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Cunningham Charter Corp. v. Learjet

April 27, 2009

CUNNINGHAM CHARTER CORPORATION, ON BEHALF OF ITSELF AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LEARJET, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herndon, Chief Judge

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Pending before the Court is plaintiff Cunningham Charter Corporation's ("Cunningham Charter") Motion for Class Certification (Doc. 64). Defendant Learjet, Inc. ("Learjet"), opposes the Motion (Doc. 69). Also pending is Learjet's Motion for Oral Argument on the Issue of Class Certification (Doc. 75). Because the Court denies Cunningham Charter's Motion for Class Certification based on the pleadings and the applicable case law, there is no need for oral arguments. Therefore, Learjet's Motion for Oral Argument is moot.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Prior to January 1999, Transcraft Corporation ("Transcraft"), which is not a party to this lawsuit, began negotiations to purchase a jet aircraft from Cessna Aircraft Company ("Cessna") (Doc. 3, Ex. A-1, p. 1). Transcraft paid a $100,000 non-refundable deposit to Cessna in anticipation of purchasing a Citation Encore Ultra jet (Doc. 3, Ex. A-1, pp. 1-2). Transcraft then entered into negotiations with Learjet, Cessna's competitor, for the purchase of a Learjet 45 aircraft (Doc. 3, Ex. A-1, p. 2). As part of these negotiations, Learjet delivered to Transcraft a "Learjet 45-140 Proposal" containing the following overview of Learjet's warranty:

Parts and Labor for:

60 months/unlimited hours:

> Airframe and Learjet Manufactured Components > Avionics > Vendor Supplied Items 60 months/2,000 hours:

> Garrett TFE-731-20 Engines 24 months/unlimited hours:

> Interior Furnishings and Exterior Finishing (Doc. 3, Ex. A-1, p. 9). Along with the warranty language in the proposal, Learjet also allegedly represented to William R. Cunningham, Transcraft's C.E.O., that the warranty was "the best warranty in the business 'nose to tail'" (Doc. 3, Ex. A-1, p. 2).

On January 31, 1999, Transcraft and Learjet entered into a "Learjet 45 Airplane Purchase Agreement" ("Airplane Purchase Agreement") (Doc. 3, Ex. A-1, p. 2). Mr. Cunningham signed the Airplane Purchase Agreement on behalf of Transcraft (Doc. 3, Ex. A-2, p. 8). As a result, Transcraft lost its $100,000 nonrefundable deposit with Cessna (Doc. 3, Ex. A-1, p. 2). Subsequently, with Learjet's consent, Transcraft assigned its purchase rights in the Airplane Purchase Agreement to plaintiff Cunningham Charter*fn1 (Doc. 3, Ex. A-1, p. 2).

Section III of that Airplane Purchase Agreement provided that "EXCEPT FOR THE EXPRESS TERMS OF THE LEARJET AIRPLANE WARRANTY POLICY SET FORTH IN THE SPECIFICATION, LEARJET MAKES NO REPRESENTATIONS OR WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, OR OTHERWISE" (Doc. 69, Ex. 1, p. 2). Learjet insists that all Learjet 45 owners receive a Specification, and that the applicable Specification contains the written terms of each Learjet 45 warranty (Doc. 47, Ex. 4, p. 3).

The parties dispute whether Transcraft, Cunningham Charter, and/or Mr. Cunningham ever received a copy of the relevant Specification. Learjet claims Mr. Cunningham received a September 1998 Specification with the Airplane Purchase Agreement, and points to Mr. Cunningham's initials on the first page of the September 1998 Specification (Doc. 47, Ex. 1, p. 5). In his deposition, Mr. Cunningham acknowledged initialing the first page of the September 1998 Specification, but denied receiving the remainder of the pages containing the written warranty (Doc. 69, Ex. 3, pp. 8-9).

Section 12 of the September 1998 Specification contains the Learjet Airplane Warranty Policy wherein Learjet warrants, subject to the enumerated Exclusions and Limitations, that:

Upon receipt of prompt notification (90 days) and satisfactory evidence of the defect, including return of the defective part where possible, Learjet, or an authorized representative shall:

A. Repair or replace all Airplane components if a failure occurs:

(1) During the first 60 months after delivery

* Learjet manufactured parts and components

* Standard Honeywell avionics

* All vendor components

(2) During the first 24 months after delivery

* Interior furnishings and exterior finishing (Doc. 69, Ex. 1(A), p. 15.)

After Cunningham Charter received and began operating its Learjet 45 aircraft in February 2001, a number of the aircraft's components allegedly failed and/or experienced problems. Cunningham Charter attempted to get these repairs and replacements reimbursed under the warranty, but some of its claims were apparently denied (Doc. 3, Ex. A-1, p. 2). In response to Cunningham Charter's request, Spencer Bain, Learjet's Sales Support Administrator, confirmed the warranty on the Learjet 45 in a document dated February 19, 2002 (Doc. 3, Ex. A-1, pp. 2-3). That document described the standard Learjet 45 warranty as follows:

Each Learjet 45 warranty covers parts and labor costs for work performed at Bombardier Aviation Service Centers and recognized facilities for:

* Learjet Manufactured Airframe & Systems Five (5) years

* Learjet Manufactured Primary Structures Five (5) years

* Standard Avionics Five (5) years

* Engines Five (5) years/2,000 hours

* Vendor Supplied Items Five (5) years

* Paint & Interior Two (2) years (Doc. 3, Ex. A-2, p. 11).*fn2 According to Cunningham Charter, Learjet continued to wrongfully deny legitimate warranty claims under this warranty language.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On March 5, 2007, Cunningham Charter filed a Class Action Complaint in Union County, Illinois (Doc. 3, Ex. A-1). Cunningham Charter's Complaint asserts two distinct claims: one for breach of warranty and one for product liability. Specific to its breach of warranty claim, Cunningham Charter alleges, "Learjet has made a practice of improperly denying warranty claims by claiming that some of the vendor supplied items are 'interior' and, therefore, only covered for two (2) years, rather than five (5) years as stated in the warranty" (Doc. 3, Ex. A-1, p. 4). As an example, Cunningham Charter points to Learjet's alleged admission that it does not manufacture the coffee pots on its aircraft; rather, vendors supply those coffee pots. Cunningham Charter explains that despite the coffee pots' apparent fit into the "vendor supplied items" category that receives five years of coverage under the warranty, Learjet treats coffee pots as "interior" items covered for only two years (Doc. 3, Ex. A-1, p. 4).

As for its product liability claim, Cunningham Charter alleges that "windshields, batteries and other items" on Learjet 45 aircraft are defective in design or manufacture (Doc. 3, Ex. A-1, p. 4). Cunningham Charter fails to identify the alleged defects or describe the circumstances under which these items failed on its own aircraft. Despite including this separate product liability claim, Cunningham Charter does not allege it suffered any non-economic injury as a result of the defects in design or manufacture.

Cunningham Charter seeks damages of at least $282,107.33 for repairs and denied warranty claims, and $100,000 for Transcraft's lost down payment to Cessna, plus interest. In the "Class Action Allegations" portion of its Complaint, Cunningham Charter seeks to represent "all others similarly situated, who within the applicable period of limitations purchased Learjet Aircraft from Defendant" (Doc. 3, Ex. A-1, p. 4). Cunningham Charter defines the putative class in its Complaint as "those who purchased Lear jets from [Defendant] ...


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