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Lantz v. American Honda Motor Co.

May 14, 2007

RON LANTZ, DENNIS GRIBBINS, RICHARD ALLEN AND CLARENCE ALVORD, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
AMERICAN HONDA MOTOR COMPANY, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Nan R. Nolan

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Ron Lantz, Dennis Gribbins, Richard Allen, and Clarence Alvord filed a class action complaint against Defendant American Honda Motor Company, Inc. ("Honda"), alleging a variety of state law claims arising from Honda's deceptive and unlawful conduct in designing, manufacturing, marketing, distributing, selling, servicing and/or failing to service, GL1800 Gold Wing Motorcycles. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Honda now moves to dismiss all of Plaintiffs' claims. For the reasons set forth here, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND*fn1

A. The Parties

Honda is a California corporation with its principal place of business in Torrance, California. Honda designs, manufactures, markets, distributes, supplies, sells, and services motorcycles and other vehicles in the United States. (Cmplt. ¶ 10.)*fn2 In 1975, Honda produced a Gold Wing GL1000 model motorcycle and became a front-runner in the manufacture of "luxury touring motorcycles."

These motorcycles are designed for ultimate comfort and convenience, and usually have "the biggest engines; great acceleration and cruising speed; lots of storage including top trunks and saddlebags; amenities like cruise control, stereo radios, CB communications, large windshields, heated seats and grips; and high reliability." (Id. ¶¶ 11, 12.) In 2001, Honda introduced a new Gold Wing GL1800 model. (Id. ¶ 13.) Honda advertised the new motorcycle as being perfect for touring long distances, and capable of handling on highways across America, whether straight, curvy, flat, or mountainous. (Id. ¶ 14.)

Ron Lantz is a citizen of Florida who purchased a 2002 Gold Wing GL1800 in September 2002 from an authorized Honda dealership in Leesburg, Florida. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 23.) Dennis Gribbins, a citizen of Illinois, purchased his 2002 Gold Wing GL1800AZ from an authorized Honda dealer in Bradley, Illinois on November 15, 2001. (Id. ¶¶ 7, 27.) Richard Allen is a citizen of Florida who purchased a pre-owned 2002 Gold Wing GL1800 from an authorized Honda dealership in Leesburg, Florida in August 2006. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 31.) Clarence Alvord, also a citizen of Florida, purchased a 2005 Gold Wing GL1800 from an authorized Honda dealership in Venice, Florida on March 3, 2005. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 35.)

B. The Gold Wing Wobble

Plaintiffs allege that the Gold Wing GL1800 model has a design defect that causes it to wobble at low speeds between 25 and 40 mph. As a result, Gold Wing GL1800 owners are not able to use the motorcycle for touring at higher speeds and long distances, as advertised and intended. (Id. ¶¶ 15, 16.) According to Plaintiffs, "[a] wobble should be corrected immediately as it can cause a serious accident and even death." (Id. ¶ 15.) Honda, however, has concealed the design defect, describing it as merely a "characteristic" of the Gold Wing GL1800 model. As a result, Honda has consistently declined to recall the motorcycle or to pay for needed repairs. (Id. ¶¶ 17, 22, 41.)

Frustrated consumers have turned to the internet, where they post complaints and seek to share and obtain information about the wobble problem. (Id. ¶ 18.) In addition, Wing World magazine, which bills itself as the world's largest monthly magazine specifically targeted to the interests of the Honda Gold Wing and Valkyrie motorcyclist, has featured two articles in March and June 2006 discussing the low speed wobble. (Id. ¶¶ 19, 20.)

C. Plaintiffs' Experiences

Plaintiffs claim that they have all personally experienced the wobble problem with their Gold Wing motorcycles. After riding his new Gold Wing for approximately 3,000 miles, for example, Ron Lantz noted a severe wobble at speeds between 25 and 40 miles per hour ("mph"). (Id. ¶¶ 6, 25.) Lantz took the motorcycle back to the dealership and was told that the wobble stemmed from faulty tires. Lantz replaced the tires several times and added a Super-Brace fork stabilizer, but none of these efforts fixed the wobble. Finally, Lantz solved the problem by replacing the steering head bearings with tapered bearings. (Id. ¶ 25.) In all, Lantz spent in excess of $2,500 to fix his Gold Wing, but Honda refused to pay for any of the repairs. (Id. ¶ 26.)

Dennis Gribbins rode his new motorcycle only 5,978 miles before it, too, developed a wobble on July 27, 2002 at speeds of approximately 35 to 45 mph. Over the next four years, Gribbins took his Gold Wing to numerous dealers and repair shops, but none was able to fix the wobble. Throughout this period, Gribbins also complained about the problem to Honda and its authorized dealers, and asked the Company to reimburse him for the repair expenses. (Id. ¶¶ 27-29.) In May 2006, Gribbins finally fixed the wobble by installing new tapered steering head bearings. (Id. ¶ 30.)

Richard Allen first noticed a severe wobble on his pre-owned Gold Wing while riding the motorcycle home from the dealership in August 2006. The wobble occurred at speeds between 30 and 40 mph, and Allen feared losing control of the motorcycle. He contacted the Honda dealership and was informed that they knew about the problem but could not fix it. When Allen contacted Honda's TechLine, however, he was told to contact his dealer. Allen has since replaced the Gold Wing's tires, but this has not eliminated the wobble. (Id. ¶¶ 32-34.)

Clarence Alvord's Gold Wing developed a wobble in May 2005, with only 2,000 miles on the motorcycle. The wobble was significant at speeds of 35 to 40 mph, and somewhat lesser at speeds of 10 to 20 mph. (Id. ¶ 35.) Alvord spent the next year taking his motorcycle to authorized dealerships in Florida and Ohio, but none could fix the wobble. At the suggestion of the dealerships, Alvord changed the tires twice and installed a fork brace, but these efforts failed. Throughout this time, Alvord complained about the problem to Honda and its authorized dealerships, but Honda refused to help or reimburse Alvord for his expenses in attempting to fix the wobble. (Id. ¶¶ 37-40.)

D. Plaintiffs' Lawsuit

Plaintiffs filed this federal class action diversity jurisdiction lawsuit on November 1, 2006. Counts I through VI seek recovery under a variety of California state laws, including the California Business and Professions Code, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 17200 et seq. (Count I) and §§ 17500 et seq. (Count II); the California Civil Code, Cal. Civ. Code §§ 1750 et seq. (Count III); the California Commercial Code, Cal. Comm. Code §§ 2313 and 2314 (Counts IV and V); and California's common law of unjust enrichment. In these counts, Plaintiffs allege that Honda has violated California's unfair competition law; utilized untrue and misleading advertising; violated the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act; breached express and implied warranties; and unjustly benefitted from its unlawful conduct at Plaintiffs' expense.

Plaintiffs also allege four alternative counts in the event the court finds that class-wide application of California law is inappropriate. Each of these counts alleges violations of the laws of the District of Columbia and every state except California. Specifically, Alternate Count I alleges violation of state consumer protection laws; Alternate Counts II and III allege breach of state express and implied warranties, respectively; and Alternate Count IV alleges claims for common law unjust enrichment.

On December 18, 2006, Honda moved to dismiss the Complaint in its entirety for failure to state a claim. Shortly thereafter, on December 28, 2006, the parties consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge. On January 8, 2007, Honda moved to stay discovery pending a ruling on the motion to dismiss, and the court granted the stay on March 7, 2007. (Minute Order of 3/7/07, Doc. 35.) The court now addresses Honda's motion to dismiss.

DISCUSSION

The purpose of a motion to dismiss is to test the sufficiency of plaintiffs' complaint, not to decide its merits. Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). A motion to dismiss will be granted only "if it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which entitles him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). In reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court accepts as true all factual allegations in the plaintiffs' complaint and draws all reasonable inferences in their favor. Franzoni v. Hartmarx Corp., 300 F.3d 767, 770 (7th Cir. 2002).

Honda argues that Counts I through VI must be dismissed because Illinois conflict of laws principles do not support the application of California law. Honda claims that Alternate Counts I through IV must also be dismissed with respect to all states except Illinois and Florida, which are the only states in which Plaintiffs reside. As for the Illinois and Florida state law claims, Honda argues that they all fail because Plaintiffs have not pled fraud with particularity; the statute of limitations has run on the warranty claims; ...


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