United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
JOSHUA RIAUBIA, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
HYUNDAI MOTOR AMERICA Defendant.
A. Sitarski United States Magistrate Judge.
before the Court is Plaintiff's Unopposed Motion for
Certification of Settlement Class, Preliminary Approval of
Settlement, Appointment of Class Counsel, and Approval of
Class Notice (ECF No. 42). Plaintiff Joshua Riaubia
(“Plaintiff”) and Defendant Hyundai Motor America
(“Defendant”) have agreed to a class action
settlement that will resolve the instant matter, in which
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant's 2015, 2016, and 2017
Hyundai Sonata U.S. specification vehicles equipped with the
Smart Trunk feature were defective, as their hands-free,
proximity-activated trunks did not fully open. For the
following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion will be GRANTED.
Factual Background and Procedural History
August of 2014, Plaintiff purchased a 2015 Hyundai Sonata
Limited equipped with the Smart Trunk Feature. (Complaint
¶ 9, ECF No. 1). The Smart Trunk allowed consumers to
open their vehicles' trunks “hands-free” by
standing directly behind the vehicle while holding a key fob.
(Id. ¶¶ 14, 17). Plaintiff's Smart
Trunk opened only a few inches. (Id. ¶ 76).
Plaintiff consulted with counsel, who discovered dozens of
similar complaints from owners of Hyundai Sonatas. Thus, on
September 28, 2016, Plaintiff filed the instant class action
on behalf of himself and others similarly situated.
(Pl.'s Br. 2). In response, on December 23, 2016,
Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss, (ECF No. 2), which Judge
Jones denied in full on August 22, 2017. (ECF No. 22).
Thereafter, on October 6, 2017, Defendant filed its Answer.
(ECF No. 29).
parties then began discussing the possibility of mediation,
and filed a joint stipulation requesting to stay the
litigation proceedings pending mediation. (Stipulation, ECF
No. 31). During their initial mediation session before David
Geronemus of JAMS, held in New York City on January 9, 2018,
the parties made some progress towards reaching a resolution.
(Pl.'s Br. 5). On May 15, 2018, a second mediation
session was held, and the parties executed a term sheet
wherein they set forth the majority of terms that would be
agreed to in the eventual settlement. (Id.) On
February 15, 2019, Plaintiff filed the instant unopposed
Motion. By Order dated July 3, 2019, Judge Jones referred the
Motion to me for disposition. (Order, ECF No. 45).
The Proposed Class Action Settlement
terms of the proposed class action settlement are set forth
in the Settlement Agreement, (Declaration of Natalie
Finkelman Bennett Ex. 1, ECF No. 42-3), and are outlined
The Proposed Settlement Class
Settlement Agreement provides for a Settlement Class defined
All persons or entities in the fifty United States and the
District of Columbia who currently own or lease, or
previously owned or leased, a model year 2015 to 2017 U.S.
specification Hyundai Sonata vehicle equipped with the Smart
Trunk feature purchased in the fifty United States and the
District of Columbia.
(Pl.'s Br. 5-6). Excluded from the Settlement Class are:
Defendant, as well as Defendant's affiliates, employees,
suppliers, officers, and directors, attorneys, agents,
insurers, and dealers; third-party providers of extended
warranty/service contracts; independent repair/service
facilities; the attorneys representing Defendant in this
case; the judges and mediator to whom this case is assigned
and their immediate family members; all persons and entities
who request exclusion from (opt-out of) the Settlement; all
persons and entities who previously released any claims
encompassed in this Settlement or whose vehicle was
permanently transported outside the United States; and all
persons or entities claiming personal injury or property
damage other than to a Class Vehicle or claiming subrogation
of such claims.
(Id. at 6).
The Proposed Settlement Terms
exchange for a release of Settlement Class members'
claims against Defendant, the Settlement Agreement states
that Defendant will provide Settlement Class members with:
(1) a cash payment in the form of a $50 debit card or $100
dealer credit; (2) replacement of the defective parts of
Class vehicle trunks, followed by a second replacement if
necessary; (3) a warranty extension; and (4) reimbursement of
any previous repair costs they incurred in their efforts to
fix the Smart Trunk feature of the Class vehicle. (Pl.'s
will be responsible for bearing the cost of providing Class
members with notice of the Settlement Agreement.
Defendant's Consumer Affairs Division, serving as the
Settlement Administrator, will be responsible for providing
Class members with notice, as well as appropriate state and
federal officials, in accordance with the Class Action
Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1715. (Id. at 9). The
Administrator will send Class members notice via first class
mail, and will resend any returned notices that contain an
address correction or forwarding address. (Id. at
10). The Administrator will also maintain a website where
Class members can get more information about the Settlement
Agreement, and where they can submit claims either online or
via email. (Id.).
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(e), the settlement of a
class action requires court approval. Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(e)(2).
“Thus, when a district court is presented with a class
settlement agreement, the court must first determine that the
requirements for class certification under Rule 23(a) and (b)
are met, and must separately determine that the settlement is
fair to the class under [Rule] 23(e).” In re
Nat'l Football League Players Concussion Injury
Litig., 775 F.3d 570, 581 (3d Cir. 2014) (citations and
internal quotation marks omitted). These procedures aim to
provide “transparency for class members and authority
to the district court to act as a fiduciary for putative
class members by ‘guarding the claims and rights of
absent class members.'” Id. (quoting
Ehrheart v. Verizon Wireless, 609 F.3d 590, 593 (3d
of a proposed class action settlement generally occurs in two
stages. At this preliminary stage, counsel submits the
proposed settlement terms to the Court, and the Court then
makes a “preliminary fairness evaluation.” In
re Nat'l Football League Players' Concussion Injury
Litig., at 582 (quoting Manual for Complex
Litigation § 21.632). “If the proposed
settlement is preliminarily acceptable, the court then
directs that notice be provided to all class members who
would be bound by the proposed settlement to afford them an
opportunity to be heard, opt out of the class, or object to
the settlement.” Silvis v. Ambit Energy L.P.,
No. 14-5005 2018 WL 1010812 at *3 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 22, 2018)
(citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(c)(3), (e)(1), (e)(5); Manual for
Complex Litigation § 21.633). Once notification has
occurred, the Court then conducts the formal “fairness
hearing” provided for in Rule 23(e)(2). Id.
(citing Manual for Complex Litigation §
21.633). After the Court determines that the settlement is
“fair, reasonable, and adequate, ” it gives the
settlement its final approval. Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(e)(2).
sitting in this procedural posture:
should make clear that they are making a ‘preliminary
determination' on class-action certification for the
purpose of issuing notice of settlement, and that they are
reserving the issuance of a certification order until after a
fairness hearing. The certification order ultimately issued
must necessarily be entered before the district court
approves the class settlement but need not occur before
providing notice under Rule 23(e)(1). Permitting a district
court to manage a settlement class in this manner provides
the flexibility needed to protect absent class members'
interests and efficiently evaluate the issues of class
certification and approval of a settlement agreement.
In re Nat'l Football League Players Concussion Injury
Litig., 775 F.3d at 586 (internal citations omitted).