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Birner v. General Motors Corp.

January 26, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael M. Mihm United States District Judge


Now before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, as well as Plaintiff's Motion to Certify Class Action. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion to Dismiss [#8] is GRANTED, and the Motion to Certify Class Action [#4] is DENIED.


On or about February 2, 2004, Defendant, General Motors Corporation ("GM"), determined that it would conduct a modified safety recall in relation to the Electronic Column Lock System ("ECLS"), which is a standard feature on most automobiles, including Chevy Corvettes manufactured between 1997 and 2004. The ECLS is a passive theft deterrent device that locks the steering column when the key is removed. The reason for the recall was that in some instances, a defect in the ECLS could cause the steering column to lock while the vehicles were being driven, resulting in a loss of control of the vehicle. GM then issued Safety Recall Bulletin 04006B on November 23, 2004, directing that certain Corvette owners contact a GM dealer and have the ECLS repaired on vehicles with manual transmissions and removed on vehicles with automatic transmissions. Recall Bulletin 04006B was subsequently superceded by Recall Bulletin 04006C, which instructed dealers to remove and disable the ECLS on both manual and automatic transmission Corvettes made between 1997 and 2004.

Stephen and Claudie Huey (the "Hueys") purchased a 1997 Corvette with an automatic transmission that is alleged to have experienced the safety defect involved in this recall and was one of the vehicles included in the recall. They took the vehicle in for purposes of remedying the problem and subsequently discovered that the ECLS had been disabled, leaving the vehicle without the protection of that theft control device.

On or about April 5, 2006, the Hueys assigned their right, title and interest in any claim relating to the ECLS to Plaintiff, Trent Birner ("Birner") for $1.00. Birner did not purchase the Corvette in question from the Hueys, only their legal claims arising out of the ECLS problems that they claim to have experienced.

Birner brought this suit, alleging causes of action for breach of express warranty, negligence, unconscionable contract or adjustment plan, unjust enrichment, and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. He then filed a motion seeking to have this case certified as a class action, seeking no compensation for personal injuries but rather only diminution in value of the vehicles by virtue of the fact that the ECLS must be disabled or alternatively to compel GM to adequately repair or replace the ECLS component. GM then moved to dismiss the Complaint. The matters are now fully briefed, and this Order follows.


I. Motion to Dismiss

A complaint should not be dismissed unless it appears from the pleadings that the plaintiff could prove no set of facts in support of her claim which would entitle her to relief.

See Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957); Gould v. Artisoft, Inc., 1 F.3d 544, 548 (7th Cir. 1993). Rather, a complaint should be construed broadly and liberally in conformity with the mandate in Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8(f).

For purposes of a motion to dismiss, the complaint is construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff; its well-pleaded factual allegations are taken as true, and all reasonably-drawn inferences are drawn in favor of the plaintiff. See Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69 (1984); Lanigan v. Village of East Hazel Crest, 110 F.3d 467 (7th Cir. 1997); M.C.M. Partners, Inc. v. Andrews-Bartlett & Assoc., Inc., 62 F.3d 967, 969 (7th Cir. 1995); Early v. Bankers Life & Cas. Co., 959 F.2d 75 (7th Cir. 1992).

As a threshold matter, GM argues that Birner's purchase of the Huey's claims and the corresponding assignment to him is invalid. In support of this argument, GM cites McGoon v. Ankeny, 11 Ill. 558, 1850 WL 4273 (1850), and Puckett v. Empire Stove Co., 539 N.E.2d 420, 427 (Ill.App.Ct. 1989), for the proposition that the purchase of a lawsuit is void as a matter of public policy because it is champertous. Stated another way, "[t]he law will not tolerate a principle which will allow a man of litigious disposition to go about the community, hunting up stale claims, or even meritorious ones, against his neighbors, either for the purpose of harassing them, or for speculation." McGoon, 1850 WL 4273, at *1.

In Puckett, a tenant brought suit to recover for injuries sustained when the house that he was renting caught fire due to a defective floor furnace that had been manufactured by Empire and installed by the landlord, Honore Ghibaudy ("Ghibaudy"). Id. at 422. Ghibaudy and his wife brought a third-party complaint against the manufacturer of a valve used on the furnace and subsequently assigned any interest in their third-party claim to Puckett. Id. at 422, 427. The third-party argued that the assignment to Puckett was void as against public ...

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