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In response to a wave of lawsuits that followed the national recall of certain Firestone tires, lawyers for Bridgestone-Firestone Inc. and Ford Motor Co. are taking steps to get all of the class action suit before one federal judge. So far, more than 70 overlapping proposed class action suits have been filed in state and federal courts around the United States. One by one, Firestone and Ford are removing all of the state cases to federal court. Several motions are currently pending before the federal Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation to consolidate all of the cases before a single federal judge. Four groups of plaintiffs, in separate actions, and both of the defendants have requested MDL coordination. On Sept. 27, the MDL panel took the unusual, if not unprecedented, step of ordering an expedited hearing on the pending transfer and consolidation motions. In court papers filed Monday in federal court in Philadelphia, lawyers for Ford offered a glimpse of the defense strategy in seeking a federal forum for all of the cases. Attorneys Robert Toland II and Dylan Walker of Cabaniss Conroy & McDonald’s Wayne, Pa., office removed Beatty v. Bridgestone-Firestone Inc. et al., a suit filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Plaintiffs’ attorneys Arnold Levin, Scott Levensten and Daniel C. Levin of Philadelphia’s Levin Fishbein Sedran & Berman, along with Joseph L. Messa of Ominsky & Messa in Marlton, N.J., allege in the suit that three models of Firestone tires — the ATX, the ATX II and the Wilderness — are “not designed to keep their tread and that, as a result, drivers and passengers … [have had] their safety placed in peril.” Seeking to represent a class of Pennsylvanians who bought the tires or cars with the tires, the suit asserts claims for strict liability; negligence; intentional, reckless or negligent misrepresentation; breach of implied warranties; and violation of consumer protection statutes including the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. Ford’s lawyers argue that the case belongs in federal court for two reasons — it meets the requirements of federal diversity jurisdiction and all of the cases present a federal question. The federal question, they argue, stems from the fact that all of the tires at issue are the subject of a voluntary recall currently being supervised by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “This recall is governed by the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act and its authorizing regulations and safety standards which provide a comprehensive federal scheme for remedying and recalling allegedly ‘defective’ tires,” Toland and Walker wrote in the removal petition. However, while the NHTSA’s recall relates only to “certain” tires, the lawsuit seeks injunctive relief relating to all of the tires, they argue. The NHTSA has “comprehensive and exclusive jurisdiction” over any such recall, Ford argues, “yet the plaintiffs in this case and other plaintiffs in other putative class actions being filed across the nation, seek to change the terms of the recall.” If any court grants such an injunction, Ford argues that the current recall “would be seriously impaired.” “Because there is a limited supply of replacement tires, an injunction mandating that all ATX, ATX II and Wilderness tires be recalled and replaced would effectively prohibit Firestone from implementing the limited recall that Firestone and NHTSA determined was necessary,” Ford argues. Since similar claims have been made in courts around the country, they say, one court might mandate a geographic priority to the recall, while another court might set a time limit and another might expand the recall’s scope. “Such competing orders from various courts would conflict with the NHTSA supervised limited recall and likely bring it to a standstill. It would be impossible to satisfy conflicting court orders,” Ford argues. As a result, Ford says, the class actions all raise a “federal question” that justifies removal to federal court. Toland and Walker noted in their motion that Firestone joined Ford in its removal petition. The case is Beatty v. Bridgestone-Firestone Inc., et al., 00-cv-4949.

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