United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
STEVE WILLIAMSON and RHONDA CHRISTINE LEMASTER, On Behalf of Themselves and All Others Similarly Situated, Plaintiffs,
S.A. GEAR COMPANY, INC., AUTOZONE, INC., AUTOZONE PARTS, INC., and AUTOZONE STORES, INC., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
M. YANDLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Steve Williamson and Rhonda Christine LeMaster, individually
and on behalf of all similarly situated persons, filed a
15-Count Amended Class Action Complaint against Defendants
S.A. Gear Company, Inc. ("S.A. Gear"), Autozone,
Inc., Autozone Parts, Inc., and Autozone Stores, Inc. (the
"Autozone Defendants"), alleging Defendants
manufactured, distributed, advertised, and/or sold defective
timing chain tensioners.
pending before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Class
Certification (Doc. 122). Defendants filed Responses in
opposition (Docs. 132, 134). For the following reasons,
Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification is
case involves an aftermarket timing chain tensioner
("the Part" or "Part 9422") for
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 allege that the placement of an O-ring
groove and the O-ring itself are too high on the tensioner
and well outside of Chrysler/Dodge/OEM specifications.
Plaintiffs further allege that the Part does not fit properly
in the Chrysler engine.
9422 has been manufactured by three different manufactures
(Doc. 135-5, at p. 29). Top Line has manufactured the Part
since August 2013 (Doc. 135-6, at p. 73). Autozone does not
design or manufacture the Part (Doc. 135-4, ¶ 3).
Rather, S.A. Gear supplies the Part to Autozone under a
vendor agreement. Id. Only Zan-Power Co., Ltd.
(“Zan-Power”), manufactured the Part with the
external O-ring in the location that Plaintiffs claim makes
the Part defective (Doc. 133-8, at ¶ 5). S.A. Gear
purchased the part from Zan-Power from December 2010 to
August 2013, and sold approximately 15, 550 of the units
manufactured by Zan-Power to various customers, including
AutoZone (Doc. 133-8, at ¶ 6). Autozone sells the Part
under its Duralast brand to do-it-yourself ("DIY")
customers at Autozone's retail locations and to
commercial accounts (Doc. 135-4, at ¶¶ 7-10).
Gear can differentiate between Part 9422 as supplied by the
three manufacturers based on characteristics such as the
“coloration of the metal, ” (Doc. 135-6,
at pp. 96, 102-04), and when the Part was shipped (Doc.
135-10). The individual packaging does not identify the
original manufacturer (Doc. 133-8, at ¶ 7). It is not
possible to identify a particular Part as having been
manufactured by Zan-Power without physically inspecting and
measuring the Part, which cannot be done while it is
installed in an engine. Id. at ¶ 8.
2010, Plaintiff Rhonda LeMaster purchased a 2002 Chrysler
Sebring on Craigslist for $3, 000 (Doc. 132-1, at pp. 12,
17). Plaintiff Steve Williamson performed maintenance and
repairs to the vehicle, including routine oil changes.
Williamson's first substantial work on the Sebring was
replacing the water pump and the Part in October 2012 (Doc.
133-4, at p. 54). He decided to replace the Part while
replacing the water pump because that was the recommended
procedure. Id. at p. 71. Williamson purchased the
Part from his local Autozone store. Id. at pp.
time Williamson replaced the Part, the 10-year old Sebring
had 156, 000 miles on it. Id. at p. 55. Williamson
replaced the timing chain tensioner without assessing the
wear on the other timing components. Id. at pp.
70-71. After installing the Part, he drove the Sebring for
approximately 170 miles. Id. at pp. 93-94.
his deposition, Williamson testified that the car sounded
okay at first, but he began noticing a tapping sound at idle.
Id. He concluded the Part was not “holding
pressure” because he was getting “chain
chatter” when the car was at idle. Id.
Williamson removed the Part, returned it to Autozone, and
purchased the same replacement Part. Id. at pp.
93-94, 96. After installing the second tensioner, Williamson
was able to drive approximately 400 miles before he began
letter to Autozone, Williamson stated that the two Parts he
purchased and installed “failed in different
manners.” Id. at p. 68; Doc. 133-4, Ex. 3. He
explained that he was able to drive for “two days and
170 miles” with the first Part and “5 days and
over 400 miles” with the second Part. Id. He
also reported that he was driving with the second Part when
he heard a tapping sound that “gradually became more
serious” before he pulled off the highway and the
engine stalled. Id.
is unable to say whether the existing tensioner he removed
from the Sebring's engine was the original tensioner that
was sold with the car. Id. at p. 210. LeMaster has
no knowledge about the repair or maintenance history of the
vehicle prior to her purchasing it in 2010 (Doc. 133-1, at
pp. 36-37). Neither Plaintiff researched the Part or visited
Defendants' respective websites before purchasing and
installing it in the Sebring (Doc. 133-4, at p. 222, Doc.
133-1, at pp. 41-42).
has no personal or independent knowledge about the alleged
defect in the Part (Doc. 133-1, at p. 35). She was not
involved in selecting the various auto parts or installing
them in the Sebring in the fall of 2012. Id. at p.
51. She has never paid any money out of pocket for the
repairs Plaintiffs claim are the result of the allegedly
defective part. Id. at p. 62.
provides a 90 day warranty on the Part, under which it will
refund the purchase price or replace the Part, “no
questions asked” (Doc. 135-4, at ¶¶ 5-6). It
does not track the reasons for returns made under its
warranty. Id. at ¶¶ 11-13. Customers can
also submit money damage claims to the vendor. Id.
at ¶ 14.
2009 and 2015, approximately 15 DIY customers, including
Williamson, submitted money damage claims to S.A. Gear for
the Part via the Autozone claim process (Doc. 135-3, at
¶ 7). During that same period, Autozone received 146
claims for the Part, of which 15 were from DIY unit sales
(Doc. 135-3, at ¶ 16). The reasons for the claims varied
from failure to activate the tensioner properly, to the
tensioner being full of oil sludge or debris, to improper
installation. Id. at ¶ 17. A search of the
claim notes for Part 9422 received between 2009 and 2016
reveals no claims alleging a defect based on the O-ring
placement. Id. at ¶ 20.
with their motion, Plaintiffs submitted two consumer
complaints that were publicly posted on the portion of
Advanced Auto Parts' website selling Part 9422:
Defective batch cost me over $2, 000.00
PROS: None use OE
CONS: Poor Quality
BEST USES: Paper weight Comments about S.A. Gear
Tensioner Crank to Cam: Many of these seemed to have
been manufactured with the pressure o-ring groove in the
wrong location causing o-ring to shear off. Timing chain
guide failed from excess slack as well as eventual failure of
water pump and entire chain. After three of these were