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Webb v. Volvo Cars of N.A., LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 26, 2018

ANA WEBB, et al., Plaintiffs,


          BAYLSON, J.

         I. Introduction

         This putative class action asserts violations of the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (“UTPCPL”) (Count I), unjust enrichment (Count II), breach of express warranty and implied warranty of merchantability (Counts III and IV), and negligent misrepresentation and fraud (Counts V and VI) against Volvo Car Corporation (“VCC”) and two of its subsidiaries, Volvo Cars of North America, Inc. (“VCNA”) and Volvo Car UK Limited (“VCUK, ” and together with VCC and VCNA, “Volvo”).

         Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint. For reasons stated below, the Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED with prejudice.

         II. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff's claims are based on Defendants' alleged failure to install a Side Impact Protection System (“SIPS”) equipped with steel “door bars” in the rear passenger-side doors of Volvo 850 vehicles. The named plaintiff, Ana Webb, alleges that, on May 1, 2009, she purchased one of these (used) vehicles based on advertising that touted Volvo as a leader in automobile safety and that claimed Volvo vehicles contained SIPS on all passenger doors.

         The case began with the filing of a class action complaint on May 1, 2013. After VCNA filed a Motion for More Definite Statement (ECF 4), Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on September 16, 2013 (ECF 12). Then, on October 3, 2013, VCUK filed a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction (ECF 18), and VCC and VCNA filed a joint Motion for More Definite Statement (ECF 20), which the parties fully briefed. On December 6, 2013, the Court held a hearing with all parties, during which the Court granted leave to Plaintiffs to submit a Second Amended Complaint, which they filed on December 19, 2013. (ECF 49) Also during the December 6, 2013 hearing, Plaintiffs' counsel requested limited discovery in the form of a corporate designee deposition of VCUK. (Id.) The Court granted this request, but Plaintiffs' counsel never took the requested deposition. Thus, VCUK's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction was later granted, with the case proceeding only against VCC and VCNA (hereinafter, “Volvo”). (ECF 90)

         On December 30, 2013, Defendants filed a Motion to Stay (ECF 56), in light of a very similar case pending between the parties in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Defendants also moved for an extension of time to respond to Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint. (ECF 57) The Court entered a stay in the case on January 31, 2014 (ECF 63). One year later, the stay expired by its own terms. After the parties engaged in additional motion practice, on June 23, 2015, the Court entered another stay, as the parallel case in Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas had gone to trial but was then pending on appeal. (ECF 92) On June 24, 2016, the Pennsylvania Superior Court vacated part of the Court of Common Pleas' judgment, on the grounds that, having dismissed all negligence claims from the case, the Court should not have instructed the jury that federal vehicle safety standards were relevant to the question of strict product liability. Webb v. Volvo Cars of North America, LLC, 148 A.3d 473 (Pa. Super. Ct. June 24, 2016). As a result, the Superior Court remanded the case to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas for a retrial limited only to the strict liability claims. Volvo then filed a request for allocatur to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

         This Court entered an Order on July 19, 2016, maintaining the federal case in “suspense status” pending the outcome of the related state case. Then, on May 4, 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied allocatur. Following that decision, Volvo filed in this Court a motion to lift the stay in this federal case (ECF 97), as well as a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint (ECF 98), and a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Court I of Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint. (ECF 101)

         In summary, more than four years since this case was first filed in this Court, [1] the parties' parallel state case remains where it began, before the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas- although its breadth has been limited substantially. Similarly, the present federal case has not moved past the Rule 12 phase.

         There being no further grounds for delay, it is now an appropriate time to resolve Defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss.[2] The parties have fully briefed the Motion (ECF 98, 111, 115), and the Court held oral argument on March 19, 2018.

         III. Factual Background[3]

         On May 1, 2009, Plaintiff Ana Webb purchased a used 1997 Volvo 850. (SAC ¶ 30) During the period that the Volvo 850 was manufactured, sold, marketed, and advertised by Volvo, steel anti-intrusion door bars were an industry-standard safety feature in passenger vehicles in the U.S. (Id. ¶ 32) Moreover, Volvo expressly and implicitly advertised and marketed solid-steel anti-intrusion bar doors as a safety feature of the Volvo 850 “in advertising, marketing, promotions, sales materials, owner's manual materials, safety materials, express and implied warranties, and press statements and releases.” (Id. ¶ 37)[4] Consistent with this, Volvo's marketing and advertising messages are frequently focused on safety. (See, e.g., id. ¶¶ 40-45) Thus, Plaintiff Webb bought her Volvo 850 under the belief that it was safe and that it included solid steel anti-intrusion door bars on all four doors. (Id. ¶ 2-3) However, the Volvo 850 did not contain door bars in its rear passenger doors. (Id. ¶ 4) As a result, Plaintiff Webb filed this class action lawsuit on behalf of herself and a nationwide class of current owners and lessees of the Volvo 850 for the model years 1992-1997, alleging consumer protection violations, express and implied warranty violations, fraudulent and negligent misrepresentations, and unjust enrichment. (Id. ¶¶ 1, 59-99)

         IV. The Parties' Contentions

         A. The Second Amended Complaint

         Specifically, Plaintiffs allege six causes of action:

Count I: Volvo violated Pennsylvania's Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (“UTPCPL”) by: (1) falsely representing that its 1992-1997 Volvo 850 vehicles had a Side Impact Protection System and anti-intrusion door bars, and, (2) by failing to comply with the terms of a written warranty.
Count II: Through its material misrepresentations regarding known design defects in its Volvo 850 vehicles, Volvo was unjustly enriched by Plaintiffs.
Count III: Volvo violated its express warranty that its Volvo 850 vehicles were of good quality, free of defects, and were safe.
Count IV: Volvo violated its implied warranty that its Volvo 850 vehicles were of marketable quality.
Count V: Volvo negligently provided false information to Plaintiffs that Volvo 850 vehicles had steel anti-intrusion door bars in their rear passenger doors.
Count VI: Volvo made material false misrepresentations that its Volvo 850 vehicles had door bars in their rear passenger doors and were safer than other vehicles in the event of a side-impact collision.

         B. The Motion to Dismiss

         In their Motion to Dismiss, Defendants contend that Counts I (UTPCPL), V (Negligent Misrepresentation), and VI (Fraud) should be dismissed because they lack allegations of justifiable reliance on any statement or advertising by Volvo.

         Moreover, Defendants contend that Count II (Unjust Enrichment) should be dismissed because Plaintiffs have not adequately alleged a benefit conferred on Defendants by Plaintiffs, knowledge or appreciation of those benefits by Defendants, or inequitable acceptance and retention of such benefits.

         Defendants also contend that Count III (Express Warranty) should be dismissed. To the extent that the claim is based on Volvo's 1997 New Car Limited Warranty (“Volvo Limited Warranty”), the warranty included a time and mileage limitation that expired long before Plaintiff Webb purchased her vehicle. To the extent that the claim is not based on the Volvo Limited Warranty, Defendants assert, Plaintiffs have not adequately alleged reliance on a specific misleading advertisement or other representation.

         Additionally, Defendants contend that, to the extent Plaintiffs rely on a breach of express warranty for their UTPCPL claim (Count I), that should also be dismissed for the same reasons that Count III, mentioned immediately above, should be dismissed.

         Lastly, Defendants urge the Court to dismiss Plaintiffs' Implied Warranty claim (Count IV) because the Volvo Limited Warranty confined any implied warranties to four years from the time of sale to the original retail purchaser, which expired long before Plaintiff purchased the used vehicle and the four-year statute of limitations expired.

         C. Plaintiffs' Response in Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss

         In response to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiffs assert that they adequately pled justifiable reliance and thus provided sufficient notice to Defendants as to Counts I (UTPCPL), V (Negligent Misrepresentation), and VI (Fraud).

         Plaintiffs similarly disagree that their Unjust Enrichment (Count II) claim is inadequately pled, because they alleged that Plaintiffs conferred both direct and indirect benefits on Defendants, Defendants knew that they obtained those benefits, and Defendants acted inequitably in accepting and retaining such benefits.

         With respect to their Implied Warranty (Count IV) claim, as well as their Express Warranty (Count III) claim-and the derivative UTPCPL claim-Plaintiffs assert that they adequately highlight the specific written warranties in Volvo's advertising and safety materials that Volvo violated. They also assert that any disclaimer by Volvo was ineffective because it did not state that it applied to design defects and was not conspicuously featured in the relevant materials. Plus, they contend, the four year statute of limitations does not apply because the doctrine of equitable estoppel bars Volvo from lulling Plaintiffs into a sense of false security during the limitations period to prevent timely accountability.

         Lastly, Plaintiffs move under Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2) to file a fourth complaint, should the Court find that their third complaint is inadequate.

         D. Defendants' Reply in Support of the ...

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