Toyota Soy Wiring Class Action Lawsuit Resurrected
Published Sept. 21, 2020
A Toyota soy wiring class action lawsuit is partly alive on appeal after a district court dismissed the case in 2018.
According to the Toyota soy wiring class action lawsuit, rodents are more attracted to the wiring because Toyota switched its wiring harness from vinyl chloride to a soy-based material.
This allegedly causes rats, mice and other creatures to chew the wiring, leaving vehicle owners without safe transportation.
The plaintiffs had four opportunities to refile the class action, but the judge dismissed the lawsuit for failure to plead with particularity under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b) and ruled the soy-based wiring did not constitute a "latent defect."
The district court judge dismissed claims under 13 states’ consumer protection statutes, the implied warranty of merchantability and the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (MMWA.)
The plaintiffs appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit which affirmed in part and reversed in part the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California ruling by Judge Andrew J. Guilford.
Toyota argues that rats have always been pests that chew on things and it's just a fact of life, and the Ninth Circuit says none of that is in dispute.
"Rather, Appellants assert that the soy-based wiring harness has led to an increase in rodent damage to their vehicles."
The appeals court found the allegations in the class action "directly support Appellants’ theory, which necessarily excludes Toyota’s explanation."
Concerning claims of fraud, the plaintiffs didn't have the same luck as the appeals court ruled vehicle owners failed to "identify the fraud with particularity. Appellants merely state in conclusory fashion that Toyota fraudulently failed to disclose the alleged defect. Indeed, Appellants fail to allege the extent to which Toyota was aware of this issue."
The class action alleges customer complaints prove Toyota concealed the damage that can be caused by using soy wiring. But the appeals court found the customer complaints "unpersuasive."
"This point is made more salient by the infrequency of reported damage to Toyota vehicles. We are left to wonder who at Toyota was aware of the alleged defect and why Toyota did not disclose it. Thus, we affirm the district court’s dismissal of Appellants’ state-law fraud and consumer protection claims," the Ninth Circuit said.
Next, the Ninth Circuit moved to implied warranty of merchantability and Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act claims. The district court dismissed those claims by ruling the alleged wiring defect did not exist at the time the vehicles were sold.
According to the district judge, the rodents did not destroy the vehicles until after they were sold.
On appeal, the plaintiffs admit they cannot state claims under Idaho, Illinois and Oregon laws, but they challenge the dismissal of their remaining implied warranty and MMWA claims.
According to the Ninth Circuit, the implied warranty generally requires that goods possess “fitness for the ordinary purpose for which such goods are used,” which means “the product is in safe condition and substantially free of defects.”
"To have an actionable claim, the defect must exist at the time of sale," the Ninth Circuit said.
The appeals court found the district court incorrectly identified the rodents as the alleged defect. Instead, the alleged defect was the soy-based wiring harnesses that attracted the rodents in the first place. This means the alleged defect existed at the time of sale even if the damage occurred later.
The Ninth Circuit found that to believe otherwise would require that the damage, not just the defect, existed at the time of sale.
The Toyota soy wiring class action lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California---Heber, et al., v. Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., et al.