Case Number: 19STCV00471    Hearing Date: January 21, 2021    Dept: 78

Superior Court of California

County of Los Angeles

Department 78

MEDARDO TORRES;

 

Plaintiff,

 

vs.

 

FCA US, LLC, et al.;

 

Defendants.

Case No.: 19STCV00471
Hearing Date: January 21, 2021
   
[TENTATIVE] RULING RE:

 

DEFENDANTS FCA US, LLC AND CHAMPION DODGE, LLC’S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

 

Defendants FCA US, LLC and Champion Dodge, LLC’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is GRANTED with leave to amend as to the First, Second, Third, Fifth and Sixth Causes of Action; and DENIED as to the Fourth Cause of Action.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

This is a Lemon Law case. The Complaint alleges as follows. Plaintiffs Medardo Torres purchased, on November 2, 2008, a 2009 Dodge Journey with an express warranty. (Compl. ¶¶ 9-10.) During the warranty period, the vehicle developed various defects including the interior lights becoming inoperable, fault code U773, a blown fuse, failed visor lights and other visor defects, defects with the storage latches, defects requiring replacement of brake pads, among others. (Compl. ¶ 11.) The defects were discovered after unsuccessful repair attempts in June 2018. (Compl. ¶ 8.)

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff filed the Complaint on January 7, 2019, alleging six causes of action:

  1. Violation of Song Beverly Action section 1793.2(d)
  2. Violation of Song Beverly Action section 1793.2(b)
  3. Violation of Song Beverly Action section 1793.2(A)(3)
  4. Breach of express warranty
  5. Breach of implied warranty
  6. Fraudulent inducement

Defendants FCA USA, LLC (“FCA”) and Champion Dodge, LLC (“Champion”) each filed an Answer on February 11, 2019.

On June 1, 2020, FCA and Champion filed the present Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.

On October 22, 2020, Plaintiff filed an Opposition.

On January 13, 2021, FCA and Champion filed a Reply.

DISCUSSION

  • MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS     

A party may move for a judgment on the pleadings as to an entire complaint or as to a particular cause of action in a complaint. (Code Civ. Proc. §¿438 subd. (c)(2)(A).) If a defendant moves for a judgment on the pleadings and argues that a complaint does not state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action against that defendant, then the court should grant a defendant’s motion only if the court finds as a matter of law that the complaint fails to alleges facts sufficient to constitute the cause of action. (See id., §¿438 subd. (c)(1)(B)(ii); see also Mechanical Contractors Assn. v. Greater Bay Area Assn. (1998) 66 Cal.App.4th 672, 677.)

“The standard for granting a motion for judgment on the pleadings is essentially the same as that applicable to a general demurrer, that is, under the state of the pleadings, together with matters that may be judicially noticed, it appears that a party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” (Bezirdjian v. O’Reilly (2010) 183 Cal.App.4th 316, 321.) When considering a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the court not only should assume that all facts alleged in the pleading are true but also should give those alleged facts a liberal construction. (See Gerawan Farming, Inc. v. Lyons (2000) 24 Cal.4th 468, 515–516.) In particular, the court should liberally construe the alleged facts “‘with a view to attaining substantial justice among the parties.’ [Citation.]” (See Alliance Mortgage Co. v. Rothwell (1995) 10 Cal.4th 1226, 1232.)

“In determining whether the complaint is sufficient as against the demurrer … if on consideration of all the facts stated it appears the plaintiff is entitled to any relief at the hands of the court against the defendants the complaint will be held good although the facts may not be clearly stated.”  (Gressley v. Williams (1961) 193 Cal.App.2d 636, 639.)

Here, Defendants demur to all causes of action.

  1. STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS

Defendants argues that all of Plaintiff’s causes of action are barred by the statute of limitations. (Motion at p. 10.) Defendants contends that these claims are facially time-barred because Plaintiff purchased the subject vehicle on November 2, 2008, but did not file suit until January 2019, nearly 10 years after the claims accrued, and several years after applicable statutes of limitations expired for both causes of action. (Motion at p. 7.)

“[T]he statute of limitations for an action for breach of warranty under the Song–Beverly Act is four years pursuant to section 2725 of the Uniform Commercial Code.” (Mexia v. Rinker Boat Co., Inc.¿(2009) 174 Cal.App.4th 1297, 1306; Com. Code § 2725(1).) The four-year limitations period begins to accrue on the day the product is delivered. (Com. Code § 2725(2).) More specifically, subdivision (2) of section 2725 of the Commercial Code provides:

A cause of action accrues when the breach occurs, regardless of the aggrieved party’s lack of knowledge of the breach. A breach of warranty occurs when tender of delivery is made, except that where a warranty explicitly extends to future performance of the goods and discovery of the breach must await the time of such performance the cause of action accrues when the breach is or should have been discovered.

Further, there is a three-year statute of limitations for “[a]n action for relief on the ground of fraud or mistake. The cause of action in that case is not deemed to have accrued until the discovery, by the aggrieved party, of the facts constituting the fraud or mistake.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 338, subd. (d.)

On a demurrer, the court must take as true statements such as that as plaintiff “did not discover, nor suspect, nor was there any means through which her reasonable diligence would have revealed, or through which she would have suspected,” the cause of an injury was the defendant in question. (Id. at p. 811.) However: “A plaintiff whose complaint shows on its face that his claim would be barred without the benefit of the discovery rule must specifically plead facts to show (1) the time and manner of discovery and (2) the inability to have made earlier discovery despite reasonable diligence.” (Id. at p. 808.) The burden is on the plaintiff to show diligence, and conclusory allegations will not withstand demurrer. (Ibid.)

Statutes of Limitation Application & Future Performance

Here, for the Sixth Cause of Action for fraud, the accrual also would have taken place on November 1, 2008, when Plaintiffs purchased the vehicle at issue. (Compl. ¶ 9.) The limitations period from this date would have run without the discovery rule by November 1, 2011. The Complaint was filed on January 7, 2019, over 7 years beyond the facially applicable limitations period.

For the First, Second, Third, and Fifth Causes of Action, the accrual also would have taken place on November 1, 2008, when Plaintiffs purchased the vehicle at issue. (Compl. ¶ 9.) The limitations period from this date would have run without the discovery rule by November 1, 2012. The Complaint was filed on January 7, 2019, over 6 years beyond the facially applicable limitations period.

Defendants argue that the “ ‘future performance’ exception to the date of delivery accrual period does not act to save Plaintiff’s untimely claims.” (Motion at p. 12.) “A breach of warranty occurs when tender of delivery is made, except that where a warranty explicitly extends to future performance of the goods and discovery of the breach must await the time of such performance the cause of action accrues when the breach is or should have been discovered.” (Cal. U. Com. Code, § 2725.)

Here, the express warranty explicitly extends to future performance for three years (and ten years for engine and transmission). (Compl. ¶ 10.) This “future performance” exception only applies to the Fourth Cause of Action for Breach of Express Warranty. For the Fourth Cause of Action, only, based on types of alleged defects, the statute of limitations would have accrued on November 1, 2011 (three years after delivery). The limitations period would have run without the discovery rule by November 1, 2015, three years prior to the filing of the Complaint.

Accordingly, all claims would be barred without the benefit of the discovery rule. To overcome this, the Plaintiff must plead facts to show that the discovery rule applies.

Discovery Rule

The “discovery rule. . . postpones accrual of a cause of action until the plaintiff discovers, or has reason to discover, the cause of action.” (Fox v. Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Inc. (2005) 35 Cal.4th 797, 807.) “A plaintiff has reason to discover a cause of action when he or she ‘has reason at least to suspect a factual basis for its elements.’” (Ibid.) Courts “look to whether the plaintiffs have reason to at least suspect that a type of wrongdoing has injured them.” (Ibid.) The accrual of a cause of action in relation to the discovery rule is normally a question of fact. (Id. at p. 810.)

“[T]o overcome an apparent limitations bar, the plaintiff claiming delayed discovery of the facts constituting the cause of action has the burden of setting forth pleaded facts to show ‘(1) the time and manner of discovery and (2) the inability to have made earlier discovery despite reasonable diligence. The burden is on the plaintiff to show diligence, and conclusory allegations will not withstand demurrer.’ (Czajkowski v. Haskell & White, LLP (2012) 208 Cal.App.4th 166, 174 citing E-Fab, Inc. v. Accountants, Inc. Services (2007) 153 Cal.App.4th 1308, 1319.)

The Complaint, here, pleads that the Plaintiff did not discover the facts giving rise to this complaint until June 2018. (Compl. ¶ 8.) The Complaint alleges only that the defects were discovered after “repeated unsuccessful repair attempts were made to Defendant’s repair facilities. (Compl. ¶ 8.) These allegations, alone, are not sufficient to overcome the limitations bar: “[W]hen a plaintiff relies on the discovery rule or allegations of fraudulent concealment, as excuses for an apparently belated filing of a complaint, ‘the burden of pleading and proving belated discovery of a cause of action falls on the plaintiff.’” (Czajkowski v. Haskell & White, LLP (2012) 208 Cal.App.4th 166, 174 citing Investors Equity Life Holding Co. v. Schmidt (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th 1519, 1533.)

However, the Complaint alleges that Plaintiff were members of a class action lawsuit, Velasco et al. v. Chrysler Group LLC (C.D. Cal. No. 2:13-cv-08080-DDP-VBK). (Compl. ¶ 7.) American Pipe & Const. Co. v. Utah (1974) 414 U.S. 538, held that “the commencement of a class action suspends the applicable statute of limitations as to all asserted members of the class who would have been parties had the suit been permitted to continue as a class action.” (Id. at 554)

Here, the statute of limitations would be tolled due to the class action during the course of the action. The Complaint only alleges that the class action was filed on November 1, 2013. However, as discussed above, the statute of limitations for the fraud claim in this action would have run by November 1, 2011 and for the First-Third/Fifth Causes of Action by November 1, 2012. Accordingly, the statutes of limitations for these causes of action had already expired before the class action suit would have tolled any statutes of limitation.

The only remaining cause of action is the Fourth Cause of Action, which may have been tolled by Velasco et al. v. Chrysler Group, LLC. Plaintiff does not provide any further detail on the class action. However, the Court takes judicial notice on its own accord of the court docket for Velasco, which indicates that the case was finally resolved after appeal on August 23, 2018. Thus, the Fourth Cause of Action was tolled from November 1, 2013 to August 23, 2018. The Fourth Cause of Action thus ran from November 1, 2011 to November 1, 2013; and resumed running from August 23, 2018. The Fourth Cause of Action’s statute of limitation thus would have expired on August 23, 2020.

Defendants argue that the doctrine of laches bars all causes of action regardless of the statute of limitation. (Motion at pp. 14-15.) However, Defendant does not allege any harm or prejudice caused by the delay in bringing this action. Further California courts are generally guided by the applicable statute of limitations to determine whether a delay is unreasonable. (Vai v. Bank of America National Trust & Savings Ass’n (1961) 56 Cal.2d 329, 343.) Accordingly, the Fourth Cause of Action is not barred by the statute of limitations.

For the First, Second, Third, Fifth, and Sixth Causes of Action to survive this Motion, the Complaint needs to plead facts supporting tolling or delayed discovery. The Complaint, however, does not allege any facts regarding delayed discover or why it took Plaintiff over nearly 10 years to the discover the defects although the alleged should be visually apparent (such as broken interior lighting, visor, and storage latch). The Complaint does not allege any details regarding the vehicle’s repair history, such as the date or dates of any alleged service, and the repairs made or attempted.

Therefore, the Complaint is untimely as to the First, Second, Third, Fifth and Sixth Causes of Action because the Complaint was not filed until January 7, 2019, several years after the expiration of the statutes of limitations in November 2011 and 2012. The Complaint fails to plead sufficient facts to invoke the doctrine of delayed discovery. The First, Second, Third, Fifth and Sixth Causes of Action are thus barred by the statutes of limitations.

The Fourth Cause of Action is not barred by the statue of limitations. Because this Motion does not challenge the Fourth Cause of Action on any other grounds, the Fourth Cause of Action survives this Motion.

Accordingly, the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is GRANTED with leave to amend as to the First, Second, Third, Fifth and Sixth Causes of Action; and DENIED as to the Fourth Cause of Action.

DATED:  January 21, 2021

____________________________

Hon. Robert S. Draper

Judge of the Superior Court