After a two year delay since settlement was approved in December, 1996, owners of GM pickup trucks, 1973-87 C and K series and 1987-91 R or V series, with saddle bag gas tanks will be receiving $1,000 discounts on future GM purchases beginning in April, 1999, once the 72 day period for appeals under Louisiana passes and no further appeal is filed.
No appeals are currently expected of the final order approving settlement issued by Iberville Parish Judge Jack Marionneaux of Plaquemine, Louisiana which was entered on January 21, 1999. Judge Marrionneaux’s opinion which is reported below explains the basis of the settlement and reaffirms the earlier settlement. Parties who objected to the previous settlement are in agreement with the newly approved settlement and there will be no further appeal by these objectors.
Anyone of the 5.8 million individuals who owned saddlebag pickup trucks as of July 1, 1996 when the national class action was first approved will be eligible for a voucher. The vouchers are good towards the purchase of any GM vehicle except the Saturn.
All members of the class are known since the class by definition consists of registered owners of certain vehicles. Notice of the settlement was given directly to each of the Settlement Class members by first class mail using vehicle registration, databases, at a cost of several million dollars. All Settlement Class members in this action were thus fully apprised of the terms and conditions of the settlement and will be given direct mailed notice, again, of the procedures for certifiable receipt and redemption.
VOUCHERS WILL BE AVAILABLE DIRECTLY THROUGH GM and once the plan to implement the settlement and issue the voucher certificates is finalized it will be posted on this site. In the meantime, please consult this site for developments. Individual requests for information from The Consumer Law Page will be referred to this site.
Any communications concerning vouchers should await the receipt of formal notice of the settlement. If you were a registered owner of one of the covered pickup trucks as of July 1, 1996, and have not received notice, proof of your ownership on July 1, 1996 will be necessary in order to participate in the voucher program.
18TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT
PARISH OF IBERVILLE
STATE OF LOUISIANA
JOSEPH A. WHITE, III, JOHN L. MONSON, AND ANTHONY O. CAHIOLA, SR.
GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION, BROCKHOEFT’S CHEVROLET, INC. AND HANKS PONTIAC-GMC-BUICK, INC.
NUMBER: 42,865 DIVISION “D”
ORDER AND SUPPLEMENTAL FINDINGS IN SUPPORT OF FINAL ORDER AND JUDGMENT
In response to the decision rendered on June 29, 1998 by the First Circuit Court of Appeals for the State of Louisiana in White v. General Motors Corp., No. 97-CA-1028, 718 So. 2d 480, 1998 La. App. LEXIS 2245 (reh’g denied August 28, 1998) (writ applications denied December 11, 1998) vacating and remanding this Court’s Final Order and Judgment of December 19, 1996 for further consideration of settlement class certification issues, this Court gave notice of and conducted a reopened fairness hearing on January 15, 1999, has considered the newly submitted supplemental briefing, and the argument and evidence presented in connection with this hearing, and considered the Louisiana Supreme Court’s recent decision in Banks v. New York Life et al., 719 So.2d 1270, 1998 La. LEXIS 3691 (La. 12/7/98) and other authorities cited by and the holdings of the Court of Appeals in light of the voluminous factual record in this litigation. After due consideration, the Court hereby reaffirms the approval of the class action settlement pursuant to La. Code Civ. P. art. 591-597 as set forth in its Final Order and Judgment of December 19, 1996, including its final approval of the proposed settlement and settlement class certification, and issues these supplemental findings to explicate its decision.
This Court’s class action settlement approval rendered on December 19, 1996 is reaffirmed, including the class certification, for settlement purposes only, of the nationwide Settlement Class previously certified pursuant to La. Code Civ. Arts. 591-597. The certified Settlement Class remains as earlier defined:
All persons and entities who purchased in the United States (except the United States government) and are owners as of 12:01 A.M., July 4, 1996, of any of the following vehicles:
(i) 1973 through 1986 model year General Motors full-size pickup trucks or chassis cab models of the “C” or “K” series. These include the following models: Chevrolet C10, C20, C30, K10, K20, K30, and GMC Truck, C1500, C2500, C1500, C1500, C2500, K3500;
(ii) 1987 through 1991 model year General Motors full-size pickup trucks or chassis cab models of the “R” or “V” series. These include the following models: Chevrolet R10, R20, R30, R2500, R3500, V10, V20, V30, V2500, V3500 and GMC Truck R1500, R2500, R3500, V1500, V2500, and V3500.
Vehicles that have been scrapped as of 12:01 A.M., July 4, 1996, are not included.
See Final Order and Judgment at 2. The Louisiana Supreme Court’s recent, December 7, 1998, decision in Banks, supra, 719 So.2d 1270, 1998 La. LEXIS 3691 is an endorsement of class certification orders which, like the court’s Final Order and Judgment in this action, provide class-wide relief for plaintiffs experiencing substantially similar conditions or conduct created by a single defendant. In Banks, the Louisiana Supreme Court reinstated this Court’s order certifying, for litigation purposes, fraud and related claims on behalf of a class of Louisiana residents in connection with defendant New York Life’s sale of life insurance policies:
We conclude that this case is proper for class certification because common questions of law and fact predominate over individual issues of law and fact. Each class member stands in an identical position with respect to (1) whether New York Life fraudulently misrepresented the benefits of its ‘premium offset proposal’, (2) whether New York Life improperly portrayed its life insurance policies as investment, savings, or retirement places, and (3) whether New York Life’s false and misleading marketing materials convinced class members to replace their old policies with new ones.
Id. at 21. The Banks decision confirms the wisdom, justice and practical necessity of a settlement class, and settlement approval, in this case, where plaintiffs’ claims arise from an allegedly defective common fuel tank location in a large and identifiable group of specific models of full size pickup trucks, manufactured and produced by General Motors Corporation, which has agreed to settle the plaintiffs’ claims class-wide.
The settlement classes in this action, like the litigation class approved in Banks, are rooted in controversy created by, and narrowly focused upon, a company’s course of conduct and a unitary interest in relief, satisfying all class action common character requirements. Banks, supra, 1998 WL 852665. There is thus a “common character” among the rights of the class representatives and absent class members. White v. General Motors, supra, citing Lewis v. Texaco Exploration Production Co., Inc., 96-1458 p. 17; 698 So. 2d at 1013. Similarly, in Hanlon v. Chrysler Corp., 150 F.3d 1011 (9th Cir. 1998), the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed settlement class certification and settlement approval of a nationwide class in an auto part design defect case under Amchem and on similar grounds. In another recent appellate decision applying Amchem to the certification of a settlement purposes, non-personal injury class, the United States Third Circuit reaffirmed the established rule that “the commonality request will be satisfied if the named plaintiffs share at least one question of fact or law with the grievances of the prospective class.” In Re Prudential Ins. Co. America Sales Litigation, 148 F.3d 283, 310 (3d Cir. 1998).
The First Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in this action further affirms the propriety of settlement classes under Louisiana state class action law. All federal circuits and the United States Supreme Court also recognize the utility and propriety of settlement classes. In re Prudential Ins. Co. America Sales Litigation, 148 F.3d 283, 307 (3d Cir. 1998). This Court has reviewed and considered the directions, observations, and holding of the Louisiana Supreme Court in Banks and the First Circuit in White v. General Motors, and the authorities cited therein, including Amchem Products, Inc. v. Windor, 521 U.S. 591, 117 S. Ct. 2231 (1997). After due consideration and analysis of newly submitted evidence, briefing and after consideration of arguments and evidence submitted in connection with the Court’s hearing of January 15, 1999, this Court confirms that the proposed class may and should be certified, for settlement purposes only, and that any consideration of whether the class could be certified for trial purposes is both unnecessary and inappropriate under the prevailing jurisprudence. Accordingly, the Court reaffirms and incorporates herein the analyses, findings and conclusions set forth in its December 19, 1996 Final Order and Judgment, and further issues the following supplemental findings with respect to the pertinent certification requirements of numerosity, proper joinder (adequacy), common character, predominance, and superiority/manageability, based on the arguments and supplemental submissions of the parties.
Plaintiffs have re-offered all evidence previously submitted in connection with the final fairness hearing which preceded this Court’s December 19, 1996 Final Order and Judgment. See Plaintiffs’ Index of Submission.
The Settlement Class consists of owners of full-size General Motors pickup trucks spanning the 1973 through 1991 model years (and including specific Chevrolet and/or GMC models for each year, as listed in the class definition), with similar locations for the fuel tanks used in their vehicles. There are several million such owners, residing in every state of the Union. No one has contended, or could sensibly assert, that the individual joinder of all or even a small fraction of the class would be practicable. See Prudential, 148 F.3d at 309 (numerosity of an eight million member settlement class was not and could not be reasonably challenged). “The second requirement, ‘proper joinder,’ is to ensure adequate representation of the absent class members by requiring that one or more of the class members will represent the interests of the entire class adequately.” White v. General Motors, supra, citing Becnel v. United Gas Pipeline Company, 613 So. 2d at 1158. This is the “adequacy” requirement which the United States Supreme Court observed calls for “heightened scrutiny” in the settlement context. White, supra, citing Amchem Prods., Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 117 S. Ct. 2231, 2248. As discussed below, there is separate and adequate representation for each subclass of the Settlement Class; and Class Counsel have shown their adequacy by demonstrating years of skill, zeal and persistence in advocating and protecting the Class’ and its subclasses’ interests. Prudential, 148 F.3d at 312. As Amchem recommends, this Court has “honed in on settlement terms” to determine whether the absent class members’ interests have been adequately represented. Amchem, 117 S. Ct. at 2248. The tailoring of the settlement relief to the interests of each subclass and the new settlement’s success in addressing and correcting earlier objections and purported deficiencies demonstrates the adequacy of representation.
Substantial evidence and materials have been submitted by plaintiffs confirming the court’s earlier findings that numerosity and proper joinder (adequacy) have been satisfied. The Settlement Class consists of several million owners of full-size General Motors pickup trucks with similar fuel tank locations in their vehicles which fuel tank location plaintiffs allege to be defective. Because of the common interests addressed, and the common goals obtained, in this Settlement, class members across the country have overwhelmingly supported the Settlement. Class plaintiffs and Class Counsel have also demonstrated adequacy through years of tenacious work to improve the initial settlement to the satisfaction of this and other courts, and to assure the approval and implementation of a proposed settlement which has the evident support of the represented class and subclasses. The court is satisfied that, in the absence of a settlement, these plaintiffs and these counsel would continue to pursue and protect the class interests through vigorous prosecution of its claims.
The Settlement Class is composed of three subclasses; a Consumer subclass, a Fleet subclass and a Governmental Entity subclass. Joseph A. White, III and Wilbert Cole are representatives of the Consumer subclass and are each owners of a C/K Truck. The Court is satisfied that Mr. White and Mr. Cole are members of the Consumer subclass, and have adequately familiarized themselves with the issues in the case and the Settlement.
King Landscaping & Sod of SW Fl, Inc. is the owner of three C/K Trucks. It is the representative of the Fleet subclass. The Court is satisfied that King Landscaping & Sod of SW Fl, Inc. is a member of the Fleet subclass and through it owner, Scott E. King, has adequately familiarized itself with the issues in the case and the Settlement.
Jefferson Parish is a governmental entity in the State of Louisiana and is the representative of the Governmental Entity subclass. Jefferson Parish is one of the largest parishes in the State of Louisiana and owns a large number of C/K Trucks. Jefferson Parish was represented by Parish counsel, Hans J. Liljeberg, and through counsel, has adequately familiarized itself with the issues in the case and the Settlement.
The class representatives have retained and are represented by able and experienced counsel with substantial experience in complex civil litigation, consumer class actions, and auto defect litigation. These Class counsel have litigated the case, negotiated the Settlement and shepherded it through the approval and appellate process. They include lawyers who have litigated, tried and settled cases in the specific field of auto defects, including Hanlon v. Chrysler, supra, 150 F.3d 1011, and have represented consumer and product defect classes in many other fields, both in Louisiana state courts and in state and federal courts across the country. Counsel’s familiarity with the field and their unique competence have been demonstrated to this Court in the briefings and arguments they have presented.
The plaintiffs’ vehicles, by definition, share a common fuel tank placement design. Plaintiffs have submitted substantial evidence, including design schematics, establishing common fuel tank placement design in the subject vehicles. Plaintiffs allege that this design is uniformly defective, and this alleged defect in turn sounds a common theme that is restated in each of the class claims. Plaintiffs’ complaint states three theories of relief against General Motors on behalf of all such vehicle owners: breach of warranty, product liability, and fraudulent misrepresentations. In that regard, none of the plaintiffs purports to have experienced an actual fuel system failure, or a leak after a crash. This is not a personal injury case, and no such claims have been asserted either by the named plaintiff personally, or on a class basis. The proposed Settlement does not release any personal injury claims, nor does it purport to release or resolve any future claims on behalf of unknown class members. To the contrary, all the Settlement Class members share a unitary interest in obtaining relief in connection with their ownership of the GM pickup trucks. The common character of the class claims is further supported by the class settlement itself, which succeeds in providing not only common compensation, but also safety research for the benefit of class members in every state, among a class of persons who overwhelmingly supported the settlement agreement.
In Amchem, the interests of those who had yet to suffer injury from asbestos exposure were in conflict with those whose asbestos exposure had actually caused injury. Id. at 2251. No such problem exists here. Here, all class members are owners of record of vehicles with the same alleged defect. Moreover, the class settlement provides all class members with substantial relief, ensures full public disclosure of the controversy, and also establishes a safety research fund inuring to the common benefit. That this relief is provided to all class members, in a common and shared way, goes far to establish that certification of the Settlement Class is warranted here.
The Amchem court was also concerned with the issue of class notice because the proposed settlement in that case by definition consisted of persons with future claims that had not yet been manifested. The Amchem court was concerned that these persons would not receive or appreciate notice of the settlement, and would be unable to make informed choices about their rights and options. By contrast, in this case all members of the class are known to the parties since the class by definition consists of registered owners of certain vehicles. Notice of the settlement could be, and was, given directly to each of these Settlement Class members by first class mail using vehicle registration, databases, at a cost of several million dollars. The Settlement Class members in this action were thus fully apprised of the terms and conditions of the settlement, their rights as class members, and their ability to opt out or object. The overwhelming majority of the class elected not to opt out and not to object. Class members will be given direct mailed notice, again, of the procedures for certifiable receipt and redemption.
Plaintiffs’ counsel have utilized similar 51-jurisdiction surveys and choice of law analyses to demonstrate the certifiability of settlement classes, and the trial manageability of litigation classes, in a number of nationwide and multistate product liability, consumer, and personal injury class actions in federal and state courts, including Naef v. Masonite, No. CV-94-4033 (Mobile Co., Ala.) 681 So. 2d 1068 (Ala. 1996) (non-personal injury product defect) (Phase I trial verdict 1996; settlement approved 1998); Hanlon v. Chrysler Corp., 150 F.3d 1011 (9th Cir. 1998) (non-personal injury product defect); Snider v. State Farm Ins. Co., No. 97-6-114 (Ill. Cir. Ct., Williamson Co.), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 119 S. Ct. 276 (1998) (consumer fraud); In re Telectronics, 172 F.R.D. 271 (S.D. Ohio) (personal injury product defect; certified for trial post-Amchem, in December, 1997; settlement approved 1998); Cox v. Shell (Polybutylene Pipe Litigation), No. 18,844 (Tenn. Chancery Ct., Obion Co.) (non-personal injury product defect; certified for trial and settlement approved 1996).
For purposes of trial, General Motors would assert numerous individualized issues, including individualized defenses Ø as summarized in this Court’s earlier Final Order and Judgment of December 19, 1996. GM has always maintained that this case could not be certified for purposes of litigation, and GM continues to so maintain. However, both plaintiffs and GM agree that the class is properly certifiable in the context of the present settlement. Were the issue of class certification to be decided in the context of an ongoing litigation towards trial, those issues would present challenging problems that might well dictate that no trial-purposes class certification occur. However, as the United States Supreme Court held in Amchem, the fact of settlement eliminates those issues for the Settlement Class, since the purpose of settlement is that there be no trial. “Confronted with a request for settlement-only class certification, a district court need not inquire whether the case, if tried, would present intractable management problems, see Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 23(b)(3)(D), for the proposal is that there be no trial.” Amchem, 117 S. Ct. at 2248. In the context of this Settlement Class, under Amchem and White, individualized trial issues are not relevant, pose no obstacle, and do not predominate against certifying a class action. To the contrary, with regard to the few issues that are not common to the entire Settlement Class, the Settlement Class consists of three sub-classes of individual owners, fleet owners, and governmental fleet owners, and those subclasses each share within them the common issues of the claims asserted and a unitary interest in the relief provided.
In its 1995 GM Trucks decision, the federal Third Circuit rejected an earlier version of the proposed settlement before this Court, and used the occasion to articulate a view that express findings must accompany a court settlement-purposes class certification ruling. In re General Motors Corp. Pick-Up Truck Fuel Tank Products Liability Litigation, 55 F.3d 768 (3d Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 824, 116 S. Ct. 88 (1995). In a later decision, the same court considered the current proposed settlement, in the context of a request by objectors to enjoin this court’s settlement proceedings, and denied the request as procedurally improper, noting as well as that prior deficiencies in the proposed settlement had been addressed. See In re GM Pickup Truck Fuel Tank Litigation (“GM II”), 134 F.3d 133, 139 (3d Cir. 1998). The 1995 GM Trucks decision also suggested, as Amchem notes, “that although a class may be certified for settlement purposes only, [class certification prerequisites] must be satisfied as if it were going to be litigated.” Amchem, 117 S. Ct. at 2243. Subsequently, the Third Circuit made this holding explicit in Georgine v. Amchem Products, Inc., 83 F.3d 610 (1996). In its review of the Georgine decision, the United States Supreme Court, in Amchem Prods. Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 117 S. Ct. 2231 (1997), affirmed the Third Circuit’s disapproval of the Georgine settlement itself, but modified the Third Circuit’s all-or-nothing approach to class certification.
Instead, the United States Supreme Court held in Amchem that while class criteria must be met for the certification of a settlement-only purposes class, “settlement is relevant to a class certification,” id. at 2248, and the certifying court must address and evaluate the class certification criteria in the context of settlement, rather than for trial. Id. The Amchem court thus recognized the real differences between a settlement-purposes class and a trial-purposes class. Because the dynamics of settlement are different from those of ongoing litigation and trial, while class certification criteria must always be met, they may (and indeed must) be met in a different context for settlement, than they would for trial. The fundamental difference is that the crucial Rule 23(b)(3) factor of trial manageability is simply not present in the settlement context. While the predominance inquiry must address “the kinds of claims or defenses that can be raised in courts of law,” as proof of an actual or impending lawsuit,” Amchem, 117 S. Ct. at 2249 n.18; Prudential, 148 F.3d at 314, it need not resolve whether the class would survive to the point of a common issues trial.
The court finds at least one issue of fact that is predominant for purposes of settlement class certification and settlement approval: the alleged outside-the-frame-rails placement of gas tanks, which is the design feature that class members’ truck have in common, which has given rise to a genuine controversy, and which is the animating principle of plaintiffs’ claims. This court reaches no decision on whether this plaintiff-framed “single central issue,” Prudential, 148 F.3d at 314, which demonstrates the requisite “cohesion,” id., and fully satisfies predominance in the settlement context, would similarly satisfy, along or in combination with other factors, predominance in the trial context. That is a distinct decision which need not be reached and has not been reached in this case.
This Court therefore finds that the alleged fuel tank design defect issue is a common issue which predominates as an issue of fact for purpose of settlement class certification. To predominate, common issues must constitute a significant part of individual class members’ cases. See Jenkins v. Raymark Industries, Inc., 782 F.2d 468, 472 (5th Cir. 1986). That there may be differences in the design of the C/K trucks does not mean that individual issues predominate or that class certification is inappropriate. See Hanlon v. Chrysler Corp., supra, 150 F.3d 1011. The essential controversy, whether the fuel tank placement is a defective design and whether there is an available, safer, alternative design, is resolved by the settlement without affecting personal injury claims. In the absence of settlement, this essential controversy would continue to rage at the heart of any and every class action and individual case involving these truck owners.
This Court finds that the common issues as to each subclass of the Settlement Class predominate as the most significant part of the class members’ cases in the context of this litigation, regardless of what conclusion might hold in a trial posture. Amchem confirms that an assessment of the settlement itself can and should be made in conjunction with the Settlement Class certification. Id. at 2248. Under Amchem, settlement is irrefutably “relevant” to class certification. Id. As noted by the First Circuit Court of Appeals in this action, the fact of settlement, and the terms and conditions of settlement, count in support of Settlement Class certification. Id. at 2248; La. Code Civ. Proc. Art. 593.1. The Court thus finds that the fact of settlement is itself an additional factor strongly supportive of certification here because it eliminates any doubt that the case is manageable.
This Settlement Class is a nationwide class, and were it being considered for trial-purposes certification, this Court would conduct a further inquiry into whether variations in the state statutory and common law claims that were, or could be, asserted by class members from different states caused individual issues to overwhelm the common ones for purposes of trial manageability or due process at trial. However, Plaintiffs have now addressed a potential deficiency, addressed in the White decision, and provided thorough 51 jurisdiction surveys of the pertinent state laws with respect to each of the underlying claims. Plaintiffs have thus made a “credible showing” that “certification does not present insuperable obstacles relating to variances in state law.” Prudential, 148 F.3d at 315. The absence of “insuperable” obstacles that render the case unmanageable does not predict or suggest that plaintiffs could, or would, overcome them by submitting a workable and fair trial plan, which is the ultimate test of predominance and superiority for litigation purposes.
Without considering or determining these trial certification/trial manageability issues, this Court refers to the affirmance of settlement approval in an analogous case, Hanlon v. Chrysler Corp., supra, which likewise alleged a single design defect, involved claims from many states, and was resolved through settlement class certification and approval. In that case, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded, again with specificity to the settlement context of the case, that state variations were “not sufficiently substantive to predominate over the shared claims.” Hanlon, 150 F.3d 1011, 1023. Here, as in Hanlon, potential variations in the state laws that govern the asserted claims (e.g., breach of warranty and products liability) do not preclude class certification for settlement purposes. Id.
This Court’s principal concern at this point is ensuring that absent class members are not prejudiced and that there exists sufficient unity so that all Settlement Class members can fairly be bound. In the context of this case, General Motors had plead a substantial arsenal of defenses: statute of limitations, the economic loss doctrine, the privity of contrast requirements, and others that could have “presented a serious impediment to recovery for almost all of the class members.” Bloyed v. General Motors, 916 S.W.2d at 957. The Settlement Class has a common interest in ensuring a recovery, notwithstanding the difficulties the plaintiffs would have faced or the time and expense that would have been involved.
There are no conflicts of interest between different groups or individuals within the Settlement Class. All receive the same basic form of relief, which is then tailored to the express interests and circumstances of each subclass, as were raised and articulated in earlier settlement proceedings in this litigation. No member of the class or any subclass will receive benefits at the expense of the others. Under such circumstances, courts have determined that settlement class certification can be proper, as it is here. E.g., Duhaime v. John Hancock Mut. Life Ins. Co., 177 F.R.D. 54, 63-64 (D. Mass. 1997) (“Unlike the class in Amchem, in which there were conflicts between class members with present injuries and class members with possible future injuries, here all class members are alleged to have been injured during the same period of time . . .”); See also In re: NASDAQ Market-Makers Antitrust Litigation 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17557 (S.D.N.Y. 1998) (approving settlement class of over one million investors who bought or sold securities on the NASDAQ).
In White itself, in Banks, and in Ford v. Murphy Oil U.S.A., Inc., 96-2913 pp. 4-9 (La. 9/9/97), 703 So. 2d 542, 544-547, the Louisiana Supreme and appellate courts performed thorough analyses in support of their endorsement of the class action vehicle under Louisiana law. As White summarized the Louisiana jurisprudence:
The class action is a nontraditional litigation procedure permitting a representative with typical claims to sue or defend on behalf of, and stand in judgment for, a class of similarly situated persons when the question is one of common or general interest to persons so numerous as to make it impracticable to bring them all before the court. [Citation.] The purpose and intent of a class action procedure is to adjudicate and obtain res judicata effect on all common issues applicable not only to the representatives who bring the action, but to all others who are ‘similarly situated,’ provided they are given adequate notice of the pending class action and do not timely exercise the option of exclusion from the class action. White, supra, 718 So. 2d 480, 1998 La. App. LEXIS at *18; accord Banks, supra, 719 So.2d 1270, La. LEXIS at *7-8.
As White goes on to explain:
In determining how the legislature intended the courts to define and apply the concept of allowing a class action to enforce rights with a common character, we are mindful of the basic goals or aims of any procedural device: to implement the substantive law, and to implement that law in a manner which will provide maximum fairness to all parties with a minimum expenditure of judicial effort. Implicit, then in decision that rights are of a common character is a consideration of the extent to which a clear legislative policy might be thwarted, or hampered in its implementation, by the lack of availability of the class action device. . . . Fairness to the parties demands at the least that the relationship between the claims of members of the class should be examined to determine whether it would be unfair to the members of the class, or to the party opposing the class, to permit separate adjudication of the claims.
White, supra, 718 So.2d 480, 1998 La.App. LEXIS at *25; accord Banks, supra, 719 So.2d 1270, La. LEXIS at *7-8.
Accordingly, now that the Supreme Court has had the last word on Rule 23 settlement classes in Amchem, and the Louisiana courts have likewise held, in White and Banks, that settlement and litigation classes may be certified in appropriate circumstances under the Louisiana code and decisional law, this court finds and holds, after due consideration and analysis, that the class in this action: (1) has been properly certified for settlement purposes; (2) the fact of settlement is relevant to the certification criteria that apply in the settlement context; and (3) classes may be certified for settlement purposes that might not be certifiable for trial. This last principle is important, since many, if not most, cases brought as class actions settle before trial-purposes class certification has been decided. If the court were required to certify a class for settlement purposes under the same criteria and standards as for trial, few cases would settle, since the purpose of settlement is to resolve, without adjudication, matters in controversy, and in class actions the issue of class certification itself is frequently the issue of greatest controversy. The United States and Louisiana Supreme Courts have both held that this controversy need not, and for many reasons should not, be adjudicated before a settlement can be reached or approved.
Finally, the Court notes that this action and related litigation in the federal courts has been pending since 1992. The parties have gone through the negotiation and settlement approval process with respect to two versions of the settlement. The later settlement addressed and resolved all of the real or perceived problems with the initial settlement. See GM II, supra, 134 F.3d at 139. The settlement has been submitted directly to the Settlement Class by direct mail notice for their consideration, in addition to notice by newspaper publication. Settlement Class members have overwhelmingly approved of the settlement. Many thousands of Settlement Class members have eagerly awaited the issuance of the certificates and the implementation of the settlement benefits, as evidenced by the thousands of communications received from Settlement Class members by various counsel and brought to the Court’s attention.
The superiority of applying the Class mechanism to implement the desires of the named parties and the vast majority of the Class members, when compared to the available alternatives of expensive and interminable piecemeal litigation or, more probably, the loss of most Class members’ rights, is evident. While the wishes of the Settlement Class members by themselves are obviously not controlling, in the context of this case, certification of a Settlement Class is warranted under the Louisiana class action articles. That the policy of the legislature strongly favors this result is further highlighted by revisions to the articles after this Court’s previous December 19, 1998 Final Order and Judgment, by which the legislature clarified that in Louisiana class action settlement classes are proper and appropriate even where a litigation class would not otherwise exist. See White, supra, 718 So. 2d 480.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT:
(1) The Settlement Class and subclasses proposed are certified as a class action; (2) The Settlement is fair, reasonable and adequate and the action is dismissed on the merits with prejudice as to all Settlement Class members who did not request exclusion from the Settlement Class in the time and manner provided in the Notice, without costs to any party;
(3) GM, its present and former officers, directors, employees, agents, attorneys, heirs, executors, administrators, successors, reorganized successors, assigns, subsidiaries, affiliates, parents, division, predecessors, and authorized dealers shall be, and the same hereby are, released and discharged from any and all claims, causes of action and liability whatsoever alleged or asserted or which could have been alleged or asserted in this lawsuit or in any other lawsuit purportedly brought on behalf of Settlement Class members who failed to timely exclude themselves from this Settlement Class, arising out of, or in any way relating to the design, manufacture, assembly, distribution, marketing, sales or serve of the fuel system, including, but not limited to, the fuel tanks and all related fuel system designs and components, including fuel lines, fuel pumps, fuel filter neck, fill cap, fuel tank shields, attachment devices, and surrounding structure and components in the C/K Trucks, excluding claims for damages arising out of any vehicle fires or crashes that result in personal injury, death, or damage to property. Nothing contained in the Settlement or the Final Order and Judgment shall be deemed an admission or finding of wrongdoing by, or with respect to, any party;
(4) Within 30 days following the Effective Date of Settlement as defined in the Settlement Agreement, Class Counsel shall notify, at GM’s expense, all members of the Settlement Class by first class United States mail, postage prepaid: (i) that the Court has given final approval to the Settlement; and (ii) explaining the procedure and providing Proof of Claim forms for Settlement Class members to obtain Certificates. The form and content of this Notice shall be subject to court review and approval at the request of either General Motors’ Counsel or Class Counsel;
(5) All members of the Settlement Class who did not duly request exclusion from the Settlement Class in the time and manner provided in the Notice are hereby barred, permanently enjoined and restrained from commencing or prosecuting any action, suit, proceeding, claim, or cause of action in any jurisdiction or court against GM or any of the other entities or persons who are to be discharged as provided above, based upon, relating to, or arising out of, any of the matters which are discharged and released pursuant to the Settlement;
(6) The claims of Settlement Class members who elected to be excluded from the Settlement Class in the time and manner provided in the Notice are dismissed without prejudice;
(7) The collective request of the Barrett Group, the MDL group and the Texas Group for an award of $24 million in Class Counsel in Class Counsel attorneys’ fees is reasonable, adequately supported by the evidence of record, and is hereby GRANTED, which sum will be allocated between these three Class Counsel groups as set forth in the class notice;
(8) With respect to requests for costs and expenses, as the upper limits for costs and expenses for the Barrett Group, the MDL Group and the Texas Group was not to exceed $600,000.00 each, which limitations were set forth in the notice, the request of the Barrett Group for costs and expenses in the amount of $582,378.99, the request of the MDL Group for costs and expenses in the amount of $600,000.00 and the request of the Texas Group for costs and expenses in the amount of $600,000.00, are hereby GRANTED, with the Court further granting leave to the Barrett Group to file supplemental Petitions, as necessary, for reimbursement of additional expenses incurred in connection with claims administration, with the aggregate of these administrative expenses not to exceed $300,000.00, as further contained in the class notice.
(9) The Court hereby awards $1.2 million to the Former MDL Objectors, which group includes various objectors to the prior settlement and certain interveners in the consolidated federal court actions and Joseph White, III, et al v. General Motors for attorneys’ fees, costs and expenses. The Court orders that memoranda be filed within fourteen days from the date hereof regarding the allocation of the $1.2 million.
(10) The Court further awards to the Former Texas Objectors attorneys’ fees in the amount of $875,000;
(11) The Court directs that upon this judgment becoming final and executory General Motors shall pay the attorney fee and costs reimbursement sums awarded herein into the registry of this Court for disbursal to counsel, upon proper application, and consistent with this Order;
(12) If the Effective Date of settlement, as defined in the Settlement, does not occur for any reason whatsoever, this Final Order and Judgment shall be deemed vacated and shall have no force and effect whatsoever;
(13) In the event that this Court’s final approval of the Settlement and Final Order and Judgment are reversed or set aside for any reason, this Final Order and Judgment and the certification of the Settlement Class and subclasses shall be vacated and the case returned to the Louisiana Court of Appeals for further proceedings on GM’s appeal on the issues relating to venue and certification of the Louisiana litigation class; and
(14) Without affecting the finality of the Final Order and Judgment in any way, the Court reserves continuing and exclusive jurisdiction over the parties, including all members of the Settlement Class as defined above, and the execution, consummation, administration, and enforcement of the terms of the Settlement. There being no just reason for delay of the benefits to the Settlement Class, the Clerk is directed to file this Order and Supplemental Findings forthwith. Counsel shall meet and confer, and present to the Court, their proposed plan to implement the settlement and issue the certificates for the benefit of the Settlement Class.
THUS DONE AND SIGNED this 20th day of January, 1999, in Plaquemine, Louisiana.
/S/ (by The Honorable Jack T. Marionneaux)
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