A San Francisco judge who is the brother of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer will oversee more than 500 consumer lawsuits against Volkswagen AG over claims of economic losses connected to rigged emissions-testing software.
U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer will combine the suits, including class actions, and handle pretrial evidence gathering and other rulings.
The selection of Breyer, who has extensive experience in such cases, along with Volkswagen’s admissions of fault, mean the litigation is headed toward “a quicker settlement,” said Erik Gordon, a University of Michigan law professor.
“Judge Breyer will move the case forward and will not tolerate stalling tactics, discovery delays, or plaintiffs attorneys plotting their own fees instead of a resolution of the case,” Gordon said. “It’s not his first trip to the circus.”
The lawsuits were set off by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Sept. 18 announcement that Volkswagen used deceptive software to make some vehicles with 1.2-, 1.6- and 2.0-liter diesel engines appear as if they met emissions standards. The cheating software was installed in about 11 million vehicles worldwide, including 482,000 vehicles sold in the U.S.
Within hours of the EPA announcement, lawyers began filing suits as class actions on behalf of all U.S. vehicle owners alleging violations of state consumer laws. Following reports of additional questionable emissions software in about 85,000 VW, Audi and Porsche cars with 3.0-liter diesel engines in the U.S., additional suits were filed for consumers owning those vehicles.
The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation Tuesday rejected 27 other locations, including Detroit, Alexandria, Virginia, and Los Angeles. Volkswagen had supported Detroit as the best site for the lawsuits to be combined.
The panel said it chose the Northern District of California because almost a fifth of all the cases were filed in that state and the court is near relevant documents and witnesses, “given the role played by the California Air Resources Board in uncovering VW’s use of defeat devices on its diesel engines.”
Breyer was chosen because he’s familiar with complex litigation and has handled nine multidistrict matters, the panel said. Breyer, 74, a federal judge since 1997, was nominated by President Bill Clinton.
“He’s handled as many complex cases as any judge in the country,” said Blair Nicholas, a plaintiffs’ lawyer who supported combining the suits in federal court in the Los Angeles area. “He’s smart, cuts through the issues.”
The cases belonged in California because of the number of affected vehicles sold in the state, the environmental impact and the role of CARB, he said.
“We have received the order of the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, and we will vigorously defend the company in these cases,” Jeannine Ginivan, a Volkswagen spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement.
The case is In Re: Volkswagen “Clean Diesel” Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, MDL 2672, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco.)
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