‘Cheating’ Class Action Against Mercedes Dismissed — for Now

Nick Rummell

NEWARK, N.J. (CN) – A federal judge Tuesday dismissed without prejudice a class-action that claims Mercedes-Benz misled consumers about its “clean diesel” vehicles.

U.S. District Judge Jose Linares found the plaintiffs did not prove they were lured into buying the vehicles.

The February lawsuit resembled a bevy of class actions against Volkswagen, for its “defeat devices” that masked the environmental impact of its engines.

In the Mercedes complaint, lead plaintiff Ulyana Lynevych claimed the luxury carmaker marketed its BlueTEC line of “clean diesel” vehicles as environmentally friendly, but that emissions controls shut down in cooler temperatures, making them in some cases dirtier than gasoline-running vehicles.

Mercedes-Benz filed a motion for dismissal in July, saying the plaintiffs failed to prove the cars were defective or that they had relied on its ads to purchase the cars.

Linares agreed in his Dec. 6 ruling that the plaintiffs had failed to show they had seen and relied on misleading ads and the Mercedes website to purchase the vehicles.

“While the court agrees with plaintiffs that they do not need to point to specific advertisements that they relied upon, plaintiffs’ vague reference to ‘advertisements and representations’ is insufficient to prove reliance (or ‘causation’) on any alleged misrepresentations,” Linares wrote.

Mercedes claimed its engines converted nitrogen oxide emissions into harmless nitrogen and oxygen, making it at the time among the lowest CO2-emitting luxury vehicles on the market.

Mercedes marketed its BlueTEC diesel engine as “the world’s cleanest and most advanced diesel,” with ultra-low emissions and high fuel economy.

But Mercedes programmed the BlueTEC vehicles to turn off the nitrogen-reducing systems when ambient temperatures dropped below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the class claimed.

In her original complaint, Lynevych claimed Mercedes had programmed shutoff devices in its clean diesel engines to disguise pollution levels “more than 65 times higher” than permitted by law.

Road tests showed that the vehicles “emit dangerous oxides of nitrogen at a level at a level more than 65 times higher than the United States Environmental Protection Agency permits,” the lawsuit states.

Mercedes claimed the plaintiffs relied primarily on road tests of European models, which have different emissions standards and different engines.

Linares did not rule on the potential difference between European models and those sold in the United States.

Mercedes-Benz USA disclosed in April that the Department of Justice had told it to review its diesel emission certification program. The company has said it is complying with authorities and that the class-action lawsuit is without merit.

Plaintiffs’ attorney James Cecchi, with Carella Byrne Cecchi Olstein Brody & Agenello in Roseland, N.J., said his clients will file an amended complaint to address the court’s limited pleading concerns.

“We look forward to presenting our case to the fact-finder in court,” Cecchi wrote in an e-mail.

Volkswagen was deluged with more than 100 class actions and billions of dollars in fines on similar claims: that it programmed “clean diesel” engines to turn off emissions controls when vehicles were not being tested.

Volkswagen admitted in September 2015 that 11 million diesel autos worldwide had the cheating software installed. At least 600,000 of them were sold in the United States. Volkswagen subsidiary Audi has been accused of the same thing.

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