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A federal judge has remanded four class-action lawsuits against Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Ford Motor Co. to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas because the federal court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. Eastern District Court Judge Jay C. Waldman released all four decisions on the same day using very similar language in each opinion. The cases are part of a number of state and federal class actions across the country involving defective ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires. Firestone has recalled those tires due to a defect that causes the treads of the tires to “peel off their casing.” Ford Motor Co. used the tires as a standard component in a number of cars, particularly the Ford Explorer. Firestone is working closely with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in coordinating the recall. Attorneys representing plaintiffs include: Ken Jacobsen, Robert Gibson, Robert Sink, Frank Farina, David Berger, Michael Coren, Howard Gottlieb, Daniel Levin, Arnold Levin, Scott Levensten and Joseph Messa. Attorneys representing Bridgestone/Firestone include Edward Greenberg and Morton Daller. Ford is represented by Dylan Walker and Robert Toland. Lawyers for Bridgestone-Firestone Inc. and Ford Motor Co. had taken steps to get all of the class action suits combined by filing motions with the federal Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation to consolidate all of the cases before a single federal judge. The MDL panel held a hearing in late September on the transfer and consolidation motions. There are other cases still pending in federal court that could become part of an MDL litigation. Plaintiffs’ attorney Gibson said the significance of the judge’s decision in the instant four cases ensures that “Pennsylvania doesn’t get looked over” in any potential national litigation. Lennon v. Donnelly was the first case on record in Pennsylvania dealing with the recalled tires. Waldman said in Lennon, the parties did not dispute their diversity of citizenship, but he said the decision hinged on whether the amount in controversy exceeded $75,000. Waldman said it did not. “Defendants have not refuted plaintiffs’ assertion that the cost of the tires is no more than $800 per set,” Waldman said. “Even assuming that it is $1,000 and that this would be trebled to $3,000, plaintiff and each class member would have to receive additional incidental and punitive damages and prorated attorney fees in an amount exceeding $72,000 to satisfy the jurisdictional amount.” Waldman said the prospect of an award exceeding $72,000 was “beyond remote.” The Lennon case sought recovery for breach of implied warranties and violations of the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. Plaintiffs in Lennon are seeking compensatory damages for the cost of the tires, punitive damages and attorney’s fees. They are also seeking an injunction against future sales of the recalled model of tires and disgorgement of any profits from prior sales. Defendants argued that the UTPCPL claim exceeded the amount required to prove subject matter jurisdiction. Firestone and Ford argued in Lennon that the starting point for calculations should be at $20,000, the value of a vehicle, then trebled to $60,000, with at least $15,000 for punitives and attorneys’ fees added to that figure. Waldman said those calculations are “dubious” and do not reflect a “reasonable reading of the value of the claims at issue.” The court said the defendants failed to show the amount in controversy “even remotely approaches the jurisdictional threshold.” Firestone and Ford also argued that the federal court has jurisdiction based on the doctrine of preemption. Specifically, they argued, the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act along with the Safety Administration’s regulations trump the state law claims because such claims could interfere with the recall. Waldman said the complaints clearly did not present any federal question, and the preemption argument failed. “Defendants do not and cannot reasonably argue that the MVSA or NHSTA regulations preempt all state law claims concerning automobile defects,” Waldman wrote in Lennon. “Safety and uniformity was the primary objective of Congress in passing the MVSA. The preservation of common law liability furthers this objective.” In Miller v. Bridgestone Firestone Inc., the plaintiffs filed a class action suit on claims for negligence, strict liability, misrepresentation, breach of express and implied warranties and for violation of the UTPCPL. The Miller class expressly excluded anyone with a personal injury claim. The class in Beatty v. Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. also excluded those with personal injury claims. Following the nearly identical reasoning of Lennon, the court followed suit in remanding the cases in Miller, Beatty and Dorian v. Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. to common pleas court. Shannon P. Duffy contributed to this report.

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