Nissan recently filed its opposition to class certification in Nelson, et al. v. NissanNorth America, Inc., No. 1:11-cv-05712-JEI-AMD (D. N.J.), a class action asserting claims for allegedly defective transmissions in Nissan’s Maxima model automobile.  Nissan bases its opposition on Plaintiffs’ failure to adequately meet the requirements of Rule 23; specifically, Plaintiffs’ motion fails to satisfy the requirements of commonality, typicality, and predominance.  How the court decides this motion promises to offer useful insights into handling of product defect class actions in the post-Dukes and Comcast legal environment.

Plaintiffs raise allegations of transmission defects in the Maxima that support claims of breach of express warranty, breach of implied warranty, violation of various state consumer protection statutes, and unjust enrichment.  Nissan contends that class certification is improper because of “Plaintiffs’ failure to seriously analyze the elements of the causes of action they assert in light of [Rule 23’s] requirements.” Nelson, et al. v. Nissan North America, Inc., No. 1:11-cv-05712-JEI-AMD, 2014 WL 3670901 (D. N.J.) (Trial Motion, Memorandum and Affidavit).  Nissan overarching argument is that Plaintiffs are unable to meet Rule 23’s requirements because of a myriad of individual factual issues that would arise, making class certification nearly impossible.

Focusing on Dukes’ emphasis on the need for common answers, rather than just common questions, Nissan disputes Plaintiffs’ ability to meet Rule 23’s commonality requirement because the causes of action would not generate common answers for the members of the proposed class.  There is no ability of providing classwide proof establishing the causes of action for all of the members of the class.  Nissan also argues that Plaintiffs fail to establish the typicality requirement because the named Plaintiffs claims are not typical of the “‘legal and factual position(s)’ of the class they seek to represent.”  For example, some Plaintiffs did not experience transmission problems until after the expiration of the express warranty period.  Additionally, Nissan asserts that many of the Plaintiffs will be subject to individual defenses, such as the statute of limitations, requiring litigation of each defense separately. 

The crux of Nissan’s argument though is that class certification is not proper because individual questions predominate over any potential common questions.  For example, in regards to Plaintiffs’ claim of breach of express warranty against Nissan, key determinations for each individual include:  whether the party experienced the alleged defect, whether the car was brought to a Nissan dealership for repair, whether the car was successfully repaired by the Nissan dealership, and whether the defect manifested during the term of the express warranty.  According to Nissan, these types of individual fact issues are present in every one of Plaintiffs’ causes of action, causing individual questions to become the focus of litigation rather than any common questions.  Nissan further sets out that Plaintiffs’ claims face significant individual issues in proving causation and damages because each individual must establish that they were actually injured by the defect (and not some other cause) and there is no valid classwide damages model that can provide a proper class wide recovery of damages. 

The Court’s ruling on this Motion for Certification bears watching, as it may have an effect on what plaintiffs must demonstrate in order to establish the appropriateness of class certification, particularly for other automobile manufacturers and dealers who face similar claims of product defects.