May 16 (Westlaw Journals) - The California federal judge overseeing multidistrict litigation on alleged unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles will not take “judicial notice” of government studies that found no link between the phenomenon and alleged electronic throttle system defects.
At the same time, Judge James V. Selna of the Central District of California said most of the economic damage claims involving the allegedly diminished value of the vehicles “are neither conclusory nor implausible.”
He said the plaintiffs “plausibly allege an injury because they did not receive the product that they bargained for … a defect-free Toyota vehicle.”
Judge Selna said claims of overpayment for purportedly defective, unsafe vehicles constitute an economic-loss injury that is sufficient to confer standing under Article III; the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 1750; the Unfair Competition Law, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200; and the False Advertising Law, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17500.
The District Court did grant Toyota’s motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims on unjust enrichment and revocation of vehicle acceptance.
Judicial notice of the NHTSA-NASA study
Toyota had asked the District Court to take judicial notice, as “background material,” of a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration entitled, “Technical Assessment of Toyota Electronic Throttle Control (ETC) Systems,” and a National Aeronautics and Space Administration report, “Technical Support to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on the Reported Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) Unintended Acceleration (UA) Investigation.”
The automaker said the two agencies could not identify any electronic malfunction that would cause such incidents, and found “no reason to believe” that any failure of the ETC system would affect vehicle braking.
The plaintiffs countered that Toyota’s request was an improper attempt to avoid litigation of disputed issues.
They argued in a brief on the issue, “If this court were to grant the request, plaintiffs would ostensibly be barred from contesting the findings by NASA and NHTSA because a judicially noticed fact is incontrovertible.”
Judge Selna denied Toyota’s motion.
He said the NHTSA and NASA studies are “far beyond mere ‘background material’ and instead implicate the key disputed factual allegations at issue in this action.”
As such, the judge added, they are clearly subject to reasonable dispute and not proper subjects of judicial notice.
In re Toyota Motor Corp. Unintended Acceleration Marketing, Sales Practices & Products Liability Litigation, No. 8:10-ML-2151 (C.D. Cal. May 13, 2011).
(Reporting by Nick Sullivan, Westlaw Journal Automotive)