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Franco v. Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

October 17, 2018

PHILIP A. FRANCO
v.
MERCEDES-BENZ USA, LLC

          ON APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-FOURTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF JEFFERSON, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 767-659, DIVISION "M" HONORABLE HENRY G. SULLIVAN, JR., JUDGE PRESIDING

          COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT, PHILIP A. FRANCO

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE, MERCEDES-BENZ USA, LLC Colvin G. Norwood, Jr. Gary G. Hebert

          Panel composed of Judges Fredericka Homberg Wicker, Robert A. Chaisson, and Stephen J. Windhorst

          ROBERT A. CHAISSON JUDGE

         In this case arising out of a petition for redhibition filed by the purchaser of an allegedly defective automobile, Philip Franco appeals a May 9, 2017 judgment of the trial court sustaining a peremptory exception of no cause of action filed by Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC ("MBUSA"), which dismissed Mr. Franco's claims with prejudice. For the following reasons, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand the case for further proceedings.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On December 22, 2016, Mr. Franco filed a petition of redhibition in which he set forth the following allegations:

         On January 22, 2013, he purchased a 2010 Mercedes-Benz GL450 SUV manufactured and distributed by MBUSA for $47, 500 plus taxes, license fees and other charges, as well as an extended warranty.

         In May, 2016, Mr. Franco received a Safety Recall letter from MBUSA advising him of a potential defect in the driver side front airbag of the vehicle which could result in metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants, possibly causing serious injury or death. The notice further advised that there was no current suitable replacement available to remedy the defect, but that when a replacement did become available, it would be provided to Mr. Franco at no cost to him.

         In response to this safety recall notice, Mr. Franco sent a letter to MBUSA demanding either the use of a loaner vehicle until the defect was eliminated or repurchase of the vehicle. MBUSA denied Mr. Franco's demands by phone.

         The petition further alleged the defect in the driver side airbag constitutes a redhibitory defect pursuant to La. C.C. art. 2520 in that it renders use of the vehicle either useless or so inconvenient that it must be presumed that Mr. Franco would not have bought it had he known of the defect. Additionally, Mr. Franco alleged that MBUSA, as a manufacturer of the vehicle, is deemed to know the vehicle has a redhibitory defect. Mr. Franco sought to recover the total purchase price paid for the vehicle as well as all other damages suffered, including emotional distress.

         In response to Mr. Franco's petition, MBUSA filed a peremptory exception of no cause of action in which it argued that Mr. Franco's claims are moot because MBUSA is already required by federal statute to replace the defective airbag at no cost pursuant to a nationwide recall of the defective airbags. MBUSA additionally argued that the claims are subject to dismissal because they are preempted by the National Highway Transportation Safety Act (NHTSA), which provides exclusive remedies for Mr. Franco's claims.[1] Finally, MBUSA argued that Mr. Franco's petition is deficient because it fails to state the existence of an actual defect in his vehicle.[2]

         On May 9, 2017, following a hearing on the exception, the trial court issued judgment sustaining MBUSA's exception of no cause of action. In its written reasons for judgment, the trial court found that MBUSA was unaware of the defect at the time of the sale and that Mr. Franco had no cause of action unless and until the replacement efforts ...


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