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Veluvolu v. Nissan North America Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

May 31, 2019

ANIL VELUVOLU, ET AL.
v.
NISSAN NORTH AMERICA INC., ETAE

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          ELIZABETH ERNY FOOTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Now pending before the Court is Defendant American Honda Motor Co., Inc.'s ("AHM") Motion for Summary Judgment. [Record Document 17]. Plaintiffs Dr. Anil ("Dr. Veluvolu") and Jennifer Velovolu (together, "Plaintiffs") have filed an opposition [Record Document 21] and AHM has filed a reply [Record Document 24]. For the reasons discussed below, the motion for summary judgment is hereby GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Plaintiffs are ordered to submit additional briefing regarding their negligent repair claim by Thursday, June 13, 2019. Summary judgment is GRANTED as to Jennifer Veluvolu's claim for nonpecuniary damages pursuant to Louisiana Civil Code article 1998. Summary judgment is DENIED as to all other claims.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         This matter arises out of the sale of a new vehicle, a 2017 Acura NSX ("the Acura"). Record Document 3, ¶ 8. Plaintiffs purchased the Acura from Orr Infiniti ("Orr") in Shreveport, Louisiana on November 3, 2016. Id. Plaintiffs paid a total of $237, 199.80 for the vehicle, including finance charges and expenses surrounding the sale. Id. at ¶ 9. Plaintiffs assert that AHM is the manufacturer[1] and warrantor of the Acura.[2] Id. at ¶ 2. According to Plaintiffs, the sale of the Acura created an implied warranty of merchantability and an implied warranty under Louisiana's redhibition laws that the Acura was "fit for the ordinary purpose for which such motor vehicles are purchased." Id. at ¶ 10. Plaintiffs also claim that, subsequent to the sale, Defendant "impliedly warranted" that repair work on the Acura had been performed in a good and workmanlike manner. Id. at ¶ 11. They assert that the Acura was sold with certain express warranties stating that any malfunction of the Acura resulting from defects in material or workmanship would be repaired and necessary parts replaced free of charge during the specified warranty period. Id. at ¶s 12-14.

         Plaintiffs claim that the Acura began to manifest several defective conditions within a few months after the sale. Id. at ¶ 15. They state that those defective conditions include, but are not limited to, multiple instances in which the engine failed to start and the 12-volt battery had to be charged in order to start the engine, the engine's failure to start after sitting for a couple of weeks or more, the battery having to be replaced, and a rattle in the left and right doors at speeds over 25 miles per hour. Id.

         The Acura was returned to Orr, an authorized warranty service dealer, for repairs numerous times. Id. at ¶ 16. Plaintiffs assert that the "more significant and dangerous conditions" of the Acura were not repaired on these occasions. Plaintiffs allege that "Defendant" failed to repair the vehicle so as to bring it into conformity with the warranties, despite having a prolonged period in which to do so. Id. However, Plaintiffs do not acknowledge that Orr, who they claim performed these repairs, is not a defendant in this case.

         Plaintiffs took delivery of the Acura on November 16, 2016. Record Document 17-6, p. 4. On February 13, 2017, the Acura had to be towed to Orr for service because it would not start. Id. at 23. The car had 250 miles on it at that time. Id. Orr kept the car for two weeks, during which it ran diagnostic tests and consulted with Acura technicians. Id. at 24. Dr. Vevuvolu[3] stated that he either does not know or does not remember what was done to repair the Acura during this visit. Id.

         The Acura was returned to Orr on April 24, 2017, because it would not start, did not have electrical power, and required the car's 12-volt battery to be charged before the engine would start. Id. at 25. A technician from Orr drove to Plaintiffs' home, jumped the battery, and drove the Acura to the dealership. Id. At this point the car had 827 miles on it. Id. Orr replaced the Acura's battery after it failed a load test, and the car was returned to Plaintiffs. Id. On this visit, Dr. Veluvolu also complained of a rattle in the left door while driving. Id.

         The Acura again failed to start in June of 2017. Id. at 18. At Dr. Veluvolu's request, Trey Pierce ("Pierce"), Orr's Service Advisor, came out and jumped the battery. Id. Dr. Veluvolu then drove the car to work. Id. The Acura was not taken to Orr for repairs on this occasion. Id.

         The Acura was brought to Orr again for repairs on August 23, 2017, because it would not start. Id. at 26. The mileage was listed as 1, 568 miles. Id. The Acura was not returned to Plaintiffs until September 21, 2017. Id. Orr tested the 12-volt battery, found it to have a bad cell, and replaced it. Record Document 21-3, p. 81. Orr also tested the charging system tested for a "parasitic draw."[4]Id. The results of those tests indicated that the Acura and its 12-volt battery were operating normally. Id. Orr provided Dr. Veluvolu with an accessory battery charger and recommended that he use it whenever the Acura would be left unused for more than seven days. Id.

         On November 13, 2017, Dr. Veluvolu brought the Acura to Orr because he was hearing a rattle in both doors. Record Document 17-6, p. 28. Technicians at Orr attempted to resolve the rattle by installing insulation in the doors, but Dr. Veluvolu claims that he could still hear the rattle when he drove home. Id. at 29. Dr. Veluvolu brought the Acura to Orr on April 16, 2018, to address the rattle issue again. Id. He does not recall hearing the rattle when he picked up the car after this visit, but claims that it has since returned. Id. at 30. Plaintiffs did not pay Orr for any of these repairs because the Acura was still under warranty. Id. at 30. Plaintiffs contend that the defects in the Acura have substantially impaired its use, value, and safety. Record Document 3, ¶ 17. Plaintiffs also state that they notified AHM and Orr that they wanted to rescind the sale of the Acura but were refused. Id. at ¶ 18. Plaintiffs then filed the instant lawsuit against AHM requesting a rescission of the sale, a return of the purchase price and costs related to the sale, damages for mental anguish, humiliation, and inconvenience, and attorney's fees. Id. at p. 3.

         II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) directs a court to "grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, answers to interrogatories, admissions, depositions, and affidavits on file indicate that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). When the burden at trial will rest on the non-moving party, the moving party need not produce evidence to negate the elements of the non-moving party's case; rather, it need only point out the absence of supporting evidence. See Id. at 322-23. However, "if the movant bears the burden of proof on an issue, ... he must establish beyond peradventure all of the essential elements of the claim or defense to warrant judgment in his favor." Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780 F.2d 1190, 1194 (5th Cir. 1986).

         If the movant satisfies its initial burden of showing that there is no genuine dispute of material fact, the nonmovant must demonstrate that there is, in fact, a genuine issue for trial by going "beyond the pleadings" and "designating] specific facts" for support. Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325). "This burden is not satisfied with some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," by conclusory or unsubstantiated allegations, or by a mere "scintilla of evidence." Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). However, "[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986) (citing Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59 (1970)). While not weighing the evidence or evaluating the credibility of witnesses, courts should grant summary judgment where the critical evidence in support of the nonmovant is so "weak or tenuous" that it could not support a judgment in the nonmovant's favor. Armstrong v. City of Dall, 997 F.2d 62, 67 (5th Cir. 1993).

         Additionally, Local Rule 56.1 requires the movant to file a statement of material facts as to which it "contends there is no genuine issue to be tried." The opposing party must then set forth a "short and concise statement of the material facts as to which there exists a genuine issue to be c tried." W.D. La. R. 56.2. All material facts set forth in the movant's statement "will be deemed admitted, for purposes of the motion, unless controverted as required by this rule." Id.

         III. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         As this case is before the Court under diversity jurisdiction, [5] the Court must apply the substantive law of the forum state. Bradley v. Allstate Ins. Co., 620 F.3d 509, 517 n.2 (5th Cir. 2010) (citing Erie R.R. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938)). The Fifth Circuit in In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litigation stated the appropriate methodology for a federal court sitting in diversity in Louisiana to apply:

To determine Louisiana law, we look to the final decisions of the Louisiana Supreme Court. In the absence of a final decision by the Louisiana Supreme Court, we must make an Erie guess and determine, in our best judgment, how that court would resolve the issue if presented with the same case. In making an Erie guess, we must employ Louisiana's civilian methodology, whereby we first examine primary sources of law: the constitution, codes, and statutes. Jurisprudence, even when it rises to the level of jurisprudence constante, is a secondary law source in Louisiana. Thus, although we will not disregard the decisions of Louisiana's intermediate courts unless we are convinced that the Louisiana Supreme Court would decide otherwise, we are not strictly bound by them.

495 F.3d 191, 206 (5th Cir. 2007) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

         Plaintiffs allege a cause of action against AHM for breach of warranty against redhibitory defects, pursuant to Louisiana Civil Code article 2520. Plaintiffs also claim that AHM should be held liable for violating the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 2301-2312, and for making negligent repairs to the Acura. See Record Document 3.

         A. Right of Redhibition

          Louisiana Civil Code article 2520 states that a seller warrants the buyer against redhibitory defects in the thing sold, and a defect is considered redhibitory when it renders the thing useless, or its use so inconvenient that it must be presumed that a buyer would not have bought the thing had he known of the defect. La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 2520. The existence of such a defect entitles the buyer to obtain rescission of the sale. Id. The warranty against redhibitory defects applies only to defects that existed at the time of delivery. La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 2530. The buyer must notify the seller of any redhibitory defect in the thing sold and allow the seller an ...


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