(CN) – Class-action claims that BMW failed to tell consumers that defective alloy tires are not covered by warranty will be transferred from New Jersey to California, a federal judge ruled.
“Around August 2008,” lead plaintiff Ki-Teh Kim bought a used 2007 BMW 5 Series covered by a 4-year/50,000-mile limited warranty, according to the judge’s summary. When a low tire pressure warning appeared on the dashboard in November, Kim took the car to an authorized BMW dealer.
The dealer said one of the car’s alloy wheels was “structurally unsound” – but not covered by the warranty.
Kim paid for a new wheel.
Then he filed a class action against BMW of North America, claiming that 17-inch and larger alloy wheels in 2007 or later BMW 5 Series cars are subject to premature cracking under ordinary driving conditions, putting California drivers at risk.
He accused BMW of unfair and deceptive business practices, in violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law and Consumer Legal Remedies Act.
In July 2012, BMW sought change of venue from New Jersey to the Central District of California.
Kim opposed it, claiming that BMW concealed the defect in its marketing and warranty policies, which flowed from the company’s New Jersey-based headquarters.
But U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Dickson granted change of venue.
“Contrary to plaintiff’s suggestion that the location of physical evidence such as ‘plaintiff’s vehicle and the remaining original equipment alloy wheels’ in California is insignificant, this physical evidence is a necessary source of proof to plaintiff’s claims and supports transfer,” Dickson wrote. “The inspection and examination of the relevant alloy wheels, both plaintiff’s and those belonging to members of the putative class, would be far more convenient to the parties if conducted in California.”
The witnesses’ convenience factor also weighed in BMW’s favor.
“The majority of witnesses and proofs that will ultimately substantiate or refute plaintiff’s claims are located in California,” Dickson wrote. “As defendant correctly pointed out, most, if not all, witnesses who have direct knowledge of plaintiff’s individual claims are located in California. The BMW representatives who determined plaintiff’s wheel to be ‘structurally unsound’ and informed plaintiff that alloy wheels were not covered under the warranty are located in California. The putative class members are limited to ‘California consumers.’ Any third-party witnesses – for example, those who serviced and repaired plaintiff’s vehicle or replaced his damaged alloy wheel-are located in California. Plaintiff conceded that these witnesses would not be subject to compulsory process in New Jersey courts, but argued that they ‘may appear voluntarily at trial, or can provide testimony through depositions.’ Dissimilarly, as pointed out by defendants, BMW’s witnesses can be compelled to testify in a California trial. The court finds this factor weighs in favor of transfer.”
Public interest weighs in favor of transfer, as well.
“California courts have a greater interest in deciding questions relating to the protection of California citizens and have a greater familiarity with California law,” Dickson wrote. “Although there can be no doubt that New Jersey judges can adequately apply California law, there also can be no meaningful disagreement that California judges are more familiar with applying their own state law in a diversity case such as this.”
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