Ford Motor Co. v. Sheldon – Case Brief Summary (Texas)

In Ford Motor Co. v. Sheldon, 22 S.W.3d 444, 43 Tex. Sup. J. 719, 2000 WL 566766 (2000), the court found both the trial court's definition and the court of appeals' modified definition of a class to be defective.

The court reversed the court of appeals' judgment affirming the class certification and remanded the cause to the trial court with orders to decertify the class, expressing no opinion as to whether the trial court could certify a class meeting the requirements of Rule 42 if a different definition were proposed.

Under TEX. R. CIV. P. 42(b)(4), the trial court had certified the class, determining the following questions were common to the class:

"(1) whether there was a defective paint process by reason of lack of primer, (2) whether Ford had knowledge of the defect, (3) whether Ford withheld information of the defect when it had a duty to disclose, and (4) how the discovery rule applied to delay the running of limitations."

The trial court contemplated a two-phase trial: the first would determine the common liability questions; if Ford were found liable, phase two would then proceed to determine individualized damages. Id.

The court of appeals approved of the trial plan, but determined the class definitions violated Rule 42 by allowing the named plaintiffs to proceed before showing a class existed.

The trial court defined the class as all persons who purchased one of the listed new Ford vehicles in Texas "which was painted with high build electrocoat or medium build electrocoat and no spray primer and who suffered past and/or future damage as a result of peeling or flaking paint on these vehicles caused by a defective paint process (i.e., high build electrocoat or medium build electrocoat and no spray primer) excluding persons who purchased vehicles pursuant to a fleet account or fleet identification number."

The class was divided into two subclasses, the first being those persons who purchased certain Ford vehicles on or after March 8, 1988, and the second being persons who purchased other Ford vehicles prior to March 8, 1988.

The court of appeals modified the definitions by inserting the phrase "who allege the peeling or flaking was" before the clause "caused by a defective paint process" in both subclasses.

Thus, "as modified, the class includes those purchasers of certain specified Ford vehicles who suffered past or future diminution in value damages or out of pocket expenses from peeling paint, and who allege that the cause of the peeling is the lack of spray primer in the paint process."