DRI Files Amicus Brief in U.S. Supreme Court Case Samuel-Bassett v. Kia Motors America
CHICAGO – (May 17, 2012)—DRI – The Voice of the Defense Bar filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in Samuel-Bassett v. Kia Motors America, Inc., 34 A.3d 1 (Pa. 2011). DRI’s brief maintains that the class-wide verdict was improper and unconstitutional. Specifically, defendants should pay damages only to individuals who were harmed, not individuals who suffered no harm at all. Second, it maintains that the Pennsylvania court’s waiver decision was a thinly veiled subterfuge, designed to circumvent KMA’s Due Process rights. Both issues are important to the defense bar, the Due Process issue has significant implications for defendants in class actions around the country.
In this case, plaintiff Shamell Samuel-Bassett brought a state-wide class action in Pennsylvania seeking, among other things, damages for out-of-pocket costs to repair allegedly defective brakes in KMA’s cars. On the eve of trial, the lower court entered an order calling for individualized claims proceedings to determine class members’ relief in the event that plaintiff prevailed, which made sense considering that not all of the 9,402 class members paid the exact same amount for repair costs. Indeed, some did not pay anything at all. The jury ultimately returned a verdict awarding $600 in damages—the amount of expenditures incurred by the named plaintiff.
Then the trial court inexplicably contravened its prior order and, on its own and without suggestion, jettisoned its guarantee of claims proceedings. Instead, it “molded” the verdict to apply to every class member, multiplying $600 by the class size to arrive at a $5.6 million windfall judgment. To put this amount in perspective, KMA later settled the same claims for plaintiffs in 47 other states and, after individualized consideration, paid out a total of only $62,925. Its liability in Pennsylvania alone is now one hundred times larger.
The brief’s authors, Jonathan Cohn and Carter Phillips of Sidley Austin LLP in Washington, DC are available for interview or for expert comment through DRI’s Communications Office.