EAST ST. LOUIS – Belleville city attorney Brian Flynn trusted the Federico family to sell him a Jeep but served a subpoena for their records after one of them wouldn’t help him find plaintiffs for a class action against Chrysler.
Flynn leads the class action in U.S. district court, not as lawyer but as Jeep owner.
A subpoena he served on Federico Dodge Chrysler in Wood River last year hangs over the action while he and the family hold it in abeyance.
The subpoena would require Federico to produce dealership contracts with Chrysler and all rules and policies on warranties, promotions, and customer inquiries. It would also require production of sales reports and personnel records.
Flynn bought a Jeep in 2013, with an information system by name of Uconnect.
He sued Chrysler in 2015, claiming hackers could remotely seize control of his Jeep through Uconnect. He also named UConnect maker Harman Industries as second defendant.
Chrysler counsel Stephen D’Aunoy of St. Louis deposed Flynn in 2016, asking at the outset why he bought his vehicle at Federico.
“I’m friends with one of the Federicos so I kind of had it in my mind that I might go get a Dodge or a Jeep,” Flynn said, identifying Danielle Federico as his friend and one who finalized paperwork for his transaction.
“I think her father is the owner,” he said.
Flynn said he knew her through mutual friends for five or six years.
D’Aunoy asked when he decided he wanted an SUV from Federico.
“I think I always just had it in the back of my mind,” Flynn said. “I just like to do business with friends.”
D’Aunoy asked what he drove on his first visit and he said Grand Cherokees.
“I know I drove a couple of them because one of the ones I drove was actually Mr. Federico’s,” Flynn said. “They’re saying I could get a good deal on it. Of course he is driving a high end car but I didn’t want to spend that kind of money.”
Flynn said he had a loan preapproved but financed the Jeep through the dealership.
D’Aunoy asked how he determined that the price was fair.
Flynn said they gave him a price and he asked if they could go a little lower.
“I didn’t sit there and haggle with them a lot simply because, I guess, my view is I want to do business with friends,” Flynn said. “If they screw me here, I’m never coming back. If they want to do business with me, I can come back every few years and get a car.”
D’Aunoy asked why he purchased an extended warranty.
“Because Danielle told me it was a good idea and I trusted her,” Flynn said.
D’Aunoy asked his understanding of his complaint about the vehicle.
“That it’s susceptible to being taken over, being hacked,” Flynn said, and when asked if it had ever been hacked said he didn’t know.
D’Aunoy asked how his vehicle was different from any other for hackability.
“It is my understanding generally that the Uconnect system is more susceptible to hacking,” Flynn said.
“It’s my understanding that all the electrical components are part of one system and a patch just isn’t going to fix it.”
D’Aunoy asked if he thought there was anybody out there who wanted to harm him, and Flynn said there might be.
“I represent, you know, dangerous individuals who have been accused of dangerous crimes,” Flynn said. “I have had people approach me and threaten me.”
D’Aunoy asked if they were capable of hacking his vehicle.
“I’m not aware of their capabilities,” Flynn said.
D’Aunoy asked if it was easier to cut his brake lines than hack the vehicle, and Flynn said he had no idea.
D’Aunoy asked him about discussions with Danielle Federico in 2015, and he said he called her to see if she might know other Jeep owners.
D’Aunoy asked if she identified any, and Flynn said she did not.
D’Aunoy showed him a response to an interrogatory indicating he asked whether she would provide names of those who purchased the affected vehicles.
Flynn said that was essentially his question.
D’Aunoy asked if she provided names and he said no.
D’Aunoy asked what she told him.
“She really just expressed she wasn’t interested,” Flynn said. “I was really asking if we had any mutual friends. I wasn’t asking her to give me the names of somebody I had never met.”
D’Aunoy asked why he was interested in other purchasers.
Flynn said that after he and class counsel Mike Gras talked, “it seemed like he needed more than one person.”
For Uconnect maker Harman Industries, William McKenna asked Flynn if Ms. Federico said anything about a defect in the vehicle.
“I think she said that a recall would be coming,” Flynn said He said she told him it would be okay.
McKenna said, “Those were exact words or words in substance?”
Flynn said, “Words in substance.”
The Federico family didn’t figure in the litigation any further until late last year, when Flynn served his subpoena for their records.
The family retained William Niehoff of Belleville, who objected on Jan. 4.
Niehoff wrote that the subpoena was unreasonable in scope and unduly burdensome, that it included trade secrets or other confidential information. It would require Federico to engage counsel to assist in collection and review of documents.
He further wrote that it would require Federico to divert employees from their jobs to search paper and electronic information over an extended time, and that Flynn could obtain most of the information from defendants.
On Jan. 22, Niehoff posted a joint motion to hold his objections in abeyance.
He wrote that the parties worked diligently to find a solution addressing Flynn’s discovery requests and Federico’s concerns. He wrote that the parties would update the court regarding whether to withdraw the subpoena or set the objections for consideration by the magistrate.
Magistrate Judge Reona Daly presides over discovery.
District Judge Michael Reagan presides as trial judge but won’t hold trial.
He set it in November but plans to retire later this month.