General Motors Headquarters in Detroit
General Motors Headquarters in Detroit (Photo: Ritcheypro via Wikimedia Commons.)

The legal fight has begun over the proper venue for dozens of lawsuits filed over General Motors Co.’s recalls for ignition-switch defects.

Plaintiffs lawyers, most of whom have filed class actions on behalf of consumers, have filed motions before the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation to coordinate nearly 60 lawsuits in various districts in California, New York, Michigan, Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Illinois and Louisiana.

The panel is scheduled to hear the cases during its May 29 meeting in Chicago.

GM has recalled 2.6 million cars to fix ignition-switch defects that, by shutting off engines and preventing air bags from deploying, have been blamed for 13 deaths. Most of the lawsuits allege that GM failed to disclose the defect to customers, who seek the lost value of cars they owned or leased plus other economic damages.

GM and another defendant in some of the cases, Delphi Automotive PLC, filed responses on Friday to move the cases to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, which could then transfer them to U.S. bankruptcy court.

“These proceedings in the bankruptcy court are dispositive of claims made in each and every one of the ignition-switch cases,” wrote GM attorney Andrew Bloomer, a partner at Chicago’s Kirkland & Ellis. “Accordingly, the ignition-switch cases should be transferred to the Southern District of New York, which is in the best position to coordinate proceedings in the district court and in the bankruptcy court on the scope and application of the sale order and injunction.”

On April 21, GM filed a separate motion asking U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Gerber to decide whether the class actions should be barred entirely under a provision of its Chapter 11 reorganization in 2009. GM’s request does not apply to cases involving injuries, deaths or property damages.

Plaintiffs attorneys have objected to GM’s move in bankruptcy court.

One of those plaintiffs attorneys, Alexander Schmidt, a partner at New York’s Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz, filed a motion on Thursday before the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation to coordinate the cases in the same New York district “because two core bankruptcy issues concerning GM’s assumed liabilities after the bankruptcy are threshold—and potentially dispositive—issues common to all of these actions.”

One issue, he wrote, involves whether GM is absolved of liability. The other is whether the bar is void because GM failed to disclose the defects to the bankruptcy court, he wrote.

Some plaintiffs attorneys cited access to discovery materials in pushing for the Eastern District of Michigan, the location of GM’s Detroit headquarters. Both Bloomer, GM’s lawyer, and Delphi attorney Eugene Schoon, a partner in the Chicago office of Sidley Austin, suggested that the Eastern District of Michigan also would be an appropriate alternative forum. Delphi’s U.S. subsidiary is based in Troy, Mich.

Bloomer, in GM’s motion, called a proposal for the Central District of California “ improper forum shopping.”

Plaintiffs attorneys have argued for that district because of U.S. District Judge James Selna, who oversaw the sudden-acceleration litigation against Toyota Motor Corp. in Santa Ana, Calif. Selna is overseeing more than a dozen cases against GM.

Other motions were filed for Pennsylvania’s Eastern District and Middle District, the Northern District of California, the Southern District of Florida, the Northern District of Ohio, Northern District of Illinois and the Middle District of Louisiana.

Contact Amanda Bronstad at abronstad@alm.com.