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Williamson v. S.A. Gear Company, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

March 29, 2018

STEVE WILLIAMSON and RHONDA CHRISTINE LEMASTER, On Behalf of Themselves and All Others Similarly Situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
S.A. GEAR COMPANY, INC., AUTOZONE, INC., AUTOZONE PARTS, INC., and AUTOZONE STORES, INC., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          STACI M. YANDLE United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs Steve Williamson and Rhonda Christine LeMaster filed a multi-count class action Complaint individually and on behalf of all similarly situated persons against Defendants S.A. Gear Company, Inc., Autozone, Inc., Autozone Parts, Inc., and Autozone Stores, Inc. (the "Autozone Defendants"), alleging that the defendants manufactured, distributed, advertised, and/or sold defective timing chain tensioners. Plaintiffs moved to certify the class (Doc. 122). Defendants filed responses in opposition (Docs. 132 and 134).

         In support of their oppositions to class certification, Defendants relied on the testimony and opinions of Dr. Stephen Batzer, David Hallman, Steven Tucker, and Larry Arthur. Nearly three months after Defendants filed their oppositions, Plaintiffs moved to exclude Batzer and Hallman (Doc. 173). Two months later, Plaintiffs moved to exclude Tucker (Doc. 181) and Arthur (Doc. 182).[1] Defendants have responded to those motions (Docs. 176, 177, 185, and 189). For the following reasons, Plaintiffs motions to exclude are DENIED.

         Background

         This case involves an aftermarket timing chain tensioner ("the Part" or "Part 9422") for the Chrysler/Dodge 2.7 L V-6 engines that S.A. Gear supplied to Autozone. Autozone has sold over 40,000 units of the Part since 2009. Plaintiffs assert that the Part does not meet or exceed OEM specifications. More specifically, Plaintiffs allege that the placement of an O-ring groove and the O-ring itself are too high on the tensioner – well outside of Chrysler/Dodge/OEM specifications. They further allege that the Part does not fit properly in the engine. Plaintiffs request class certification under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 23(a), 23(b)(2), and 23(b)(3), and seek to represent the following classes:

         Nationwide Class:

         All persons in the United States who purchased from AutoZone Defendants’ timing chain tensioner for use in the Chrysler 2.7L V-6 engine (also known as the Chrysler LH engine) at any time prior to the date of class certification. Excluded from the Class are any Defendant, any entity in which any Defendant has a controlling interest or which has a controlling interest in any Defendant, and any Defendant’s legal representatives, assigns and successors. Also excluded are the judge to whom this case is assigned and any member of the judge’s immediate family.

         Illinois Class:

         All domiciliary citizens of the state of Illinois who purchased from AutoZone Defendants’ timing chain tensioner for use in the Chrysler 2.7L V-6 engine (also known as the Chrysler LH engine) at any time prior to the date of class certification. Excluded from the Class are any Defendant, any entity in which any Defendant has a controlling interest or which has a controlling interest in any Defendant, and any Defendant’s legal representatives, assigns and successors. Also excluded are the judge to whom this case is assigned and any member of the judge’s immediate family.

         Discussion

         Federal Rule of Evidence 702 provides for the admission of expert testimony that assists the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue. Fed.R.Evid. 702. District courts have a “gatekeeping” obligation to ensure that expert testimony is both relevant and reliable. Fed. R. Evid. 702; Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (2003); Lees v. Carthage College, 714 F.3d 516, 521 (7th Cir. 2013). Essentially, the Court must answer three questions before admitting expert testimony: (1) is the expert qualified; (2) is the expert's methodology reliable; and (3) will the expert's testimony assist the trier of fact in understanding the evidence or determining a fact in issue. Myers v. Illinois Cent. R. Co., 629 F.3d 639, 644 (7th Cir. 2010). The party offering the expert testimony bears the burden of proof as to relevance and reliability. Brown v. Burlington N. Santa Fe Ry. Co., 765 F.3d 765, 772 (7th Cir. 2014) (citing Lewis v. CITGO Petroleum Corp., 561 F.3d 698, 705 (7th Cir. 2009)).

         When an expert's report or testimony is “critical to class certification,” the Court must make a conclusive ruling on any challenge to that expert's qualifications or submissions before it may rule on a motion for class certification. Messner v. Northshore Univ. HealthSystem, 669 F.3d 802, 812 (7th Cir. 2012); see also American Honda Motor Co. v. Allen, 600 F.3d 813, 815-16 (7th Cir. 2010). The term critical is used broadly to describe expert testimony important to an issue decisive for the motion for class certification. If the Court has doubts about whether an expert's opinions may be critical to a class certification decision, the Court should make an explicit Daubert ruling. Messner, 669 F.3d at 812.

         Stephen Batzer and David Hallman (Doc. 173)

         AutoZone retained David Hallman to assess Plaintiff Williamson’s allegations that Part 9422 caused damage to Plaintiff LeMaster’s engine and that the Part is uniformly defective. Hallman is an engineer with a B.S. in mechanical engineering and an M.S. in materials science (Doc. 177-1, p. 38). He has worked as a mechanical design engineer. Id. at p. 4. Before receiving his degree in mechanical engineering, he worked as an auto mechanic for approximately ten years and became an ASE certified Master Automotive Mechanic. Hallman also worked for several Dodge/Chrysler dealers and performed internal transmission and engine work on Dodge and Chrysler vehicles, including the 2.7-liter engine design in ...


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