Volkswagen AG is maneuvering to steer hundreds of class-action lawsuits over its emissions-cheating software to the court nearest its current U.S. headquarters or to Detroit, its former location.
The automaker asked a panel of federal judges to combine the more than 350 lawsuits against it in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, a venue known for moving cases quickly and also the one closest to its U.S. headquarters in Herndon. Volkswagen listed Detroit as an alternate choice, while opposing requests by some car owners’ lawyers to send the case to California.
Lawyers pushing for consolidation in California have been involved in a “race to the courthouse,” jockeying for appointments as lead attorneys over the combined litigation, Volkswagen Group of America lawyers said in court papers Tuesday.
“Such choreographed concentration of cases should be given little consideration,” Volkswagen said. “California is not a convenient forum for this litigation.”
The consumer class actions on behalf of owners of the affected VW and Audi models seek the return of premiums paid for vehicles with “clean diesel” engines, plus the lost value of vehicles and the possible return of purchase price, minus depreciation.
The lawsuits were set off by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Sept. 18 announcement that Volkswagen installed deceptive software to make vehicles appear as if they met emissions standards. The number of lawsuits filed has been increasing daily, with claims now in federal courts in at least 41 states and the District of Columbia.
New Jersey Court
Plaintiffs’ lawyers asking for the suits to be combined have suggested federal courts in New Jersey, Texas, Michigan, Virginia, Tennessee, Texas and Ohio, as well as Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Volkswagen said it also supported the Alexandria court because it’s near the EPA, which is investigating the emissions scandal. Detroit would also be a logical choice because the unit was based there until 2008, and VW has a “substantial presence” in the area, the company’s lawyers said. Both jurisdictions have lighter caseloads than courts in California, Volkswagen said.
Multiple plaintiffs have supported transfer to Los Angeles, arguing that court would be best suited because of its location near the California Air Resources Board’s emissions testing facility and Volkswagen’s North American emissions testing facility in Oxnard, California.
Other lawyers have pushed for transfer to Newark, New Jersey, where Volkswagen’s U.S. unit is incorporated. Volkswagen Group of America “has never maintained headquarters in the state,” and its predecessor moved out of New Jersey in 1991, company lawyers said in Tuesday’s filing.
A hearing to decide where the cases will be consolidated is set for Dec. 3 in New Orleans before the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. The seven-judge panel will determine whether the cases will be combined and which judge will oversee the suits.
The lawsuits would be combined as In Re Volkswagen “Clean Diesel” Marketing, Sales and Product Liability Litigation, MDL 2672.
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