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Lisa Robinson and Kevin v. Kia Motors America

April 14, 2011

LISA ROBINSON AND KEVIN
ROBINSON, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
KIA MOTORS AMERICA, INC.,
A CALIFORNIA CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morrison C. England, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Through this action, Plaintiffs, Lisa Robinson and Kevin Robinson ("Plaintiffs") allege violations of the Song-Beverly Act and Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. Defendant, Kia Motors America, Inc. ("Defendant") now moves for summary adjudication, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56,*fn1 on Plaintiffs' claim for punitive civil penalties arising from Defendant's alleged violation of the Song-Beverly Act, California Civil Code § 1793 et seq. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

On February 24, 2007, Plaintiffs purchased from Defendant's dealership, Folsom Lake Kia, a new 2007 Kia Sportage. Included in the sale were express warranties on the vehicle pursuant to which Defendant undertook to maintain the vehicle's utility or performance, or provide compensation if Plaintiffs' vehicle failed in such utility or performance. In August 2010, Plaintiffs began having difficulties with the vehicle. Over the next month, the vehicle was subjected to five repair attempts at the Folsom Lake Kia dealership to fix the defect. None of these attempts at repair were successful, and the final invoice dated September 14, 2010 stated in the notes section that Folsom Lake Kia was unable to fix the vehicle in this most recent attempt and that the dealership still did not know what the problem was. (Decl. Mark Romano Ex. 2 at 7.)

On September 17, 2010, Plaintiff Lisa Robinson called Defendant's Customer Assistance Center for the first time to explain her problem with the vehicle. She further explained that she did not want to keep taking the vehicle in for repairs and requested a buyback under the so-called automobile "Lemon Law" codified by California's Song-Beverly Act. The customer service agent responded by informing Plaintiff Lisa Robinson that if she wanted to pursue a Lemon Law claim, then she would need to follow the arbitration procedure.

Shortly thereafter, Plaintiffs received a call from Chris Valenti, another representative for Defendant. Plaintiff Lisa Robinson again explained to him that she believed the vehicle was a "lemon" and wanted a buyback or replacement vehicle.

Mr. Valenti replied that he wanted to schedule a vehicle inspection for October 11, 2010, to which Plaintiffs agreed. On or about September 30, 2010, Plaintiff Lisa Robinson left a voicemail for Mr. Valenti canceling the inspection. In that message, she again reiterated that she did not want to take the vehicle in for another repair, and only wanted a buyback or replacement. Mr. Valenti returned her call, and, according to Plaintiffs, he informed her that her vehicle was not a "lemon" and that Defendant would not buyback or replace it. He further stated that Defendant would take no further action towards honoring Plaintiffs' request for a buyback or replacement.

Mr. Valenti did, however, offer compensation for Plaintiffs' inconvenience if they brought the vehicle in for inspection. Defendant left Plaintiff Lisa Robinson a voicemail message on October 7, 2010 requesting she call him back, but no further communications between Plaintiffs and any agent of Defendant took place. Plaintiffs then filed the instant suit.

STANDARD

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide for summary judgment when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Rule 56(c). One of the principal purposes of Rule 56 is to dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Under summary judgment practice, the moving party "always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact."

Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting Rule 56(c)). Rule 56 also allows a court to grant summary adjudication on part of a claim or defense. See Rule 56(a) ("A party seeking to recover upon a claim...may...move...for a summary judgment in the party's favor upon all or any part thereof."); see also Allstate Ins. Co. v. Madan, 889 F. Supp. 374, 378-79 (C.D. Cal. 1995); France Stone Co., Inc. v. Charter Township of Monroe, 790 F. Supp. 707, 710 (E.D. Mich. 1992).

The standard that applies to a motion for summary adjudication is the same as that which applies to a motion for summary judgment. See Rule 56(a), 56(c); Mora v. ChemTronics, 16 F. Supp. 2d 1192, 1200 (S.D. Cal. 1998).

If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually does exist. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-587 (1986); First Nat'l Bank v. Cities Ser. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288-289 (1968).

In attempting to establish the existence of this factual dispute, the opposing party must tender evidence of specific facts in the form of affidavits, and/or admissible discovery material, in support of its contention that the dispute exists. Rule 56(e). The opposing party must demonstrate that the fact in contention is material, i.e., a fact that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, and that the dispute is genuine, i.e., the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 251-52 (1986); Owens v. Local No. 169, Assoc. of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, 971 F.2d 347, 355 (9th Cir. 1987). Stated another way, "before the evidence is left to the jury, there is a preliminary question for the judge, not whether there is literally no evidence, but whether there ...


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