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Wednesday, June 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

VW Class Actions to be|Tried in San Francisco

(CN) - A federal court in San Francisco will be overseeing the hundreds of class action lawsuits filed against Volkswagen over its use of deceptive software to evade emissions tests.

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation decided on Tuesday that the nearly 500 cases will be consolidated and heard by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in the Northern District of California, despite a push by both Volkswagen and the U.S. Department of Justice to send the cases to Detroit.

The consolidation process is designed to help avoid repetition and make the litigation process more efficient.

"(H)undreds of cases, mostly class actions, have been filed on behalf of dealers, owners and lessees of affected vehicles," U.S. District Judge Sara Vance, chief judge of the Eastern District of Louisiana and chair of the panel, wrote. "Centralization will eliminate duplicative discovery, avoid inconsistent pretrial rulings (especially on issues relating to class certification), and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel and the judiciary."

The plaintiffs' lawyers from around the country had suggested that the panel send the cases to a range of venues, including Illinois, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

Allegations against Volkswagen involve multiple districts across the country. VW Group of America is based in the Eastern District of Virginia, while New Jersey is the domestic VW affiliates' state of incorporation and where some of its U.S. and regional operations are based.

Furthermore, the Eastern District of Michigan is where Environmental Protection Agency testing facilities, which tested the affected vehicles, are located and California is home to the most affected vehicles and dealers.

And a large VW plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, produced many of the affected vehicles.

"While all of these districts may yield some or even much discovery, no single district possesses a paramount factual connection to these cases," Vance wrote. "And none of the cases now before us has advanced so far in the few months since their filing as to give any particular district unique insight or knowledge of this controversy."

In making its decision, the four-member panel noted that nearly 1/5 of the cases had been filed in California and that relevant documents and witnesses would likely be found in the state, since the California Air Resources Board "played an important role in investigating and, ultimately, revealing VW's use of the defeat devices," Vance wrote.

Scientists with the Golden State's air board discovered that the German automaker's diesel cars were equipped with "defeat device" software that activated emissions-control systems only when cars were going through pollution testing. VW admitted earlier this fall to installing the devices.

The panel said that Breyer was chosen to oversee the cases "because he is a jurist who is thoroughly familiar with the nuances of complex, multidistrict litigation by virtue of having presided over nine multidistrict litigation dockets, some of which involved international defendants."

A Volkswagen spokesperson said the automaker received the panel's order and plans to "vigorously defend the company in these cases."

Meanwhile, Volkswagen said on Wednesday that the unrelated CO2 emissions issue, in which a number of engines were suspected of pumping more greenhouse gas into the atmosphere than reported by the automaker, is much smaller than previously thought.

Volkswagen said that only about 36,000 vehicles are affected, far below the initial 800,000-vehicle estimate put forth by the company previously.

"Following extensive internal investigations and measurement checks, it is now clear that almost all of these model variants do correspond to the CO2 figures originally determined," Volkswagen said in a statement. "This means that these vehicles can be marketed and sold without limitations."

The automaker added that because of the smaller estimate of affected vehicles, it will likely not have to spend the previously reported $2.2 billion to address the matter.

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