— A Chevy Cruze class action lawsuit may be nearing the end after five years in court as the federal judge says the plaintiffs haven't provided evidence the cars are equipped with emissions defeat devices.
The Chevrolet Cruze class action lawsuit was filed in July 2016 by owners who allege 2014-2015 Cruze diesel cars emit illegal levels of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions.
The plaintiffs who sued claim General Motors committed the same sins as Volkswagen did by directing their engineers to develop and install emissions defeat devices in the Cruze cars.
The lawsuit alleges the diesel Cruze cars were manipulated to fool the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB).
The plaintiffs further claim they were injured by overpaying for their cars due to GM's allegedly fraudulent conduct.
The Robert Bosch company was later added to the lawsuit when the plaintiffs alleged the company supplied the illegal software allegedly installed in the Cruze vehicles.
Chevy Cruze Class Action Lawsuit: Discovery
Contrary to many class action lawsuits against automakers, General Motors decided to continue its legal fight by advancing to the discovery phase, a pre-trial stage to formally collect evidence and information.
During discovery, GM collects information from the car owners who sued, and the owners collect documents and information from the automaker.
Both sides will request official documents, and witnesses, car owners and experts are interviewed under oath while non-parties can be subpoenaed.
Judge Thomas L. Ludington says the discovery phase is complete and there is no evidence the GM Chevrolet Cruze vehicles are equipped with emissions defeat devices.
The case has went on for more than five years and 400 discovery filings, but the judge says the evidence gives "rise to a serious question regarding the propriety of this Court’s continued exercise of jurisdiction."
When the class action lawsuit was at the pleading stage, the judge said the plaintiff's theory they overpaid for their cars allowed the case to continue. GM continued to deny the cars were equipped with illegal emissions software, but the judge found the plaintiffs had "carried their burden" at the pleading stage of the case.
But after multiple years of discovery, the judge notes neither the EPA nor CARB issued any notices of emissions violations about the Chevy Cruze diesel vehicles.
Emails and meetings show GM communicated with CARB and the EPA before and after the plaintiffs filed the class action in 2016, but eight years after the 2014 Cruze was produced, no federal or state actions have been taken against General Motors.
In June 2019, GM filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking all communications about 2014 to 2015 Chevy Cruze diesel vehicles between CARB, the EPA, the law firms for the plaintiffs and GM, and West Virginia University researchers.
That FOIA request did not produce any evidence the EPA or CARB are investigating GM or Bosch for misrepresenting the Chevy Cruze.
"Inaction by the EPA and CARB regarding the Chevy Cruise diesel seems to discredit Plaintiffs’ assertion that Defendants implemented a defeat device and that said device inflicted an economic injury. For the same reason, Plaintiffs’ claim that Bosch’s conduct produced a RICO injury appears equally unfounded." — Judge Ludington
The judge also says the only evidence of excessive emissions comes from a test of only one Chevy Cruze diesel car purchased by attorneys for the plaintiffs. No other Cruze cars were tested, not even any of the cars owned by the GM owners who filed the lawsuit.
According to the judge, the plaintiffs depend on the allegation the nitrogen oxide emissions of one used Chevy Cruze represent the emissions of the entire fleet of cars.
Chevy Cruze Lawsuit: Testimony of the Plaintiffs
According to the judge, depositions and responses of the plaintiffs "have not substantiated the initial allegation that the NOx emissions of Chevy Cruze diesel vehicles exceeded EPA and CARB requirements."
The judge says the testimony of the plaintiffs was inconsistent and multiple plaintiffs had not even heard of nitrogen oxides before the lawsuit was filed.
Seven of the plaintiffs testified they expected the Chevy Cruze diesel’s emissions to be lower than a comparable gasoline engine. However, the comparison between gasoline and diesel vehicles isn't appropriate.
Gasoline and diesel engines operate very differently and therefore produce different emissions, with diesel engines creating more emissions output than gas engines.
The judge goes on to use evidence from the Cruze window stickers as well as the U.S. government.
The window sticker (Monroney label) for the 2014 Chevy Cruze diesel indicates a 5-out-of-10 smog rating and a 7-out-of-10 CO2 emissions rating. The smog rating includes emissions “such as nitrogen oxide, non-methane organic gases, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and formaldehyde.”
The judge notes a side-by-side comparison on FuelEconomy.gov shows the EPA smog rating for the 2014 Chevy Cruze diesel is 5 out of 10, and its gasoline counterpart is 6 out of 10.
"Moreover, greenhouse gas emissions for tailpipe CO2 are rated 7 out of 10 for diesel engines and 8 out of 10 for gasoline. That disclosure undermines any expectation that the Chevy Cruze diesel would have lower emissions than a gasoline alternative." — Judge Ludington
Two of the plaintiffs also say they expected the Chevy Cruze diesel emissions to match the window sticker on the vehicle, but the judge says the plaintiffs have produced no evidence that the Chevy Cruze diesel emits nitrogen oxides at a higher rate than either what the Monroney sticker disclosed or what the EPA and CARB approved.
Four of the plaintiffs say they expected the Chevy Cruze diesel to be good for the environment and have little to no emissions. And four Cruze owners say they expected their Chevy Cruze diesel emissions would be cleaner than previous generations of diesel engines.
But according to the judge, "none of those plaintiffs have identified what benchmarks they expected the Cruze to meet."
"At the pleading stage, this Court accepted as true Plaintiffs’ allegation that they were 'injured' by paying a premium for a benefit they never received. As recounted above, Plaintiffs’ testimony hardly supports that theory." — Judge Ludington
The Chevy Cruze class action lawsuit also alleges owners have been injured because not only did they pay a "clean diesel" premium, owners will also suffer out-of-pocket losses for “future attempted repairs.”
The judge didn't buy those arguments because the Cruze cars have not been recalled and the plaintiffs haven't provided any evidence in five years that they ever attempted to have their cars repaired.
According to Judge Ludington, "four long years of discovery have not produced the widespread evidence of deceptive engineering and regulatory fraud that Plaintiffs have alleged in this case."
The plaintiffs who sued GM have until October 1, 2021, to show cause why the judge should not dismiss the lawsuit.
The Chevy Cruze class action lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court Eastern District Of Michigan: Counts, et al., v. General Motors LLC.
The plaintiffs are represented by Carella, Byrne, Cecchi, Olstein, Brody & Agnello, PC, Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, and Seeger Weiss LLP.