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As a growing number of lawsuits continue to be filed on behalf Volkswagen and Audi “clean diesel” owners, several requests have been filed to established consolidated pretrial proceedings for the litigation in the federal court system.
Over the past week, at least three motions were filed with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML), seeking to centralize all Volkswagen diesel emissions lawsuits before one judge as part of a federal MDL, or multidistrict litigation.
Dozens of individual and class action lawsuits have been filed in U.S. District Courts throughout the country since it was revealed that Volkswagen used software, known as a “defeat device”, to allow its “clean diesel” engines to cheat on EPA air quality emissions tests.
Each of the complaints raise similar allegations, claiming that the German auto maker committed fraud by advertising its vehicles as environmentally friendly, when in fact they were emitting up to 40 times the amount of nitrogen oxide and other air pollutants allowed by U.S. law. In addition to damages caused by the premium paid for the VW and Audi diesel vehicles, owners also claim that they have suffered loss of resale value.
Plaintiffs who have filed motions to transfer the lawsuits argue that consolidating the cases before one judge is necessary to prevent duplicate discovery into common issues raised in the cases, avoid contradictory rulings from different courts and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the judicial system.
The first MDL request (PDF) was filed on September 23, on behalf of plaintiff Christopher D’Angelo. At the time that motion was filed, there were already 20 actions pending in seven different federal court jurisdictions nationwide. The request seeks to have all of the Audi and VW “clean diesel” lawsuits centralized in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
Attorneys for a group of plaintiffs from Alexandria, Virginia filed a second motion to transfer (PDF) on September 25, asking that the cases be consolidated in the Eastern District of Virginia, noting that both the headquarters of Volkswagen Group of American and Audi USA are located within the district. The motion also argues that it would keep the cases near to D.C. where federal investigators are conducting their own investigation.
A third motion to transfer (PDF) was filed on September 27, by plaintiff Holly Harris, who noted that the number of cases had already risen to more than 50 actions pending in 20 different federal courts nationwide.
“It is likely that a significant number of similar actions will be filed in jurisdictions across the country,” wrote Harris in the motion, which suggests that the cases be centralized in the Southern District of Texas. “Transfer for consolidation and coordination is proper because each of the Actions and tag along cases arise out of the same or similar nucleus of operative facts, arise out of the same or similar alleged wrongful conduct, will involve the resolution of the same or similar questions or fact and law, and discovery will be substantially similar and will involve the same documents and witnesses.”
The U.S. JPML is likely to schedule oral arguments on the motion during an upcoming hearing session set for December 3, in New Orleans, Louisiana.
VW, Audi Diesel Engine Recall
The litigation stems from a Volkswagen recall issued earlier this month for millions of small vehicles with TDI “Clean Diesel” engines, including 2009-2015 VW Jetta, 2009-2015 VW Beetle, 2009-2015 VW Golf, 2004-2015 VW Passat and 2009-2015 Audi A3 vehicles.
On September 18, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a notice of violation of the Clean Air Act against Volkswagen and Audi, claiming that certain vehicle equipped with four-cylinder diesel engines had “defeat devices,” which involve software that detects when the vehicle was being tested for emissions. This placed the vehicles into a “clean emissions” mode to successfully pass the tests, but once the test was over, the vehicle began polluting again, at rates as high as 40 times that allowed by the EPA.
During this time, VW promoted the vehicles as “clean diesel” hybrids that were better for the environment and which got better gas mileage. However, when the accusations came to light, VW officials admitted to the problem.
The EPA says the company could face up to $18 billion in fines, and it’s CEO and a number of other key company employees have stepped down or been fired as a result.