Volvo Given Go Ahead to Reopen Discovery in Sunroof Case

Fotolia_34615598_LThe U.S. District Court for New Jersey has reopened discovery for Volvo in the alleged sunroof defect case brought by vehicle owners. The suit was filed in 2010 in U.S. District Court by Joanne Neale of Needham, Mass., and seven other owners, who asked for class action status.

The Volvo owners say their sunroofs harbor a defect, allowing water to flood the vehicles. The original judge certified six separate state-wide sub-classes, but did not certify a national class action.

Volvo appealed this decision to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The appellate court vacated the class certification and said more details are necessary. It sent the case back to the U.S. District Court for New Jersey.

“[W]e will vacate and remand the District Court’s class certification decision to allow the District Court to define the class membership, claims, and defenses, and so that it may rigorously analyze predominance in the first instance,” according to court documents.

The U.S. District Court required plaintiffs to serve, but not file, their renewed motion for class certification by December 2015.

In response, Volvo was required to serve its opposition or to make an application for limited discovery based on the renewed motion by plaintiffs. Volvo opted for the latter.

“The court gave defendants an opportunity to evaluate plaintiffs’ arguments and to determine exactly what additional discovery they believed might be necessary,” according to the judge.

Volvo filed a motion seeking two categories of additional discovery. The automaker requested discovery about the plaintiffs’ experiences with their vehicles after the original judge approved the six-state class action. The automaker wants to learn whether issues persisted with the vehicles since the original class certification.

“Defendants note that this information is particularly crucial for named plaintiffs XC90, S40 and V50 vehicles ‘because each of them had repairs after Volvo instructed its dealers to use the modified sound traps with larger openings to allow more water to escape,’” according to court documents. “In essence, defendants argue that if a plaintiff received a modified sound trap and did not experience any clogs or leaks thereafter, that cuts against plaintiffs’ claim that every sound trap is defective and it is also ‘directly relevant to the question of whether plaintiffs can prove their claims with common evidence and whether common issues predominate over individual issues.’”

The judge agreed with Volvo that the question is relevant and asked that discovery interrogatories and document requests be served on plaintiffs’ counsel.

In the second matter for discovery, Volvo says that two plaintiffs sold their vehicles in the years since they were originally deposed for the case. Volvo wants to know if these prior vehicle owners disclosed the alleged defect to the buyers.

The judge says this request has some value, noting that Volvo can obtain the information through discovery requests of the original named plaintiffs. However, the judge said Volvo cannot question the new vehicle owners.

The court gave plaintiffs until May 24, 2016 to respond to the interrogatories.

A discovery status report is due to the judge by July 8, 2016.

To read the judge’s decision, click here.

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