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Ford Swerves Around Faulty Engine Claims

(CN) - Ford Motor Co. won't have to face all the claims filed by a class of consumers who say it sold them cars with engines that suddenly lose power in the midst of driving, a federal judge ruled.

While New Jersey resident Jason Schmidt was driving on a highway in 2012, his used 2005 Ford Explorer malfunctioned and completely lost power, he claims.

Though the warranty allegedly was still valid - since the SUV was less than eight years old and had been driven less than 80,000 miles - Schmidt says a Ford dealership told him no applicable warranty would cover the cost of replacing his engine's powertrain control module.

He then lodged a complaint with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and later found online that the issue he experienced was "pervasive to the class of vehicles."

Schmidt and six others filed a nationwide class action against Ford Motor Co., alleging that it knowingly sold vehicles equipped with defective 5.4 L V8 engines from 2004 to 2008.

They say the engines' experience of acceleration hesitation, stalling, loss of revolutions per minute and power, and sudden and intermittent deceleration may stem from their powertrain or transmission control modules, electronic throttle controls, or throttle body assemblies.

Plaintiff Lee Pullen, of California, says he was never informed of any warranty for repair costs, so he paid out-of-pocket to replace his used 2005 Expedition's throttle body.

Two plaintiffs claim that no defects have manifested in their vehicles, but the defect's latency reduced their cars' value and usefulness and caused the customers to overpay for them.

The 17-count amended complaint asserts claims for breach of express and implied warranty, common law fraud/violation of the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment, and quasi-contract recovery under California law, and seeks monetary and injunctive relief.

Senior U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted Ford's motion to dismiss several claims last week.

"Plaintiffs, with the exception of Jason Schmidt, whose breach-of-warranty claims defendant does not move to dismiss, have failed to allege that they provided pre-suit notice to defendant of any alleged defect," Robreno wrote. "While plaintiffs do allege that defendant had knowledge of the defects through submitting [technical service bulletins] TSBs and receiving consumer complaints directly through customers including Jason Schmidt and through the [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] NHTSA, such allegations are insufficient to sustain the claims of other plaintiffs who (1) drove different vehicles with different model years, (2) purchased at different times, and (3) in different states."

The plaintiffs' fraud and negligent misrepresentation claims lacked specificity, as "they fail to plead any facts or circumstances that might support this bare allegation of justifiable reliance," Robreno wrote. "No facts are pleaded regarding (1) when, where, and from whom plaintiffs purchased or otherwise acquired their vehicles; (2) what, if any, Ford employees were involved in those transactions; and (3) any particular information on how plaintiffs who did not actually pay for repairs have been harmed by the omissions."

The judge tossed certain plaintiffs' unjust enrichment claims, as well.

"None of the relevant plaintiffs actually paid for any repairs to their vehicles," Robreno wrote. "Furthermore, these plaintiffs do not even allege that they purchased their vehicles from defendant or one of defendant's dealers. They fail to show any way in which their money transferred from their own pockets to defendant's."

Remaining are claims for unjust enrichment under Illinois law; quasi-contract; Schmidt's breach of warranty; and an injunction, which Ford did not move to dismiss, the ruling states.

Ford, the nation's second-largest automaker, reported more than $134 billion in revenue in 2012.

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