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Timothy K. Reese & Mary K. v. Ford Motor Company & Faulkner-Ciocca Ford Mercury

October 3, 2011

TIMOTHY K. REESE & MARY K. REESE
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY & FAULKNER-CIOCCA FORD MERCURY TIMOTHY K. REESE & MARY K. REESE
v.
MAGARINO FORD-MERCURY, INC.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: O'neill, J.

MEMORANDUM

I have before me motions for summary judgment by defendants Ford Motor Company ("Ford"), Faulkner-Ciocca Ford Mercury ("Faulkner") and Magarino Ford-Mercury, Inc. ("Magarino"). Ford also requests attorney fees. Plaintiffs Timothy and Mary Reese oppose each motion. For the reasons that follow, I will grant defendants' motions for summary judgment but deny Ford's request for fees.

BACKGROUND

In 2006, the Reeses decided to purchase a new, fully-loaded Mercury Monterey. Doc. 43-4 at p. 7.*fn1 They placed an order with Faulkner, whose inventory at the time did not include a car that met the Reeses' specifications. Doc. 43-7 at p. 3. Magarino's inventory, however, did. Doc. 43-6 at p. 14. Accordingly, Faulkner and Magarino arranged a swap wherein Faulkner acquired a fully-loaded Monterey from Magarino in exchange for another vehicle. Id. The Reeses then purchased the Monterey from Faulkner. Doc. 43-8 at p. 14. When the Reeses acquired the vehicle, it had 129 miles on it. Doc. 43-7 at p. 5. The Monterey came with a new vehicle limited warranty which stated that the warranty did not cover damages caused by the installation of a non-Ford part. Doc. 39-12 at p. 13. Plaintiffs also purchased an extended warranty that extended the warranty coverage to seventy-two months, which was the length of the loan plaintiffs took to pay for the car.*fn2 Doc. 43-8 at p. 22.

Timothy Reese is a Pep Boys store manager. Doc. 43-4 at p. 6. He lacks training in vehicle maintenance and repair and does not service vehicles that come in to Pep Boys. Id. He does, however, perform routine work on his own cars, including oil changes, tire rotations, and changing batteries. Id. When the Reeses acquired the Monterey, Timothy Reese inspected the vehicle and found that it met his specifications. Doc. 39-9 at p. 3. He testified that he would have noticed if the car included aftermarket parts, and that he did not see any such parts in the course of his inspection. Id.

Plaintiffs had the Monterey for approximately three years and 33,000 miles. Doc. 39-5 at p. 5. During that time, Timothy Reese performed oil changes, filter changes, and tire rotations on the vehicle. Doc. 43-4 at p. 7. He also brought the Monterey in to Pep Boys for two state inspections and a fuel filter change. Id. at p. 8. Reese testified that the vehicle required no further maintenance or repair. Id. at p. 9.

One evening in May of 2009, Timothy Reese drove the Monterey home and parked it in his garage. Doc. 43-4 at p. 9. As he exited the vehicle, Reese smelled a burning odor but did not notice any smoke or flames coming out of the car. Id. at p. 10. He proceeded into his house and started to eat dinner with his wife. Id. at p. 12. Shortly thereafter, the Reeses both smelled a burning odor coming from the garage. Id. Timothy Reese opened the door to the garage and saw flames emerging from the front driver's-side corner of the Monterey. Id. The fire spread and damaged the Reeses' property. Id. at p. 15-16.

The Reeses subsequently sued Ford and Faulkner (Civil Action No. 09-2948), asserting claims for breach of warranty, breach of contract, strict liability and negligence. When plaintiffs learned through discovery that Faulkner acquired the Monterey from Magarino, the Reeses brought a separate action against Magarino asserting claims for breach of warranty, strict liability and negligence (Civil Action No. 10-1181). The Magarino suit was then consolidated with the action against Ford and Faulkner.*fn3

The Reeses have retained forensic mechanic Victor Donatelli as an expert. He opined that the fire started in the area of aftermarket wiring connected to the Monterey's engine cooling fan resistor. Doc. 45-10 at p. 4. Donatelli testified at his deposition that Ford would not have built the Monterey with the aftermarket wiring and that the vehicle would not have left Ford's possession with the aftermarket wiring. Doc. 39-6 at p. 4. Donatelli also observed that the vehicle's power steering cooler showed signs of damage suggesting the car had been in a crash. Doc. 45-10 at p. 6.

Donatelli further testified at his deposition that earlier in his career, when he was a mechanic at an automobile dealership, he was occasionally asked to repair vehicles that became damaged while in the dealership's possession. Doc. 43-14 at p. 3. Donatelli observed that those repairs would not be documented. Id. at p. 4. Donatelli testified that he did not, however, ever use aftermarket parts to make such repairs. Id.

Ford's experts, fire investigator Larry Helton and design analysis engineer James J. Engle, also conclude that the fire originated in an area of the engine compartment that included aftermarket wiring. Doc. 43-13 at p. 3; Doc. 39-7 at p. 3. Faulkner and Magarino have jointly retained a mechanical engineer and certified fire and explosion investigator who opines that the cause of the fire was undetermined. Doc. 43-15 at p. 7. In their motions for summary judgment, however, Faulkner and Magarino take the position that aftermarket wiring caused the fire. Doc. 38-1 at p. 2; Doc. 29-1 at p. 2.

The record contains no evidence showing who installed the aftermarket wiring. Similarly, the Monterey's maintenance records show no sign that the vehicle was ever involved in a collision.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment will be granted "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of demonstrating that "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. If the movant sustains its burden, the non-movant must set forth facts demonstrating the existence of a genuine dispute. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A dispute as to a material fact is genuine ...


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