GM Ignition and the “Benefit of the Bargain” Theory

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Last week, Judge Jesse M. Furman issued a 103-page ruling disposing of New GM’s partial motion to dismiss.  At the crux of the opinion were plaintiffs’ two damages theories.

First, as the court put it, plaintiffs “pursue an unprecedented theory of damages, one that turns not on whether the vehicles at issue were sold with known, latent defects … but rather on the alleged reduction in resale value of the vehicles due to damage to New GM’s reputation and brand.”  Not surprisingly, given the court’s tone in characterizing the theory, the court ruled the first theory was “unsound.”

Second, plaintiffs also seek damages based on a much more well-established methodology: the benefit of the bargain theory.  As the court described that theory:

The gravamen of the benefit-of-the-bargain defect theory is that Plaintiffs who purchased defective cars were injured when they purchased for x dollars a New GM car that contained a latent defect; had they known about the defect, they would have paid fewer than x dollars for the car (or not bought the car at all), because a car with a safety defect is worth less than a car without a safety defect.

Although New GM argued that this theory too failed “across the board” and that it “always requires a plaintiff to prove manifestation of the alleged defect,” the court held that while different jurisdictions have reached different conclusions, in many jurisdictions the damages theory is viable:

New GM is wrong in arguing that the benefit-of-the-bargain defect theory must fail because New GM did not warrant that its cars would have a particular resale value in the future.  

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Ninth Circuit: 12(b)(6) Not the Time to Decide Whether a Business Practice Was Misleading

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In a brief memorandum opinion issued Friday, the Ninth Circuit issued a reminder that whether a business practice is misleading under California’s consumer protection statutes is typically a question of fact better deferred until later in the litigation.

In McMahon v. Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc., plaintiffs brought suit after purchasing the Grand Theft Auto V video game.  Plaintiffs alleged that the game was marketed in a fashion that misleadingly marketed the game’s online component.  The district court concluded as a matter of law that the alleged misrepresentations were not actionable under the UCL or the FAL.

The Ninth Circuit reversed, explaining:

plaintiffs alleged that they read all the disclosures and statements on GTA V’s packaging, and that these representations led them to believe that GTA Online would be available to play immediately upon purchase of GTA V. Contrary to these representations, GTA Online was not available immediately to any purchasers. The district court erred by failing to construe plaintiffs’ allegations that these representations were misleading in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, and by making the finding that the representations were not misleading. See Lilly v. ConAgra Foods, Inc., 743 F.3d 662, 665 (9th Cir. 2014) (“Whether a business practice is deceptive will usually be a question of fact not appropriate for decision on [a motion to dismiss].” (quotation marks and citation omitted)).

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