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A federal judge has tentatively dismissed claims by consumers in foreign countries who assert economic damages against Toyota Motor Corp. based on defects associated with sudden acceleration. The tentative order, issued on Nov. 21, means that foreign consumers who purchased or leased their vehicles outside the United States cannot pursue their claims in U.S. courts. “Plaintiffs fail to explain how the Toyota entity responsible for U.S. marketing impacted the buying decisions of Toyota customers worldwide,” wrote U.S. District Judge James Selna, who is overseeing the multidistrict litigation against Toyota over sudden acceleration defects. The foreign plaintiffs sued Toyota as part of the multidistrict litigation, which is made up of 300 consolidated actions in Santa Ana, Calif. Of those, about 200 involve consumer claims and 100 address injuries and deaths allegedly caused by sudden acceleration incidents. The foreign claims, brought under a separate complaint from the other 300 cases, asserted economic damages on behalf of consumers in 14 countries who purchased 27 different models of Toyota vehicles. Selna heard arguments on his tentative order at a hearing on Nov. 21, but has not issued a final ruling. If upheld, the ruling would be the first to entirely dismiss consumer claims against Toyota. “We believe the Foreign Plaintiffs’ complaint still does not overcome the fundamental problem that these claims should be brought in their home countries, not the U.S.,” wrote Toyota spokeswoman Celeste Migliore, in an e-mailed statement. “While Toyota’s U.S. entities were named as defendants, they have little connection to the foreign plaintiffs’ claims, as the vast majority of the Toyota models in question are neither designed, nor manufactured, nor sold in the U.S. In fact, Toyotas are manufactured in at least 26 countries worldwide, and more than 170 corporate entities market and sell Toyotas in at least 170 countries.” Monica Kelly, a partner at Ribbeck Law in Chicago, lead counsel for the foreign plaintiffs, wrote in an e-mail on the day of the hearing: “The order is not final yet. We are hoping that after the presentation we made today the judge will modify his ruling allowing us to proceed further.”   Selna dismissed the original complaint on April 8. In their amended complaint, the foreign plaintiffs continued to assert claims against four defendants: Toyota Motor Corp., Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc., Toyota Motor Engineering and Toyota Manufacturing North America Inc. They also continued to assert claims under the U.S. Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and numerous California consumer statutes, as well as negligence and design defects under product liability law. But they abandoned claims asserting manufacturing defects, alleging instead that the defects were due to the design and marketing of the vehicles. The amended complaint focused on two subclasses: a North American class, encompassing residents of Mexico and Canada; and a worldwide class, which involved the countries of Australia, China, Egypt, Germany, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, Peru, Philippines, Russia, South Africa and Turkey. Toyota, in its motion to dismiss the amended complaint, which was filed on Aug. 8, argued that the foreign plaintiffs had not established standing to sue in U.S. courts because they failed to connect their alleged injuries to the conduct of the U.S. defendants. Toyota also moved to dismiss the claims for failing to join “indispensable parties,” such as the manufacturers, distributors and advertisers, in the foreign countries specifically identified in the complaint. “At its core, Foreign Plaintiffs’ Opposition fails to answer the central question that the Court first posed eighteen months ago: why are Foreign Plaintiffs bringing cases in the U.S. rather than in their own countries?” wrote Toyota attorney Lisa Gilford, a Los Angeles partner at Atlanta’s Alston & Bird, in an Oct. 20 court document supporting dismissal. In his tentative order, Selna concluded that the plaintiffs had amended their complaint to allege sufficient damages this time, but he sided with Toyota’s argument that they still lacked standing by failing to link the acts of a U.S. defendant to the advertising and marketing foreign consumers relied on in their home countries. “Plaintiffs do not explain how publicity in the United States and its resulting effect on the value of Toyota vehicles in the United States extends to each of their home countries,” he wrote. “There is no basis here to assume that the market for Toyota products is homogenous throughout the world, and unaffected by the characteristic of local markets, such as local preferences, the status of the local economy, and the supply and demand characteristics of the local market. Said another way, there is no basis to assume that the American automobile market is a fair surrogate for every other market in the world.” He made similar conclusions in dismissing claims brought under the California consumer statutes. Selna also dismissed the racketeering claims, finding that the plaintiffs had failed to assert allegations particular enough about who conducted the conspiracy. The plaintiffs’ products liability and negligence claims also lacked sufficient details to go forward, he concluded. Amanda Bronstad can be contacted at a[email protected]

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