Watson, et. al. vs. Ford Motor Co. Survives Motion to Dismiss

In March of 2014, Watson v. Ford Motor Co., a case filed in Federal District Court in South Carolina, survived a motion to dismiss the Plaintiff's breach of warranty claim based on the defendant's argument that the Plaintiff failed to allege an actionable injury. 

The Plaintiff's complaint alleges nationwide class claims for violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (“MMWA”), 15 U.S.C. §§ 2301-2312; and statewide class claims under South Carolina law for breach of the implied warranty of merchantability; unjust enrichment; and violation of the South Carolina Regulation of Manufacturers, Distributors, and Dealers Act (the “Dealers Act”), S.C. Code Ann. §§ 56-15-10 to -600 (2006 & Supp. 2012). (ECF No. 1 at 28-34.) 

The Plaintiffs allege that between 2002 and 2010, Ford Motor Company knowingly manufactured automobiles equipped with an electronic throttle control system that rendered the automobiles susceptible to incidents of sudden unintended acceleration and, as a consequence, unsafe to customers. The Plaintiff's also allege that Ford automobiles were defectively designed and/or manufactured to the extent that they were equipped with an electronic throttle control system, but were not equipped with a brake override system or other adequate fail-safe mechanism to prevent incidents of sudden unintended acceleration.  The vehicle in question is a Mustang purchased in Columbia, South Carolina in 2012. 

Surviving a Motion to Dismiss

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, “challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint.” Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009) A motion to dismiss should not be granted pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) unless is appears certain that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts that would support her claim and would entitle her to relief. Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993). When considering a motion to dismiss, the court should accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and should view the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. Ostrzenski v. Seigel, 177 F.3d 245, 251 (4th Cir. 1999); Mylan Labs., Inc., 7 F.3d at 1134. “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 4 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). 

Implied Warranty of Merchantability in South Carolina

South Carolina law sets forth several requirements that must be met for goods to be merchantable. See id. at § 36-2-314(2). For purposes of Plaintiffs’ claim, the only requirement relevant is that the goods, to be merchantable, “are fit for the ordinary purposes for which such goods are used.” Id.  In the vehicle context, the implied warranty of merchantability is “a guarantee that [vehicles] will operate in a ‘safe condition’ and ‘substantially free of defects.’” Carlson v. Gen. Motors Corp., 883 F.2d 287, 297 (4th Cir. 1989). “Thus, ‘where a car can provide safe, reliable transportation [,] it is generally considered merchantable.’” Id. 

The Court's Ruling

Here, Plaintiff's assert that their claim for unmerchantability is sufficiently pled based on allegations in the complaint that the automobiles were susceptible to sudden unintended acceleration.  Ford, in response, argued that it is entitled to dismissal of the claim because Plaintiff failed to allege an actionable injury, which requires manifestation of the defect and an injury. Citing, Wilson v. Style Crest Prods, Inc. (S.C. 2006). Based on the above, the court held that it cannot conclude with certainty that Plaintiffs are unable to prove any set of facts in support of this claim entitling them to relief. Thus, the motion to dismiss the Plaintiff's claim for breach of implied warranty of merchantability was denied.  The court further denied the defendant's motion to dismiss as to the Plaintiff's remaining three claims. 

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