Plaintiffs from California, New Jersey, and Florida claimed their 2002-2005 Ford Explorers, Mercury Mountaineers, and Lincoln Aviators suffered from a common design defect: the plastic appliqué just below the flip-glass on the rear tailgate had a tendency to crack and allow water to corrode the metal parts that hold the flip-gate in place. As a result, plaintiffs asserted the flip-glass would spontaneously shatter or fall-off, resulting in a safety hazard and diminution in value of the subject SUVs. Plaintiffs moved to certify three classes based on Ford’s alleged violation of consumer protection statutes in each of the three states.
To substantiate their claims that the cracked appliqué posed significant safety risks giving rise to a duty to disclose and diminishing the value of the vehicles, plaintiffs relied on several experts in fields such as automotive glazing, corrosion, and appraisal. Ford moved to exclude the experts’ testimony pursuant to Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). In particular, Ford argued that the testimony concerned matters outside the scope of their expertise, was unsupported by evidence, and employed unreliable methodologies. Ford also moved for summary judgment on the individual plaintiffs’ claims.
The court agreed with Ford that the experts’ testimony should be stricken. For example, the court found that the glazing expert was not qualified to offer opinions about the cracking appliqué, the rate of cracking in the appliqués, or corrosion. The corrosion expert, in turn, failed to support his opinions about the link between the cracked appliqués and a higher rate of corrosion with actual evidence or a reliable methodology. Likewise, the appraiser did not evaluate any sales prices of vehicles with similar alleged defects or use any other methodology to reach his opinion that the value of the SUVs diminished by 15 percent. In striking the appraiser’s testimony, the court quoted from Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 157 (1999): “Nothing in either Daubert or the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires a District Court to admit opinion evidence connected to existing data only by the ipse dixit of the expert.”
Without the testimony of the defect experts, the court found that no reasonable jury could find the cracked applique posed any safety risk such that Ford had a duty to disclose. Moreover, without the valuation expert, plaintiffs could not show actual damages. Thus, the court granted Ford’s motion for summary judgment on all of plaintiffs’ individual claims. The entry of final summary judgment rendered plaintiffs’ motion to certify the three classes moot.