Robert Gerber. (Photo: Rick Kopstein/ALM)
A federal bankruptcy judge on Monday delayed briefing to give plaintiffs attorneys suing General Motors Co. over ignition-switch defects time to file a consolidated complaint.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Gerber of the Southern District of New York also blocked requests for discovery, at least for now, according to Jonathan Flaxer, a partner at New York’s Golenbock Eiseman Assor Bell & Peskoe.
In an Aug. 15 letter to the court, GM advocated holding off any rulings on two of the four “threshold issues” at stake in bankruptcy court, where it has moved to toss out most of the cases as precluded under its 2009 bankruptcy. GM attorney Arthur Steinberg noted that plaintiffs lawyers in more than 100 ignition-switch lawsuits planned to file their first consolidated complaint in 60 days.
“Only then will all parties be able to see what precisely is being alleged by the plaintiffs,” wrote Steinberg, a partner in the New York office of King & Spalding.
In court filings, designated lead plaintiffs counsel Sander Esserman, a shareholder at Dallas-based Stutzman, Bromberg, Esserman & Plifka, agreed with GM’s plan.
But Daniel Golden, head of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld’s financial-restructuring practice group in New York, who represents the $1 billion trust for GM creditors, sought a delay on all four threshold issues, which Gerber granted.
The threshold issues include whether the claims being asserted are against GM as it existed before its bankruptcy or after, and whether the claimants were denied due process because GM didn’t disclose the ignition-switch defect at the time of its Chapter 11 filing.
Golden and Esserman did not return calls for comment.
One plaintiffs group, led by Flaxer, also sought more discovery. Gerber rejected that request.
“The court for the time being denied my request to take limited discovery, but he denied it without prejudice and is willing to reconsider that issue after the briefing has been done,” Flaxer said.
Gerber also denied a request for discovery from a lawyer for a woman whose husband and four children were killed when the family’s Chevrolet Malibu hit a pole on a grassy median while on a highway in Houston. Dori Phillips—then Dori Powledge—originally claimed an electrical malfunction caused the 2005 crash, according to court filings by her attorney, Joshua Davis of Josh Davis Law Firm in Houston. GM had denied any defects and blamed the crash on her husband, Adam Powledge, claiming he had committed suicide and murdered his children.
Although GM did not include that model in its recalls of 2.6 million vehicles for ignition-switch defects, the Malibu is “now the most recalled GM vehicle for 2014,” wrote Davis, who has filed a new suit on behalf of Phillips.
Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman, also in the Southern District of New York, has appointed lead plaintiffs counsel in the multidistrict litigation over the ignition-switch recalls. On Friday, Furman named Steve Berman, Elizabeth Cabraser and Robert Hilliard as co-lead counsel. Berman, managing partner of Seattle’s Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, and Cabraser, a partner at San Francisco’s Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, both served in lead roles in the sudden-acceleration litigation against Toyota Motor Corp. Hilliard of Hilliard Muñoz Gonzales in Corpus Christi has filed many of the injury and death cases against GM.
Dawn Barrios, a partner at Barrios Kingsdorf & Casteix in New Orleans, will serve as liaison counsel for the state court plaintiffs, and Robin Greenwald, of counsel to New York’s Weitz & Luxenberg, as liaison counsel to the bankruptcy proceedings. The other members of the executive committee are:
· David Boies, chairman of Boies, Schiller & Flexner in New York.
· Lance Cooper, founding partner of The Cooper Firm in Marietta, Ga.
· Melanie Cyganowski, attorney at New York’s Otterbourg.
· Adam Levitt, director in the Chicago office of Wilmington, Del.-based Grant & Eisenhofer.
· Dianne Nast, founder of Philadelphia’s NastLaw.
· Peter Prieto of Miami’s Podhurst Orseck.
· Frank Pitre of Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy in Burlingame, Calif.
· Joseph Rice, founding member of Motley Rice in Mt. Pleasant, S.C.
· Mark Robinson, senior partner at Robinson Calcagnie Robinson Shapiro Davis in Newport Beach, Calif.
· Marc Seltzer, partner in the Los Angeles office of Susman Godfrey
Contact Amanda Bronstad at firstname.lastname@example.org.