In re Ford Motor Co., No. 22-109 (6th Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
A putative class sued Ford over an alleged design defect in their F-150 pickup trucks, model years 2013-2018, involving brake master cylinders manufactured by Hitachi, citing two alternative theories of how the failure of internal seals would occur. The court declined to certify injunction and damages classes under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2) and (b)(3) but certified five statewide issue classes under 23(c)(4) for three issues: whether the brake systems were defective; whether Ford possessed pre-sale knowledge of the defect; and whether concealed information about the defect would be material to a reasonable buyer.
On interlocutory review, the Sixth Circuit reversed. Rule 23 certification requires that a class action be able to “generate common answers apt to drive the resolution of the litigation.” Here, it is not clear that the certified issues can each be answered “in one stroke.” The court noted design and manufacturing changes to the units over the years and that the class alleged two distinct theories of design defect. Ford may have believed any problem was fixed when Hitachi altered its cylinder design. It is possible that those changes affected brake performance to a degree that would have made a difference to a consumer. On remand, the district court must evaluate whether each of the four Rule 23(a) factors is actually satisfied, not merely properly alleged. The inquiry might overlap with the merits of the underlying claims but is a crucial part of avoiding the procedural unfairness to which class actions are uniquely susceptible.