Automotive Recall = Prudentially Moot?


[author: Katherine Heckert]

In Winzler v. Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc., ---F.3d---, No. 10-4151, 2012 WL 2236624 (10th Cir. June 18, 2012), a car owner brought a putative class action against Toyota, alleging an engine defect. At the same time, Toyota initiated a recall of the car model as required by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, a branch of the Department of Transportation, offering all owners repair and replacement of faulty parts at no cost.

As a result of the recall, the District Court for Utah dismissed the case for failure to state a claim. On appeal, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. The Court concluded, where “events so overtake a lawsuit that the anticipated benefits of a remedial decree no longer justify the trouble of deciding the case on the merits, equity may demand not decision but dismissal,” thus rendering a case “prudentially moot.” The court noted that a prudentially moot case may still have a “flicker of life” left, the case may reach a point where prolonging litigation would be inequitable.

The Court concluded that because here, Toyota had already set into motion the statutorily mandated and administratively overseen recall process with the Department of Transportation, the case was prudentially moot, despite acknowledged potential differences between the remedial process a “coordinate branch has selected” and the process of the Courts. The Court noted that, “To presume deficiency from difference would … go a long way… toward spelling the end of the prudential mootness doctrine and the comity it is supposed to afford our coordinate branches.” As a result, the Court remanded with instructions to dismiss the case as moot.

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