rich Peters | Jan 22, 2020


LOS ANGELES – A federal judge has dismissed two cases against Ford Motor Co. over transmission issues with Focus and Fiesta models.

Late last month, Judge Andre Birotte Jr. of the U.S. Central California District judge dismissed Mary Cannon and Christi Brown's individual actions with prejudice.

The auto giant has been fighting lemon law actions consolidated last year at the Central District of California which allege power shift transmission are prone to delayed acceleration and downshifting and that some vehicles have crashed.

In Brown's case, Ford had argued her fraud claims should be barred by the statute of limitations because within six months of her June 2014 purchase, "she was aware of facts that would have caused a reasonable person to at least suspect she might have a cause of action—partly because a plaintiffs’ firm wrote her to tell her so," but that she did not file her complaint until more than three years after that date. 

Plaintiff firms representing plaintiffs in the consolidated action include Kiesel Law of Beverly Hills, Strategic Legal Practices of Los Angeles, Knight Law Group of Los Angeles, Consumer Legal Remedies APC of Beverly Hills, and others.  

In October, Birotte denied summary judgment sought by Ford, but said he would allow further hearing on the company's moves to exclude certain plaintiff expert witnesses as unreliable.

In the cases of Cannon and Brown, Ford specifically sought to, and succeeded in, excluding automotive service technician Randall Bounds from testifying. 

“...Bounds...has experience fixing cars, but he is not qualified to opine on value and safety, and his ‘opinions’ are nothing more than pure guesswork with no valid basis,” Ford stated in its memorandum of points and authorities to exclude Bounds' testimony.

“His opinions are not supported by any facts or analysis, and he does not cite a single source to support whatever ‘methodology’ he applied," the memorandum states. "In addition to being unreliable, his opinions would not be helpful to the jury, as they amount to little more than thinly veiled legal conclusions on ultimate issues and are not based on any specialized knowledge or expertise. Bounds does not come close to employing the ‘level of intellectual rigor that [Rule] 702 requires’ for the admission of expert testimony.”

Also last month, Ford lost a second consecutive verdict in the consolidated action, but an appeal of a $23,000 verdict could be forthcoming.

In the case of Yvonne and Salvador Quintero, Ford argued at trial that plaintiff's counsel engaged in misconduct by intentionally violating an order limiting testimony in the questions it repeatedly asked of witnesses, which it said substantially prejudiced the defense.

“I'd ask to move for a mistrial at this time based on the continued misconduct of counsel in conjunction with this witness, but this is the umpteenth time -- and we'll give you documentation on it, your honor -- where counsel has intentionally violated an order in limine that is of substantial prejudice to the defense," said Ford attorney Frank P. Kelly III of Shook Hardy & Bacon in San Francisco.

"...I believe asking improper questions is intentional," Kelly said.

In November, a jury awarded $64,000 to plaintiff Mark Pedante, the first in a long line of MDL plaintiffs suing Ford.

However, the $64,000 verdict could have been much larger as Birotte struck fraud-based claims just days before trial started. In the end, the jury’s award was significantly less than what Ford had originally offered the plaintiff.

In the last six years, more than 30,000 complaints have been filed against the auto industry, and each year since 2015 the number has grown. Ford Motor Co. has been hit with the most lemon law suits with at least 8,791 since 2015.

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