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Espineli v. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 30, 2018

MELINDA ESPINELI AND MOHOMMAD MOGHADDAM, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
TOYOTAL MOTOR SALES U.S.A., INC., a California Corporation; TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION, a Japanese Corporation; and DOES 1 through 100, inclusive. Defendants.


         Defendant car manufacturers move to transfer this class action to the Central District of California to be consolidated with a case filed there styled Heber v. Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc., or in the alternative, to stay this action until Heber is resolved. Defs.' Mot. to Transfer or Stay (Mot.), ECF No. 15. Plaintiffs oppose the motion. Pls.' Opp'n (Opp'n), ECF No. 21. Defendants have replied. Defs.' Reply (Reply), ECF No. 26. The court heard oral argument on January 12, 2018, and thereafter submitted the motion. Following hearing, defendants submitted a notice of supplemental authority, which the court has reviewed. See ECF No. 35. For the reasons discussed below, the court finds this case should not be transferred or stayed, and so the motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Heber

         Heber is a class action filed in August 2016 in the Central District of California in which the plaintiffs allege certain Toyota vehicles were defectively designed because Toyota used soy-based wiring insulation that attracts rodents, with the result that the rodents chew through the wiring. See generally Heber v. Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc., No. 8:16-cv-01525-AG-JCG (C.D. Cal. Aug. 18 2016) (“Heber”). The action includes twenty-one named plaintiffs from thirteen states, including California, who seek to certify state sub-classes consisting of persons who own or lease or previously owned or leased a “Class Vehicle.” Fourth Am. Compl. (Heber 4AC) ¶ 1, Heber, ECF No. 82-1. The list of “Class Vehicles” includes fifteen Toyota vehicle models spanning various years from 2008 to present. Id. ¶ 1 n.1. The California plaintiffs assert eight claims: breach of express and implied warranty under the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) and the California Song-Beverly Act; violation of the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act (CLRA) and Unfair Competition Law (UCL); common-law fraud; and violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. Id. ¶¶ 208-332. The defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' Fourth Amended Complaint, Heber ECF No. 82, is now pending before the Heber court.

         B. Espineli

         Plaintiffs filed this action in this court on March 31, 2017. Compl., ECF No. 1. Defendants filed this motion to transfer or stay proceedings on August 14, 2017. Mot. As noted, plaintiffs filed an opposition on October 20, 2017, and defendants replied on October 27, 2017. Opp'n; Reply.

         Toyota is a vehicle manufacturer and parent company of Lexus. This putative class action arises from one central claim: Plaintiffs allege defendants used soy-based wire coating in the engine control wiring harness of their Lexus vehicles, which attracted rodents that chewed on the wiring, causing damage to the vehicles. Opp'n at 4. Plaintiffs assert Lexus vehicles can lose functionality and safety features when wires in the engine control wiring harness are damaged by rodents, which poses a safety risk to both class members and the public at large. Id. The putative class includes: “[a]ll persons in California who currently own or lease, or who have owned or leased, any Lexus RX, GX, ES and LS model vehicle with model years 2007-2017, ” and the putative sub-class includes owners and lessors of the same models of vehicles “who submitted their Vehicle for repairs under the Vehicle's warranty for damage related to rodent infestation and incurred out-of-pocket expenses for such repairs after Lexus' refusal to cover repairs under the Vehicle's warranty.” Compl. ¶¶ 58-59. Plaintiffs assert four claims including: violation of the CLRA; violation of the UCL; breach of implied warranty under the California Song-Beverly Act; and breach of express warranty, on behalf of the proposed subclass. Id. ¶¶ 67-106.


         A. First-to-File

         The first-to-file rule is a doctrine of federal comity that “allows a district court to transfer, stay, or dismiss an action when a similar complaint has already been filed in another federal court.” Alltrade, Inc. v. Uniweld Products, Inc., 946 F.2d 622, 623 (9th Cir. 1991). The rule “is designed to avoid placing an unnecessary burden on the federal judiciary, and to avoid the embarrassment of conflicting judgments.” Church of Scientology of Calif. v. U.S. Dept. of Army, 611 F.2d 738, 750 (9th Cir. 1979). In determining whether the first-to-file rule applies, a court considers the “chronology of the lawsuits, similarity of the parties, and similarity of the issues.” Kohn Law Group, Inc. v. Auto Parts Mfg. Mississippi, Inc., 787 F.3d 1237, 1240 (9th Cir. 2015). If this action meets the requirements of the first-to-file rule, the court has the discretion to transfer or stay the action. Alltrade, 946 F.2d at 622. The court also retains the discretion to disregard the first-to-file rule in the interests of equity. Id.

         B. Section 1404(a) Motion to Transfer Venue

         Section 1404(a) provides: “For the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought.” 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Accordingly, in deciding a motion to transfer under § 1404(a), the court weighs the following factors in exercising its discretion: (1) the convenience of the parties; (2) the convenience of the witnesses; and (3) the interests of justice. Commodity Futures Trading Comm'n v. Savage, 611 F.2d 270, 279 (9th Cir. 1979); Sparling v. Hoffman Constr. Co., 864 F.2d 635, 639 (9th Cir. 1988). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating that an action should be transferred. Commodity, 611 F.2d at 279.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. F ...

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