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Harris v. Darcars of New Carrollton, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

February 26, 2018

RICHARD L. HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
DARCARS OF NEW CARROLLTON, INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE J. HAZEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Richard L. Harris brings this action against Defendants Darcars of New Carrollton. Inc. ("Darcars") and Chrysler Group. LLC. n/k/a FCA U.S. LLC ("FCA US, " collectively. "Defendants"), alleging that Defendants refused to honor express and implied warranties requiring them to repair damage to his vehicle caused by a manufacturing defect without cost to Plaintiff. Specifically. Plaintiff alleges Defendants violated the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. 15 U.S.C. § 2301 et seq., and the Maryland Consumer Protection Act. Commercial Law Article ("CL") § 13-301 et seq., and breached express and implied warranties. Now pending before the Court is Defendants" Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 49. and Plaintiffs Motion to Strike Defendants' Lxpert Opinion. ECF No. 55. No hearing is necessary. Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons. Defendants' Motion is granted, in part, and denied, in part, and Plaintiffs Motion is denied.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff purchased anew 2012 Chrysler 300 from Darcars in August of 2012. ECF No. 54-2 ¶ 3. The vehicle is covered by express limited warranties set forth in the warranty booklet, including a 36 month / 36, 000 mile Basic Limited Warranty and a 5 year / 100.000 mile Powertrain Limited Warranty (hereinafter ""express limited warranties"), covering "the cost of all parts and labor needed to repair any item on your vehicle when it left the manufacturing plant that is defective in materials, workmanship or factory preparation." ECF No. 50-1 at 6.[2] The warranty booklet also provides that the buyer "may have some implied warranties, depending on the state where your vehicle was sold or is registered." Id. at 1. However, the booklet states that the warranties do not cover incidental or consequential damages, nor do they cover damage caused by abuse, negligence, or misuse, Id. at 5. 18.

         Plaintiff first experienced engine problems in September of 2013. Plaintiff testified that while driving the vehicle, the engine temperature gauge on the vehicle's dashboard display "jumped" and the car suddenly shut off. ECF No. 54-2 ¶ 7. At that time. Plaintiff saw both an engine symbol and "z" symbol on the dashboard display. Id. Darcars determined that both cylinder heads were warped from overheating and replaced the cylinder heads and camshaft free of charge. ECF No. 50-3: see also ECF No. 50-2 at 14.

         Approximately one year later. Plaintiff again experienced engine problem.. Plaintiff brought the vehicle back to Darcass on September 4, 2014 after seeing the same dashboard display seen during the September 2013 incident. ECF No. 54-2 ¶ 10: ECF No. 50-4. However. unlike the 2013 incident. the engine temperature gauge did not dicker and the engine did not shut off. ECF No. 54-2 ¶ 10. Additionally Plaintiff testified that, one day prior, while driving in New-York. Plaintiff dune the front end of the vehicle over a cement stop, damaging the underside of the vehicle. ECF No. 50-2 at 6-73.[3] Darcars provided Plaintiff with a Recommended Action Plan and free repair estimate, indicating that its technicians found that both cylinder heads were warped due to "intensive over heating and low compression." there was a slow leak in the radiator, and the radiator mount bracket was bent. ECF No. 50-5 at 3 (Recommended Action Plan): see also ECF No. 50-4 (Inspection Invoice). The technicians clarified that they found "two pinpricks" in the radiator hosing and a hole at the top of the radiator. ECF No. 50-2 at 7. Darcars then informed Plaintiff that the repair would not be covered under the vehicle's warranty because the damage was caused by an accident. ECF No. 50-2 at 7. and estimated that the repair would cost $8.478331. ECF No. 50-5 at 3.

         After receiving the repair estimate, Plaintiff filed a claim with his insurance company. Erie Insurance, for damage to the vehicle's engine and radiator caused by the aforementioned accident. ECF No. 50-15 at 4. Mishon Horton a material damage appraiser for Eric Insurance. conducted an inspection of the vehicle on September 8. 2014. ECF No. 50-6 at 5. Horton observed that there was a hole in the radiator, the upper radiator hose was leaking, and a Darcars mechanic had performed a pressure test whereby the radiator exhibited a "heavy leak'" ECF No. 50-6 at 7-8; see also ECF No. 50-11 (Horton photos of radiator leak. Eric Insurance ultimately denied Plaintiffs claim on November 25. 2014. determining that the damages were not related to hitting the cement stop, but rather appeared to be the result of wear and tear and mechanical breakdown or failure. ECF No. 50-15 at 5. Erie Insurance's decision was subsequently upheld by Administrative Law Judge Michael D. Carlis on appeal to the Maryland Insurance Administration on August 10. 2016. ECF No. 50-15.

         Plaintiff has designated Troy Johnson as an expert witness. ECF No. 50-13. Johnson inspected the vehicle in the fall of 2015 and again on December 28. 2016. Id. at 4. Johnson opined that "[t]he damage inflicted on the vehicle [from the September 2014 accident] was minor and this damage could not have had anything to do with the eventual engine failure." Id. at 5. He further stated that he "pressure tested the coolant system to determine whether the radiator leaked and could not find any leaks. The only leak I could determine occurred at the engine internal head and/or gasket." Id. at 4. Johnson therefore determined that "based upon the fact the 2014 engine malfunction was similar to the engine failure in 2013. it is more likely than not that the 2014 engine failure was due to defective manufactured parts and/or workmanship or due to defective parts or workmanship related to the 2013 repair to the engine." Id. at 5.

         Defendants have designated FCA U.S. technical advisor Joseph Morton as an expert witness. ECF No. 55-1. Prior to Morton's involvement. FCA U.S. technical advisor Kenny Kase conducted a pre-suit inspection on September 22. 2016 and prepared a preliminary vehicle report summary. ECF No. 56-2. Morton concurred with Kase"s prior report and conducted his own inspection on February 21. 2017. ECF No. 55-1 at 4. Morton observed damage to the underside of the vehicle, including the radiator, and opined in his July 10. 2017 declaration that damage to the radiator caused a coolant leak which in turn caused the engine to overheat. ECF No. 50-14 ¶ 9. While Morton's inspection did not reveal a leak in the radiator. ECF No. 55-1. Morton relied on. in part, observations made by Darcars" technicians and Horton who concluded that the radiator was leaking shortly after the accident. ECF No. 50-14 ¶ 9. Morton presumed that the leak and overheating of the engine would have been displayed through the vehicle's temperature gauge and further opined that Plaintiffs continued use of the vehicle caused the engine to fail. Id. ¶ 10.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ''The court shall 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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "This standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc., 477 U.S. 242. 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original). Thus. "[t]he party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment 'may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [his] pleadings, * but rather must "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial."" Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club. Inc., 346 F.3d 514. 525 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)) (alteration in original).

         On a motion for summary judgment, the Court must "view the evidence in the light most favorable to . .. the nonmovant. and draw all inferences in her favor without weighing the evidence or assessing the witness' credibility." Dennis v. Columbia Colleton Med. Ctr., Inc., 290 F.3d 639. 644-45 (4th Cir. 2002). The moving party bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact. No genuine issue of material fact exists if the non-moving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of his case as to which he would have the burden of proof. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett. 477 U.S. 31 7. 322-23 (1986).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiffs three claims all center on the same basic premise-that the engine failure was caused by a manufacturing defect covered under the vehicle's express limited warranties or the implied warranty of merchantability. See ECF No. 27. In Count I. Plaintiff brings a claim for breach of these warranties under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. See § 2310(d)(1) ("a consumer who is damaged by the failure of a supplier, warranter, or service contractor to comply with any obligation under this chapter, or under a written warranty, implied warranty, or service contract, may bring suit for damages and other legal and equitable relief"). In Count II. Plaintiff brings a claim under the Maryland Consumer Protection Act for failure to repair the vehicle pursuant to the terms of the express limited warranties. In Count III. Plaintiff brings a state law claim for breach of the express limited warranties under CL § 2-714 and breach of the implied warranty of merchantability under § 2-715.

         For all Counts. Maryland law governs whether Defendants breached any of its express or implied warranties. See Crickenberger V. Hyundai Motor America, 944 A.2d 1136. 1142 (Md. 2008) ("Magnuson-Moss Act supplements State law with regard to its limited and implied warranty provisions''); Zitterbart v. American Suzuki Motor Corp.,958 A.2d 372, 384 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2008) (citing CL ยง$ 2-313-315 ("when a consumer is the beneficiary of a limited warranty ... [a Magnuson-Moss] claim is merely a means for the consumer to pursue the substantive warranty ...


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