The Sixth Circuit vacated an order certifying five statewide classes alleging a common brake defect in Ford Motor Company’s F-150 pickup trucks, remanding the case to the district court “for more searching consideration” of whether commonality under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a)(2) was satisfied.

In Weidman v. Ford Motor Co., 2022 WL 1071289 (E.D. Mich. Apr. 8, 2022), plaintiffs had filed a putative class action against Ford over an alleged defective brake cylinder in their F-150 pickup trucks.  The district court certified five statewide classes on three issues under Rule 23(c)(4): (1) whether the trucks’ brake systems were defective; (2) whether Ford possessed pre-sale knowledge of the defect; and (3) whether concealed information about the defect would be material to a reasonable buyer.

On a Rule 23(f) petition for interlocutory review, the Sixth Circuit vacated the class certification order, finding that the district court’s “cursory treatment of commonality, one of the four necessary class action ingredients, failed to meet Rule 23’s stringent requirements.”  In Re Ford Motor Co., 2023 WL 7877971, at *1 (6th Cir. Nov. 16, 2023).

The Sixth Circuit focused on Ford’s evidence that there were many design and manufacturing modifications to the brake cylinders during the class period, including two “key changes” in August 2016 and August 2018.  These brake system modifications called into question whether a material defect existed for all of the relevant F-150 model years, and if one did, whether it was the same material defect for all model years.  In addition, while plaintiffs pointed to evidence suggesting that Ford had knowledge of the defect, the Sixth Circuit reasoned that Ford “may well have believed an existing problem was fixed” after the 2016 and 2018 modifications.

The Sixth Circuit did not offer any view on whether these arguments defeat commonality, but found that the district court’s “surface level” approach to the issue, which “failed to detail its reasons for rejecting Ford’s arguments,” did not count as the “rigorous analysis” courts must perform before certifying a class.

This case is a reminder to parties that the four requirements of Rule 23(a)—numerosity, commonality, typicality and adequacy—are gatekeeping thresholds, each of which must be independently addressed and satisfied.  And it is a reminder to district courts that a failure to rigorously analyze each requirement can be deemed an abuse of discretion.

Photo of Simeon Botwinick Simeon Botwinick

Simeon Botwinick is an associate in the Washington, DC office. He handles trademark, copyright, and patent matters, with an emphasis on counseling and litigation, and has worked with clients in the pharmaceutical, automotive, typeface, and emergency service industries. Simeon’s pro bono practice focuses…

Simeon Botwinick is an associate in the Washington, DC office. He handles trademark, copyright, and patent matters, with an emphasis on counseling and litigation, and has worked with clients in the pharmaceutical, automotive, typeface, and emergency service industries. Simeon’s pro bono practice focuses on legal aid direct representation.

Photo of Taryn Winston Taryn Winston

Taryn Winston is an associate in the firm’s Washington, DC office and a member of the Commercial Litigation and Antitrust Practice Groups.

Taryn represents clients in a variety of complex commercial and antitrust disputes. She has experience defending clients in civil litigation and…

Taryn Winston is an associate in the firm’s Washington, DC office and a member of the Commercial Litigation and Antitrust Practice Groups.

Taryn represents clients in a variety of complex commercial and antitrust disputes. She has experience defending clients in civil litigation and representing clients in civil investigations before the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice, including responding to Second Requests. In addition, Taryn has experience working in-house (on secondment) with a leading social media company, where she advised clients on various competition, privacy, and consumer protection issues.

Taryn also maintains an active pro bono practice.

Prior to joining the firm, Taryn clerked for the Honorable Steve C. Jones of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.