BENTON — U.S. District Judge Staci M. Yandle denied class certification in a case stemming from allegations of a faulty auto part from AutoZone.
On June 7, Yandle held that few other potential members shared the same grievances as the plaintiffs named in the suit, which made it inappropriate to certify the suit as a class action.
“The court finds the plaintiffs’ claims to be idiosyncratic to the class,” Yandle wrote. “Thus, they are not proper class representatives.”
Plaintiffs Steve Williamson and Rhonda Christine LeMaster had filed the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois against S.A. Gear Co. Inc. of Chicago, AutoZone Inc., AutoZone Parts Inc. and AutoZone Stores Inc.
They allege the “timing chain tensioner” that was manufactured and distributed for use in V-6 Chrysler and Dodge engines from 1998 through 2010 was defective and caused catastrophic engine failure.
The suit originated in 2010 when LeMaster purchased a 2002 Chrysler Sebring on Craigslist for $3,000. Williamson performed maintenance and repairs on the car in 2012, including the replacement of a water pump and a timing chain tensioner purchased from AutoZone.
After the part was installed, the car, which allegedly had 156,000 miles on it, began experiencing problems after a few hundred miles of driving, including noise chatter. According to the court order, Williamson removed the chain tensioner and returned it to AutoZone, purchased a second chain tensioner and installed it. Once again, the car started experiencing problems. This time he allegedly heard a tapping sound and the engine would stall.
AutoZone provided a 90-day warranty on the parts, according to the complaint.
The two plaintiffs filed a class action complaint in April 2015, claiming they potentially represented thousands of consumers.
According to the complaint, AutoZone has sold 40,000 timing chain tensioners since 2009 but neither designed nor manufactured the part.
S.A. Gear Co. supplied the part to the chain of auto parts stores under a vendor agreement. A company called Zan-Power manufactured the tensioners, which contained an O-ring that caused it to be defective, the suit alleges.
The suit states that the defendants sold the product knowing it was defective and concealed the knowledge from the public in order to generate profits.
“The part (tensioner) does not maintain excellent chain or belt tension, a fact the defendants fraudulently and knowingly misrepresented and willfully concealed from the consuming public,” according to the complaint.
Yandle wrote that for a class action to be certified, its members must be clearly defined and too broad to avoid including people who could not have been harmed by the alleged actions of the defendants.
In addition, Yandle noted that LeMaster could not be a member of the class because she had not purchased the part from AutoZone.
Even though Yandle found that the class action was justified in terms of having a sufficient number of potential plaintiffs given that 40,000 parts were sold, she held that the plaintiffs failed to show that "their claims arise out of the same event or course of conduct as all putative class members."
“The plaintiffs have not identified a meaningful number of complaints about the alleged defect, or provided expert evidence, survey or third-party analysis, demonstrating any other consumer’s belief that the part was defective, or that representations about the part were misleading,” Yandle said in the order. “There is no evidence [that] anyone other than the named plaintiffs believe the part is defective.”
Yandle subsequently denied the plaintiffs' request for class action certification.