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From Products Liability Law Daily, April 17, 2014

Court refuses to issue “park-it-now” alert injunction against General Motors

By Pamela C. Maloney, J.D.

A federal district court in Texas has denied a request that it issue a “Park-It-Now” order against General Motors filed in a putative class action brought against the automaker in response to its recent recall of automobiles containing a defective ignition switch. The court stated that was not persuaded that the relative rights of the parties in the action depended on how GM conducts its recalls with respect to the owners of other GM-manufactured vehicles (Silvas v. General Motors, LLC, April 17, 2014, Ramos, N.).

Background. In the underlying complaint, Charles and Grace Silva had requested that the court order GM to issue a “park it now” alert to the owners of over 2.6 million vehicles involved in the ignition switch recall, advising them that their vehicles are too dangerous to drive. They asked for this extraordinary relief based on an evidentiary record that is, by its nature as a preliminary proceeding held on an emergency basis, only partially developed. The Silvas claim that they need GM to issue the “park it now” alert for two reasons: (1) to maintain the value of their own Cobalt by avoiding any additional stigma arising out of additional lost-power experiences among other owners; and (2) they will be safer on the roadways if the other vehicles are immobilized.

Primary jurisdiction doctrine. Under the doctrine of primary jurisdiction, courts are required to defer to an agency’s exercise of jurisdiction over the issue brought to court. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been given responsibility for administering the Motor Vehicle Safety Act (MVSA) and its interpretive regulations, which contain numerous provisions that the agency is to apply in the contest of an automotive recall—the specific type of injunctive relief sought by the Silvas. Finding that there was nothing questionable about the recall-related issue in this case, the court deferred to NHTSA under the doctrine of primary jurisdiction.

The court distinguished cases cited by the Silvas in which the courts refused to give deference to NHTSA. In Kent v. DaimlerChrylser Corp. 200 F.Supp.2d 1208 (N.D. Cal. 2002), the plaintiff had not challenged a safety standard or any NHTSA regulation and there was no conflict between the action and any on-going NHTSA investigation into the same problem. Thus, the need for “uniformity and consistency in the regulation of business”—one of the factors to be considered in applying the doctrine—did not apply. Similarly, in In re Toyota Motor Corp. Unintended Acceleration Marketing, Sales, Practices, and Products Liability Litigation, 754 F.Supp.2d, there was no conflicting proceeding ongoing at NHTSA. Finally, primary jurisdiction did not apply in Marsikian v. Mercedes Benz USA, LLC, No. CV 08-04876, 2009 WL 8379784 (C.D. Cal. 2009), because the only basis for it was a questionable assertion by the automaker that the case involved a request for a recall.

Park-it-now alert. The court went on to determine that the “park it now” alert conflicted with the existing notices issued in connection with the recall arising from the defective ignition switches. In the court’s opinion, NHTSA is far better equipped to address the broad and complex issues of automotive safety and the regulation of automotive companies in connection with a nationwide recall. Furthermore, NHTSA already had proceeded substantially into the recall process with respect to the defective ignition switches in GM vehicles. Finally, the Silvas had not demonstrated that they had made any effort to obtain a “park-it-now” alert through any administrative proceedings, despite their right to do so.

In light of the ongoing investigation and recall regarding the alleged defect in GM vehicles, the court decided to defer to NHTSA in this matter and denied the request for a mandatory injunction.

The case number is 2:14-CV-89.

Attorneys: Daniel C. Girard (Girard Gibbs) for Charles and Grace Silvas. Arthur J. Steinberg (King & Spalding LLP ) for General Motors, LLC.

Companies: General Motors, LLC.

MainStory: TopStory MotorVehiclesNews TexasNews

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