CALIFORNIA COURT OF APPEAL
FOURTH APPELLATE DISTRICT
MARIA SANTIAGO, et al.,
KIA MOTORS AMERICA, INC.,
Appeal from the Superior Court of the
State of California for the County of Orange
The Honorable Stuart T. Waldrip
Judicial Council Coordination Proceeding No. 4187
BRIEF OF CENTER FOR AUTO SAFETY, AS
AMICUS CURIAE IN SUPPORT OF RESPONDENTS
Unfair competition case.
(See Bus. Prof. Code, 17209 and Cal. Rules of Court, rule 15(e).)
The Center for Auto Safety addresses the following questions in this brief:
1) Did the trial court err in denying Defendants motion to abstain from claims made by Plaintiffs, arising from alleged motor vehicle safety concerns, on the basis of preemption?
2) Did the trial court err in denying Defendants motion to stay all non-warranty based causes of action on the basis of primary jurisdiction?
In this appeal, appellant Kia Motors of America attempts to leverage a typical consumer fraud class complaint into a radical alteration of established preemption doctrine governing motor vehicle safety claims. Plaintiffsâ€™ complaint primarily asserted that Kia engaged in false advertising and misrepresentation when it knowingly marketed the Kia Sephia, which had a faulty brake system. In one paragraph of one of the claims, Plaintiffs mentioned the Motor Vehicle Safety Act ("Safety Act") and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ("NHTSA" or the "Secretary") As a remedy, Plaintiffs sought the typical panoply of remedies in consumer fraud actions: reimbursement, restitution, actual damages, punitive damages, injunctive relief, and costs and attorneys fees. (App. 16-22.) Plaintiffs once requested a repair and retrofit program. (App. 19.) Based upon these two statements, Kia requested that the Court stay or abstain from considering all of Plaintiffsâ€™ non-warranty based causes of action, even those that did not address the Safety Act or NHTSA, or request a repair or retrofit.
Kia focuses on these two statements in an attempt to radically rework the preemption doctrine set forth by the Supreme Court in Safety Act cases. In particular, Kia attempts to argue that "all safety related claims" are preempted, notwithstanding the Supreme Courtâ€™s holding that a "significant number" of such cases survive preemption. (Geier v. American Honda Motor Co., Inc., (2000) 529 U.S. 861, 868.) Kia further requests that this Court create a new form of conflict preemption for instances in which defendants can conceive of a "potential conflict," this in direct contravention of the Supreme Courtâ€™s recent holdings requiring an "actual conflict" before preemption can occur.
Alternatively, Kia uses the doctrine of primary jurisdiction to argue that all of Plaintiffs non-warranty based claims should be stayed pending referral to NHTSA for a determination of the issues in this case. However, NHTSA, short on resources, has not issued any of the determinations that Kia allegedly seeks in over 10 years. Thus any deferral to NHTSA will result only in the waste of the time and resources of the courts, NHTSA, and the parties, while yielding no tangible results. Instead of enduring the diversions and distractions advocated by Kia, this Court should allow this case to follow the normal course of litigation, under the watchful eye of the trial court.