Recently, Judge Gary Klausner of the Central District of California issued one of the first opinions in a consumer case applying the heightened class certification standards handed down by the Supreme Court in Wal-Mart v. Dukes. In Kruszka v. Toyota Motor Corp., et al., a case accusing Toyota of selling vehicles with shoddy paint in violation of California consumer protection and competition laws, Judge Klausner held that the plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the putative class of vehicle purchasers satisfied the commonality prerequisite for class certification as articulated in Wal-Mart.
In Wal-Mart, discussed in-depth in this advisory, the Supreme Court held that Federal Rule 23, setting forth the requirements for class certification, is not “a mere pleading standard.” Rather, parties seeking certification must “be prepared to prove” that Rule 23’s prerequisites are in fact met. Among these is the requirement of commonality, or the existence of “questions of law or fact common to the class.” Commonality, as expounded by the Court, requires that class members have “suffered the same injury.” According to Judge Klausner, this was not sufficiently demonstrated in Kruszka.
The plaintiff in Kruszka had purchased a new 2010 Lexus IS250 and alleged that its paint began immediately “chipping, scratching, and marring,” due to an alleged defect in the defendant’s paint and manufacturing process. He asserted that this defect affected all recently manufactured Lexus vehicles and sought to certify a class of “[a]ll current owners or lessees of model year 2007-2010 Lexus automobiles in the United States.” To demonstrate commonality, the plaintiff asserted that a “veritable library of internet sites have arisen dedicated to reporting and cataloging the ‘Lexus paint problem’” and a provided list of twelve internet posts on the topic. Judge Klausner, in following the Supreme Court’s directive to conduct “rigorous” Rule 23 analysis, held this “small number of internet posts ascribed to individuals identified only through usernames such as ‘draperysewer,’ ‘Carhop1,’ and ‘roadrunner4’” was insufficient to prove that all members of the class had suffered from the defendant’s alleged paint defect.
It remains to be seen whether it will be business as usual for class action counsel and courts will cabin Dukes as limited to the employment law context or whether Dukes will mean a sea change in narrowing the appropriate uses of Rule 23 in federal cases. Kruszka shows one lower court embracing the Supreme Court’s exacting class certification standards. At the very least, it is clear that defendants should be able to defeat class certification where plaintiffs offer nothing more than broad generalizations or isolated anecdotes to establish a common injury -- as it should be.