December 7, 2021
• Allegedly defective HVAC caused mold, bad smell
• No class treatment for RICO claim
Toyota Motor Corp. and Southeast Toyota Distributors LLC must face a class of owners who allege they violated Florida consumer protection law by scheming to conceal mold problems in the air conditioning systems of certain Camry vehicles, a Florida federal court said.
The court certified a class of persons who bought 2012-2014 Camry vehicles from authorized Toyota dealers in Florida, saying common issues dominate the litigation.
But the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida declined Monday to certify a class pursuing claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act on behalf of those who bought the vehicles from authorized Toyota dealers in the southeast.
Javier Cardenas and Rodney Baker allege a design flaw causes contaminants to become trapped in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, creating an environment for microbial growth. The defect then causes moldy smelling air to be expelled into the vehicle cabin, they said.
They alleged that Toyota and Southeast Toyota Distributors conspired to hide the HVAC defect from them and directed dealers to tell customers the smell was normal, in part to protect the brand and to avoid buybacks under Florida’s Lemon Law.
The plaintiffs said they overpaid because of the alleged deception, and offered a consumer analysis that found the purported defect attributable to a 25% reduction in vehicle value.
Common issues predominate the claims under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, the court said.
The plaintiffs have presented evidence that could show a design defect common to the class vehicles, and they can show that—as a class—they relied on the same alleged deceptive acts, the court said.
Plaintiffs can show reliance under Florida law by showing that consumers parted with their money as a result of alleged deception, the court here said.
And because the class has been revised to include only those who purchased a class vehicle from an authorized dealer, “a permissible inference” of common exposure to the alleged deceptive conduct may be drawn, the court said.
The plaintiffs also showed classwide evidence of damages, it said.
Their expert explained how the damages per class member and to the class as a whole can be calculated based on the amount of overpayment per vehicle, it said.
But the plaintiffs haven’t offered classwide evidence of alleged deceptive conduct that’s closely enough linked to their injury for purposes of a RICO claim, the court said. As a result, individual issues of RICO liability predominate over the common questions, Judge Federico A. Moreno said.
The court appointed Podhurst Orseck PA and Kessler Topaz Meltzer & Check LLP as class counsel. Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP and Shapiro, Blasi, Wasserman & Hermann PA represented Toyota and Southeast Distributors.
The case is Cardenas v. Toyota Motor Corp. , S.D. Fla., No. 1:18-cv-22798, 12/6/21 .